The sexual landscape has gotten more interesting, more free, and more complicated, and there are more socially acceptable choices for having a sexual relationship than ever before.
I currently know two “grouples” who are living completely openly as “3 or more” relationships. One of them is a complex arrangement of 5 individuals, all of whom feel like “family” together, all have multiple lovers inside of the group (though not everyone is romantically/sexually attached to everyone else), and they are all in a committed relationship to the group…
Openly and publicly… they do not hide their family of choice arrangements.
On the other extreme, I have friends (both male and female) who have multiple “booty call” partners or “fuck buddies”, but have no romantic or emotional commitments to anybody.
(On a third extreme, of course I know some voluntary celibates too, but this is a blog about sex after all).
And, in case you’re only interested in the old fashioned “vanilla” relationship — committed to just one person (my personal favorite) — don’t fret, because I don’t think that’s going to go away, and there are plenty of people from both sexes who are still interested in pursuing that particular kind of devotion.
I meet a lot of both men and women who are interested in experimenting with having more sexual availability in their lives, especially when in between relationships, by cultivating “fuck buddies” and “friends with benefits”, but are frustrated by not knowing how to comfortably get into those kinds of relationships, or how to confidently ask for what they want.
I got this question recently in an email from my reader Tony, which is the subject of this post…
“Do you have any advice on moving a friendship into, for example, a friends with benefits situation? It seems hard to change your role with somebody once it’s established.”
The reason that it SEEMS hard to change your role with somebody once it’s established is because changing anything is always harder than leaving everything the way it is… doing something is harder than doing nothing.
The real issues here are that you feel the sense of risk with someone you already know because there is the possibility of rejection, and that rejection is shared with a friend, and potentially, if they are part of the rest of your social group, shared with them too.
And that feels like it could be humiliating.
And the compounding issue is that she, also being a human, is probably also insecure about these issues, and has similar fears around having her sexuality rejected “publicly” inside of her social circle.
The thing that could make this really simple, however, is to understand that those fears are completely delusional. Natural… but delusional.
If you have a deep belief that sex is awesome and everyone ought to love it, and if you are confident that YOUR sexuality is natural, and an attractively masculine characteristic (or feminine characteristic, if you are a woman reading this), then it’s easy and comfortable to talk about adding “benefits” or sex to the relationship — regardless of whether it’s early or late in the friendship.
If she (or he) rejects the idea, it’s not embarrassing because if you’re confident in your sexuality and believe it’s right, good, and natural, then you don’t require another person’s external acceptance or validation to feel that.
If you say, “I like pizza,” and your friend says, “ew, I hate pizza,” you don’t feel embarrassed by that. Because you KNOW pizza is good!
Of course it may be disappointing, you wanted something and didn’t get it, but it does not need to be humiliating or frightening or “hard”.
And once you understand and work towards achieving this mindset, it also becomes MUCH EASIER FOR YOUR FRIEND TO ACCEPT the offer and enjoy those benefits with you.
The key here is that there is no way for her to “lose” with you.
If she’s not interested in that sort of thing, it won’t cost her your attention, the enjoyment of your interactions, or anything else. You won’t be hurt, and you won’t act weird, and the pressure is off.
That makes it super comfortable for her to think about it, and not have to make a snap decision or feel threatened by the situation.
Just like asking if someone if they want pizza generally doesn’t end a conversation if they don’t.
The same thing is true of women you’d like to have benefits with.
They may be thinking the very same thing that you are, and are also frustrated by the (completely false) belief that it’s hard to change your role once it’s been established.
Once you get completely comfortable and confident with your desires in your own mind, you can get more flirty slowly, and slowly introduce sexual innuendo and your sexual desires into conversations (with comfortable confidence about your sexuality)… or you can just have a straight up talk about it, expressing your desires and talking through exactly what you want.
And that brings me to the next important point about having “friends with benefits”…
I draw a strong distinction between “booty calls” and “friends with benefits,” and the distinction is the friendship.
There’s nothing wrong with having a “booty call” relationship with someone you have physical chemistry with, fun with, but no time or inclination to have anything else with, if you both agree and enjoy that situation.
But a friendship is something different, and it’s something valuable, and while many things can happen in life that make a friendship grow or diminish, we all recognize that it’s usually worth some effort to protect our friendships.
There is no good reason why sex itself ought to present any issue for your friendship, but…
When sex enters the equation, the possibility of emotional entanglement is very, very real, and one of you may begin to want yet some other level of involvement. And, not to be Captain Obvious here, but if one of you becomes more emotionally involved in creating a more committed sexual relationship than the other, then real and potentially complex emotional problems could arise in your friendship.
While there is no certain way to avoid this, it is important when you enter into this kind of thing with a good friend, that you establish and agree to exactly what the “rules” are going to be for the “benefits” part of the relationship, and then you need to do the best you can to each accurately access whether or not you can abide by those rules.
Naturally, those rules will be subject to change as you move forward. You could quite easily end up dropping the sex from the friendship or end up happily married. The future is notoriously difficult to predict!
And finally, as you enter this kind of relationship, it’s important and extremely POWERFUL, to make a strong internal commitment to the highest good for your friend.
In other words, if she ultimately hopes for a committed relationship in her life, you should be doing your best to prepare her and help her set the highest standards for that relationship, and you should be her biggest cheerleader when the time comes to bow out so that she can fully pursue her new relationship without you as a distraction.
It’s my perspective that bringing up the truth of your sexual desire is not going to hurt your friendship with anyone, as long as you are a grown-up, and you know that you are capable of not making her feel weird about it: Don’t pout and be bitchy if she’s not interested, and don’t be weird and clingy if she is.
Once your beliefs and confidence line up, she’ll feel the truth of that and then you can make a choice together about whether or not to add “benefits” the friendship, while doing your best to protect the friendship and holding each other’s highest good in your hearts.
Thank you Alex for you advice, very thru ,and I think I am going to look for your book as well.
Your article is timely because I am so frustrated I have initiated a separation after 27’yrs of marriage.
For 24 yrs I had a friend w benefits relationship. It filled the one gap my marriage lacks. Since the 24 yr relationship ended, my doing, I have only met men who start then stop, explaining it is too emotionally difficult for them to be involved w me because I’m married. I’ve met 3 wonderful men and I just keep getting hurt. I do get emotionally involved and so do they but that’s what I’m looking for? That’s what my marriage lacks?
My husband is loving, supportive perfect in every way expect at meeting my sexual/emotional needs. He’s always been aware of the situation. Understands, accepts my unfaithfulness and tells me I meet all his needs. I am the sexual energy/drive etc in the relationship.
Do I keep looking for a friends w benefits relationship or am I unrealistic and leave the marriage?
I read all your articles. I tell him you are always bang on. Reading you is like reading my own thoughts and feelings. My husband only reads your article, if I show him. He’s just not that interested? Reads and thinks he understands or says that’s just not him.
Thanks for your thoughts.
There’s no “right way” to do these things Marta, and there is no way to live with passion in your life without accepting some pain.
It sounds like you and your husband have a very mature, very loving, and very functional polyamorous relationship, and it’s wonderful that the two of you have worked it out so that you each can get your needs met.
Of course most relationships are going to involve some struggle, some heart break, some emotional challenges, and so when those things occur in your “FWB” relationships, it doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong. Of course it’s going to be hard if, long term, they want more of you or become possessive of sharing you with your husband. That’s completely natural.
The big move here is for you to accept the simple truth that just because people get hurt doesn’t mean anyone did anything “wrong”, and that, indeed, there is no “right way” to do things so that nobody ever gets hurt. That’s just not the way real life works.
Once you understand that you’ll also understand that leaving your husband to make one of these other relationships your primary committed relationship isn’t going to prevent emotional struggle and people getting hurt. Impossible. There will just be a new set of issues, new sets of hurts, and likewise, new sets of pleasures and passions.
The key is to enjoy it all as “aliveness” itself.
Thank you very much for writing and sharing this, Alex.
This was a very valuable, eye-opening article for me.
All the best,