A friends with benefits relationship can be an amazing set-up to have with someone, but it can also get complicated. I've had a lot of different friends with benefits — some that have only lasted a few months, some that lasted over a year — and I've never had any problems. In fact, I'm still friends with nearly all the people I've had this arrangement with. Part of the reason we can still be cool with each other is that we all were good at compartmentalizing sex and romantic feelings. It meant that there was never that awkwardness of one of us falling for the other — but I know that's not possible for everyone. I've seen it happen with my friends and, as you'll know if it's happening to you, it can be a really tricky place to be.
Firstly, if you go into it with one of you having feelings for the other and hoping they'll come around, then it's not friends with benefits — it's essentially torturing yourself. "I think the first question that should be asked is to yourself. Do you even want a casual sexual relationship?" relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "So many women end up in these situations because they are hoping that the guy will eventually become their boyfriend. In reality, that's not a great reason to have a friend with benefits. More often than not it ends up being painful and upsetting. The only reason to have a no-strings attached sexual relationship is because you truly desire no-strings attached sex. Not because you are hoping it will evolve into something else."
But the truth is, some women do enjoy casual sex relationships. I've been one of those women. But what happens if you start off wanting no-strings attached arrangement but then develop feelings? Well, then you've got some decisions to make. So if you decide you want more from your friends with benefits, you're going to need to tread carefully:
Be Sure Of What You Want
Sometimes with friends with benefits, you may just be becoming attached. That's totally normal — you're engaging in something incredibly intimate, sometimes for a prolonged period of time. "If you are in this sort of relationship and you've decided that you'd like to be more serious or exclusive you need to handle it in a confident, direct manner," Hartstein says.
So if you're feeling differently about them, the first thing to do is to stop and think about what it means. Are you just feeling more bonded and close to this person? Are you just wanting more intimacy and are being lazy? Or is it actually that you have romantic feelings and want to develop a relationship with that person? Make sure you know before you move on.
Talk To Them — Honestly
Be upfront about what you want — and what you need. If you beat around the bush, they're probably going to say whatever means they get to keep having sex with you. Because, well, having sex with you is great. So instead of just hinting at what you want or asking leading questions, be direct. Explain that your feelings have changed and, you know it's not the same set up they agreed upon, but that you'd really like something more. Don't just sit around reading into the extra smiley face they put in your last text exchange.
Cut Ties If You Have To
Best case scenario? They're on board. But if not, you need to cut it off. The worst thing you can do is to try to look like the "cool girl" so you just keep on acting like you're just down for keeping it casual. That's not fair on you. So you need to be ready to separate if they're not interested. Now, they might not be upfront about not being interested. Sure, it's fair enough to give them some time to think about it. But if you talk to them and weeks later you're still sleeping with them and they're still "thinking about it", that's BS.
"Once you have decided that you'd like more from your situation, if you ask and you find out that he's strictly interested in casual sex, it's very hard to keep it going," Hartstein tells Bustle. "You've acknowledged that you like this [person] and want more. [They've] told you that [they] just want to have casual sex. This is likely going to end up in a painful and upsetting place. Have faith and hold out for the type of relationship that you are really looking for."
Although it would be great for a friends with benefits relationship to naturally flow into a relationship like it does in the movies, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes it does — which is why you should be upfront with your friend and give them an opportunity. But sometimes, it's just best to cut it off. It doesn't make you uptight or uncool, it just means you're being honest with yourself. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (3)