Like many 30-year-olds who’ve been single for long stretches at a time, Kyle B., an artist and self-described “office gay” in New York City, has had his fair share of friends with benefits arrangements.
The sex is almost always great, but sometimes, these FWB situations ― friends who have sex, as the name would imply ― aren’t as cut and dry as he’d hoped.
“My personal opinions of FWB relationships is that sometimes they can suffer from the same problems that most human relationships do: secrecy, mismatched expectations, jealousy, unspoken motives and the tendency to use other people as a proxy for therapy or mental health support,” he told HuffPost.
He’s right. Studies have shown that with good communication and boundaries, friends with benefits arrangements can work, but the scenarios almost inevitably turn complicated over time. To help you navigate the messiness of FWBs, we asked dating experts for tips to ensure that the relationship doesn’t blow up in your face.
Make sure you can handle the emotional complexities of an FWB relationship.
FWB seems like a great way to rig the system: You get one of the chief benefits of a relationship ― regular, routine sex! ― without all the hassles of everyday long-term relationship life: splitting the bills, being each other’s emotional sounding board, cleaning the house.
But not everyone is cut out to compartmentalize sex like that. If you’re prone to jealousy, have an anxious attachment style or are secretly pining for a real relationship, FWB is not for you, said Dave Stultz, a dating coach who runs the site The Fearless Man.
“FWB relationships are interdependent style relationships so … you must respect the other person’s decisions and lifestyle,” he said. “This person is not your girlfriend or boyfriend, so you have no say in what they do and who they do it with.”
If one of you decides to jump ship and start seeing someone else seriously, you have to be OK with that, since you’re not officially dating, he said.
Clearly define “friend” and “benefit” for yourself, and make sure your definitions align with your partner’s.
Right from the get-go, openly discuss what you’re both looking to get out of this FWB arrangement: Maybe Netflix and chill works for you, but you don’t want to stay the night at each other’s places. Conversely, maybe sleepovers and brunch the next day is totally cool with both of you. Just be sure to talk about what you’re comfortable with early and often, said Kyle B.
“The mismatch is what will muck things up here, not the setup itself,” he said. “Beyond this, all other rules for being a good person and cultivating meaningful and healthy connections apply: Converse. Check in. Don’t shame someone for feeling things.”
And it should go without saying: Always speak up if something isn’t sitting right with you, and genuinely listen when your friend feels similarly.
Don’t start an FWB with anyone you want something more with.
There’s no reason to play the cool girl (or guy). If you know you want something more from someone, don’t cross the line into FWB territory thinking you can handle it, said Christal Fuentes, a relationship coach and the host of the “Talk Listen Change” podcast.
“Do not start something casual with them when you know damn well it wouldn’t feel right to you,” she said. “Sure, FWB has the possibility of turning into something more, but do not go into FWB agreements with an expected outcome.”
Be completely transparent about your sex life.
It’s essential that you have a clear understanding of how open or exclusive the arrangement is. You should also feel comfortable asking your partner about their sexual history. If you don’t have that level of transparency, you’re bound to run into some awkward situations, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counseling men.
“A client I spoke with yesterday was getting jealous that his ‘special friend’ was also getting together with other guys,” he said. “Another guy I’m counseling still resents his FWB because he now has herpes and thinks she gave it to him. Clearly, honesty on these subjects is crucial, and choosing someone you believe you can trust is vital.”
Recognize that FWBs and f**k buddies are entirely different things.
Let’s be honest here: In our current hookup culture, many of us confuse true FWBs with fuck buddy arrangements. The former is exactly as it sounds ― two people with a pre-existing friendship are deciding, “Hey, you’re attractive, let’s add sex to this equation.”
A fuck buddy, on the other hand, is someone you just have frequent casual sex with, said Kev Hick, a dating coach and creator of the YouTube channel Kev Hick Talks Guys With Girls.
“FWBs care for each other with or without the sexual benefits,” he said. “They’re real friends who have added sex to their bond. Fuck buddies are people who are friend-like but truly only manage the relationship to maintain sex. There’s little expectation of loyalty because the bond isn’t meant to be emotional but physical.”
If you’re just telling yourself you’re FWBs so the situation feels less transactional, you’re bound to get hurt.
FWB relationships are all about respect and boundaries.
You might not be in a conventional romantic relationship, but you do deserve respect from a communicative partner. FWBs deserve all the respect and trust of regular relationships, especially since there are less established “rules” and more room for complications.
“When you get down to it, an FWB relationship is still very much like a relationship,” Fuentes said. “Ask yourselves: What do you want out of this? What are you asking from your FWB partner? Honor each other’s boundaries. As with any relationship, without respect, it will be easy to overstep someone’s boundaries.”
Prioritize the friendship over the benefits.
At the end of the day, you’re friends who have sex. If you were truly friends before you added the perks of sex, try your hardest to preserve that relationship, Hick said. If things start to get too complicated or one of you develops feelings that aren’t reciprocated, salvage the existing friendship.
“The best way to do this is to spend non-sexual time together as real friends would,” he said. “Sometimes people feel like they’ve been demoted to booty call if the original bond isn’t nurtured. Make sure no one catches feelings, and stop sex immediately if at any time the feelings between both parties aren’t mutual.”