“It would ruin our friendship.”
“I’m afraid of what would happen to our friendship.”
“It would get awkward.”
“Let’s just be friends.”
Do any of these sound familiar? If you have ever been friends with a woman and tried to move things to a more intimate level, you have almost certainly heard these. Possibly even more than once, if you’re especially stubborn. Taken on its face, you could be forgiven for thinking that women feel as though friendship with guys is an ephemeral soap-bubble and that even the slightest change to that delicate equilibrium could cause the whole thing to implode into a mass of rejection, hurt feelings, late night ice-cream runs, bad poetry and unending country music playlists on their iPod.
And who could blame them, really? Pop culture has inundated us with never-ending stories and lessons about how men and women can never be friends without sex getting involved and changing – even ruining – everything even if one of them is gay. From When Harry Met Sally to Pretty In Pink, Chasing Amy to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Chuck, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, it seems as though the constant mantra is that you can be friends or you can be lovers… but never both.
But is that true?
Well… that all depends.
“It Would Ruin The Friendship.”
It’s understandable why women might be hesitant to sleep with someone they consider a friend. Let’s start with what women mean when they say this. It usually comes down to one of three meanings:
- I honestly don’t have any sexual attraction to you and seriously doubt I ever will, so quit asking.
As I have said many times before, women are taught to be delicate with a man’s feelings lest they inadvertently give offense. This is one more time when the real meaning is being hidden behind a euphemism in the attempt to let somebody down gently and spare their feelings. Unfortunately, this tends to have the effect of convincing a man that he could argue his way out of it and – ironically – can end up really ruining the friendship.In this case the best option is to back off or else risk becoming an Orbiter. There’s not much hope to be had here.
- I’m already anticipating the break-up and it’s going to be ugly. I don’t think we could be friends afterwards.
She genuinely likes you and values your friendship, and maybe, maybe there’s a hint of an attraction there. However, previous experiences have left her gun-shy and that potential spark just isn’t enough to overcome the fact that she worries that the relationship wouldn’t have long-term potential. Maybe she’s afraid that you’d be more invested in the relationship than she would be. Maybe she’s worried that – consciously or not – sex is the only thing you’re really after and once you’ve gotten it, you’ll be gone. Maybe she’s just been hurt too many times. Regardless, she doesn’t think that the rewards outweigh the risks. There is some room for hope here; a relationship can be built with time and care. However, it can just as easily turn into the first example, and you need to be willing to accept that nothing may happen.
- I don’t think sex and emotion can really be separated. It would just be too complicated.
Some people are very good at compartmentalization. Sex is physical, love is emotional; two completely separate concepts that – like chocolate and peanut butter – are amazing together but they’re just as good by themselves. Some people – men as well as women – don’t separate the two. To them, sex is fraught with emotional components and entanglements and trying to untangle them would just be a recipe for headache and heart ache. As far as they’re concerned, it’s ultimately too much of a hassle to even try and it would likely end badly.
With all of these understandable fears and objections, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that sex and friendship are mutually incompatible… and you would be wrong. Friends can and do have no-strings-attached sex and – amazingly! – manage to survive the experience with their friendship intact.
Maybe there has always been that frisson of sexual tension between the two of you since the day you met. Perhaps she dumped her loser boyfriend, bought a new dress and suddenly you can’t take your eyes off of her. Maybe you manned up and made your move, or perhaps there was that late night of TV on the couch that turned into a make-out session that neither of you expected. Maybe the two of you sat down, talked it out and decided to take the plunge.Regardless of how it happened. So… now what?
Just Add Benefits
Sex is what you make of it; it can be as intimate and emotional as you want it to be. Sometimes it’s a means of cementing emotional bonds and an expression of a deep and abiding love. And sometimes it’s just two people who really just want to get their rocks off. Any awkwardness afterwards is entirely up to the two of you and how you manage things afterwards.
As the post-coital glow starts to fade and reality starts to reassert itself, there will be the natural awkwardness that comes with the first time any two people have sex, regardless of whether they were friends or complete strangers. If either of you aren’t used to the idea of casual sex, this is the moment where it’s natural to start questioning everything. “What did this mean? Was this a mistake? Will this change things?”
And the answer is: No. Not really. Not if you don’t want it to. The keys here are communication, management of expectations and communication. And also: communication.
I’ve always lived by the rule that important discussions should never be held while naked, and this especially holds true for conversations that will end up defining relationships. The immediate aftermath is not the time for major questions; it’s a time for appreciation, possibly a quick trip to the bathroom and deciding whether there’s going to be another go-round in the immediate future. All you need to know right then is that yes, you had sex and (ideally) you both enjoyed the hell out of it.
It’s afterwards – whether 20 minutes later after pulling on robes or the next morning over coffee – for discussing weightier matters. It’s your behavior here that will ultimately define how things will proceed; more often than not, the man’s behavior afterwards will set the tone for the discussion. Being calm and treating the matter as though it were perfectly normal will go a very long way to reassuring your friend that the mere act of having sex hasn’t irrevocably changed things. From here, the two of you should start processing how you feel about things. Assuming that the sex wasn’t horrible or awkward, you should acknowledge the obvious: that you are attracted sexually to each other. Assuming that neither of you want to start dating as an official couple, it’s up to the two of you to decide whether you want to continue sleeping together or just continue your relationship as friends… without benefits.
It is utterly important that you be honest. This is not a time to pretend you don’t have any romantic feelings for her if you do, and just as importantly do not pretend to have feelings for her if you don’t. Lying at a time like this will only guarantee that one or the both of you will be hurt, and that will ruin the relationship. This is not a time to try to back-door your way out of the Friend Zone; trying to take advantage of the situation is a betrayal of her friendship.
It’s up to the two of you to decide what rules apply to your relationship. you may decide that you have an utterly no-strings-attached relationship and that you have no obligation to each other beyond basic courtesy and safe sex. You may decide that you want to keep things on the down-low; you may not feel the need to hide things from your friends. There are no hard and fast rules to friends-with-benefits except that you must be honest about how you feel. If one or the other feels as though they want to redefine things, then they should be willing and able to do so… at any time.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Friends with benefits end in one of two ways: either you stop having sex, or you stop being friends.
Friends with benefits is frequently an unstable situation. This isn’t a bad thing or a judgement on whether they’re a good or bad idea. It’s just a fact. You need to keep in mind that friends with benefits style relationships are still friends at the core. Just as sex doesn’t automatically come with a relationship upgrade as it’s default setting, neither is it an automatic protection from the same fates that a non-sexual friendship faces.
The cold hard truth of the matter is that friends – whether you’re having sex with them or not – will come and go throughout your life. Sometimes they will end with drama. Sometimes they end without it.
Sometimes friendships will last decades. Sometimes they will fade after a year. Life-long friendships are incredibly rare.
Also worth remembering is that even though friends with benefits don’t have the emotional intimacy or levels attachment that a fully romantic relationship has, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t subject to the same pressures that romantic relationships face. Even in a no-strings-attached relationship, one party or the other might start to feel jealous or resentful of the other’s sex partners. One or the other of you may find that you’ve fallen in love with someone and you want to pursue that relationship. One of you may decide that you want to be exclusive while the other prefers non-monogamy. You may find that the sexual attraction between the two of you was a passing thing and that the initial passion has faded. You may drift apart… just as you might with a platonic friend. You may have a knock-down, drag-out fight and decide you can’t stand each other… just as you might with a platonic friend.
Or you might find that you’re not friends any more because your relationship has deepened into something more than friendship. There have been innumerable relationships that started out as friends-with-benefits situations. It just may be that that first little spark is what ultimately leads to a life-long romance.
1. I’m differentiating here between friends with benefits and a fuck buddy relationship. The former implies that the friendship exists independently of the sex. With fuck buddies, the sex is the only reason for the relationship.