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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

4 Things To Consider Before Trying ‘Friends With Benefits’

Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached, A Lot Like Love – most of us have seen at least one, if not all these romantic comedy that plays on the idea of a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship. We all know the story: a dynamic guy and girl friend duo get along so well that they decide to take their relationship to the next level by hooking up but without any of the emotional attachment, supposedly. There’s always some eventual conflict, but they ultimately end up together romantically before the credits roll.

Hollywood would have us believe that although there can be conflict along the way, there’s ultimately no going wrong with FWB. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While FWB relationships can be awesome, they can also be a total disaster. So before you and your best guy friend decide to act on your mutual attraction, here are some things to consider.

Can you be honest with your emotions?

FWB is typically defined as two people in a platonic relationship who act on a mutual physical attraction. Emotions are not supposed to get involved, and when they do, the situation can become incredibly complicated. If you’re not being honest with yourself or him about how you feel, there’s a good chance you’ll end up heartbroken.

You should never use FWB as a way to secretly try to turn your guy friend into your boyfriend. If you do this, your feelings for him will only get stronger as you continue to hook up. You’ll wind up feeling like you’re in a relationship with him and you’ll be crushed when he still sees you as only a friend.  You also have to be willing to admit if you develop feelings for him in the midst of your friends-with-benefitting.

“Friends with benefits might sound good to some people in theory, but in reality it always seems to be a mess,” says Kathleen Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus. “While the two parties might try to establish ground rules, when sex is involved, feelings are involved too (whether you want them to be or not). So, ground rules tend to go right out the window. Usually one person gets more attached, gets jealous or wants the FWB to evolve into something more. So, if you enter into a FWB, be prepared that you will probably get hurt and you might lose whatever friendship you had with that person.” 

“I had become close friends with a great sweet guy, who I happened to be attracted to,” says Haley*, a student at Bryant University. “We ended up hooking up for five months. We did develop feelings for each other, but we were always open about them. We knew we liked each other and hoped we would only hook up with each other, but we agreed to maintain our regular friendship so that if things didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be awkward. We also kept an open mind that at any point it could end. Basically, it worked out pretty well for me, but I know the key is to be upfront with each other.”

As Haley explains, if you’re honest, things can work out, but the key is to remember that there’s a difference between sex and love, and FWB is about sex. If you don’t think that you can be honest about those lines getting blurred, you should probably avoid starting a FWB relationship.

Are you the jealous type?

Another important thing to think about before kicking your friendship into overdrive is whether or not you tend to become territorial over someone you’re hooking up with. FWB relationships aren’t real relationships; they’re more a series of one-night stands. This means that they also tend not to be monogamous.

Avery*, a recent graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says that her FWB relationship only worked out because she and her guy friend weren’t jealous people.

“We never had any problems; it worked exactly as a FWB should, in that we were hooking up but there were never any feelings on either end, and there was certainly no jealousy when one of us had a crush on someone else.  Eventually I realized that a FWB wasn’t what I wanted; what I really wanted was to be in a relationship with someone I actually cared about.”

If you know you’re the type of person who can’t handle hooking up with someone who is also consistently hooking up with other people, you should steer clear of a FWB relationship. The nature of FWB is that the relationship isn’t going to turn into anything more in the future. This means that if your guy friend is pursuing other girls while he’s still hooking up with you, you have to be okay with it. You need to be able to accept the fact that him going out on dates with another girl is not equal to him cheating on you.

Have you established rules?

A good method of keeping the lines of your FWB relationship clearly drawn is establishing ground rules before you get involved. Obviously, if your first hook-up happens when you’re drunk, this isn’t possible. But if that’s the case, you can establish rules before you two get into the pattern of hooking up regularly.

FWB rules can help you make sure that your guy friend doesn’t start to seem like he’s your boyfriend. Here are a few to consider.

No new friend or family introductions

If he’s already part of your friend group, this can’t be avoided, but you should avoid integrating him more into your daily routine. Seeing him meet and get along with your friends and family is going to make you much more prone to develop deeper feelings for him.

“It’s important to have a positive relationship with his family if you end up dating, but as for right now it’s not something either of you need to include your families in,” Keisha*, a collegiette from the University of North Carolina, says. “For now, keep your families out of the matter. Your friends seeing him is inevitable, but even so, keep them separate from him because that indicates a deeper connection. Make sure to keep your personal life separate from your relations with him to protect yourself from involvement that becomes intimate beyond a friends with benefits relationship.”

No gifts

Even if you two have exchanged presents in the past, gift-giving between FWB can be a very tricky business. Getting a gift from someone you’re hooking up with can push the relationship dangerously close to dating. It’s also incredibly difficult for both people to not overanalyze gifts in this situation.

“I recently received a ring for Christmas from my FWB,” says Caitlin*, a student at Bryn Mawr College. “While she clearly articulated that she was not interested in a relationship, the ring to me symbolized a commitment more serious than FWB. If the terms of your relationship are murky, the gift giving will be also so I’d just avoid it all together.”

No sleepovers

Cuddling and sleeping over after hooking up with someone can become very emotional and intimate. If you two are constantly having sleepovers after hooking up, one of you is going to start feeling confused about what the status of your relationship is.

“It’s difficult to separate the emotional from the physical,” says Rose*, a recent graduate of University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill. “If you’re always cuddling and sleeping over, after a while you may develop real feelings for him and you’ll start analyzing your interactions looking for something more.  But most likely he’s not in the same place you are and you’re just going to end up hurt.”

Full disclosure

If you two are both going to be hooking up with other people during your FWB relationships, you’re going to want to decide whether you’re going to tell each other when it happens. Safe sex is an incredibly important aspect of FWB and if you’re not going to feel comfortable not knowing when he’s been with someone else, you need to tell him that before you two get involved.

“The key thing about these situations is to not let yourself assume anything,” says Brooke*, a recent grad of University of North Carolina. “The more you clarify what you want and what you don’t want, the less chance you will have to get hurt or to hurt your friend. Being upfront about your other hook-ups and interests will keep the relationship as uncomplicated as possible.”

These rules are only possible suggestions. Every FWB relationship is different, so it’s up to you to decide what you do and don’t want to talk about beforehand.

Are you willing to risk losing his friendship?

The most important thing to consider before starting a FWB relationship is whether or not you’re willing to risk losing his friendship. FWB has the potential to ruin a really great friendship if things don’t go well.

If one of you develops romantic feelings for the other during the relationship, it’s incredibly difficult to go back to just the friendship you once had. The person who has feelings will end up hurt, the person who doesn’t will end up feeling awkward and your old dynamic will disappear.

There are both pros and cons to FWB relationships. So if you’ve considered all the outcomes and it still seems worth it to you, then give it a try. 

Megan McCluskey is a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. with Distinction in Journalism and Mass Communication, and a second major in French. She has experience as a Campus Correspondent and Contributing Writer for Her Campus, a Public Relations Consultant for The V Foundation, an Editorial Assistant for TV Guide Magazine and Carolina Woman magazine, a Researcher for MTV, and a Reporter and Webmaster for the Daily Tar Heel. She is an obsessive New England Patriots and Carolina basketball fan, and loves spending time with her friends and family (including her dogs), going to the beach, traveling, reading, online shopping and eating bad Mexican food.