Friends with Benefits: Doom or Delight?

Nadia Mailanchi

The idea of having a great time in and out of bed with a person we like and trust without any of the complications of an actual relationship sounds attractive. But is it possible to remain purely within the confines of “friendship” and yet reap the “benefits” of sex? Or was Harry right when he told Sally that “the sex part gets in the way”?

Like many others, I’ve had the good fortune of forming enduring platonic friendships with a lot of people. The ones that worked out remarkably well for me are the ones where the physical attraction between us was either non-existent or at such an absolute minimum that even bottles of wine would not be able to catalyze them. As Nietzsche famously put it, there existed ‘a little physical antipathy’ in most such cases. Some friendships, on the other hand, either begin with or lead to a fair amount of physical attraction and/or sexual tension and eventually to the evitable yet inevitable consequence of such. Sex. 

This is a conundrum since it can go either way. If the sex is no good, it leads to immediate awkwardness. The good thing about this is that it’s like one of those things you initially believe is a great idea but later realize is best forgotten (like the Black Eyed Peas discography) and in most cases the friendship remains once the awkwardness fades (think Jerry and Elaine on Seinfeld).  If, on the other hand, the sex is mind-blowing, it will naturally lead to more great sex which brings me to my point of discussion. Is maintaining a “friends with benefits” status quo as easy as we hope it would be?

When consulting friends and acquaintances about their experiences with “friends with benefits” relationships (FWBRs), the responses were varied. Some felt they were not deep and usually did not last; that over time it was more likely that people ended up like Jerry and Elaine rather than as Harry and Sally. Studies agree, concluding that the most common outcome of an FWBR over a period of time was friendship without romance or sex. Consequently, many people tend to feel FWBRs become complicated or even destructive. artil writer Holly Hanau recounted an experience shared by many of holding on to a toxic relationship because she thought she found physical and emotional solace in the other person but letting go after eight long years because she realized it was a physical and emotional dead end. 

On the other hand, many young people are intrigued by the possibility of a relationship that promises intimacy, sexual satisfaction and safety without having to deal with the messy bits of a traditional relationship. When you are young, in college or beginning to understand the nuances of adult life in a world that is increasingly connected and yet increasingly isolated, the prospect of exploring interpersonal and sexual options is important. To this regard, there is no strong scientific evidence so far pointing towards a negative psychological impact of FWBRs in young adults. 

The question here is, where do you draw the line between easy camaraderie with sexual compatibility and emotional attachment? How deep is too deep? And most important of all, how do you know that both parties involved have the same level of emotional and physical investment? Armaan and Abby (names changed for privacy) have been in a fulfilling heterosexual relationship for the last nine years. They love each other to bits and identify each other as the love of their lives. They also have a tight knit group of three friends who they often have sexual relations with. The only condition Armaan and Abby have set for themselves is that they should both be present during their encounters with their friends. I asked them if jealousy was ever an issue given the peculiar circumstances they have willingly chosen to be in. They maintain that their extended FWBR agreement ensures that nobody harbors ill will or jealousy towards another, and never brings it up in conduct or conversation. Like theirs, a key factor in many FWBRs is that the relationship is exclusive even though it is non-commital, so jealousy doesn’t feature much. What stayed with me after discussing their weirdly beautiful and oddly heartwarming FWBR was that Armaan and Abby seemed truly and genuinely happy both in their relationship with each other as well as with their magical trio of friends. They had successfully figured out the mysteries of the human mind (and body) when it came to intimate relationships. My own life seemed tame and banal in comparison! 

Such collaborative endeavors between friends are becoming more commonplace. The hybrid nature of FWBRs gives you great sex along with the security blanket and companionship of friendship while also taking away the pressure of meeting expectations that you would normally associate with traditional relationships. This doesn’t mean that such relationships come easy. Things like transparency and honest communication are vital for FWBRs to work out. One couple who successfully progressed from being friends with benefits to a very fulfilling relationship told me that they could do so only because their thoughts were aligned on the matter from the beginning. Other couples agreed, mentioning how laying their cards on the table was what helped them navigate their relationship without suffering heartache.

Our needs as human beings are relatively basic and simple. We want to be loved and we want to be happy. We also want to have good sex. Sexual compatibility is often completely overlooked in many cultures even to this day. The expression of sexual needs and sexual satisfaction of women in particular is something that makes FWBRs an extremely desirable prospect. The fact that we are able to prioritize good sex in such non toxic hybrid relationships is something that we should embrace and not feel guilty about.

Relationships are varied and complex; some work, some just don’t. For as long as we can remember we have been made to believe that our happiness is determined by our ability to find a partner who loves us and is willing to share their lives with us. Our families, friends, fairytales and films have convinced us time and again that romantic love is what gives meaning and purpose to life to such an extent that we cannot fathom a situation without it. Humans are hopelessly optimistic and a part of us is always waiting for our “happily ever after”. But in reality, we can find our happiness in simpler relationships, the ones that don’t necessarily fall under the spectrum of what is considered “healthy” or “normal” by society. It’s time we open ourselves up to the possibility of embracing a different kind of relationship that values companionship, equality and sexual compatibility without romanticising it. Healthy friends with benefits relationships are a new normal here to stay, so let’s focus on self empowerment, sexual freedom and our chance at happiness even if it means we don’t go by the textbook definition of it. 

Illustrated by Carolina Diaz

Nadia Mailanchi

“I think we don’t celebrate intelligence and critical thinking as much as we should. If we did, there wouldn’t be so many people who confuse self-love with narcissism! Self-love is not just about accepting and loving ourselves. It should also be about how well we use our intellect and our creativity in making the world a kinder, more forgiving and a fun place for everyone.”

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