Being 'Friends With Benefits' Only Works When You're Careful Not To Break The One Golden Rule

Photo: Unsplash: frankie cordoba
People Who Make Successful 'Friends With Benefits' Throw Out All Relationship Rules Except For This One

Not even playing.

They may be no friendships more complex and in need of clearly defined rules and boundaries than those that can be summed up in three little letters: FWB, i.e. friends with benefits.

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening I take over YourTango's Facebook page. Kind of. Contrary to what you might expect, I do not use this time slot to flood my friends' newsfeed with shirtless pictures of Tom Hardy (although I might make an exception and give that a go, now that the idea is in my head). Instead, I host an hour-long Facebook Live video during which audience members ask me pressing questions about anything and everything related to dating, relationships and falling in (or out of) love, to which I then answer with my expert advice.

I am not a doctor, but I am a person who writes about all of these things regularly on the Internet, and I believe we can all benefit from the perspective gained by asking an objective third party to weigh in on some of the most difficult issues we all struggle with from time to time.


RELATED: The Truth About Whether Your FWB Can Turn Into A Real Relationship


Sometimes the questions are straight forward, and other times, not so much. Recently one woman who wrote in so as to remain anonymous asked a question that falls into the second category.

On the surface, the implicit question in her email was simple enough: "How can I tell if the guy I'm in an FWB relationship with is seeing or dating other women?"

But the explicit phrasing of her message tipped me off to the fact that there was a deeper question this woman was struggling to find an answer to, because it was a question she wasn't fully prepared to ask: "How do I tell my FWB that I want us to have a romantic, committed, long-term relationship?"

The actual text of her question started out like this: "I have been in a friends with benefits relationship for 10 months and three days ..."

Before I even finished reading the rest of her question, I knew I had to stop her right there, just as I would stop anyone who put a question about a friend with benefits in a way that paid so much attention to timeline details.

In my humble estimation, if you are calculating the length of time you've been involved with someone down to the specific number of days, chances are very, very high that you have acquired some degree of romantic feelings for them. You might not be aware of those feelings on a conscious level, and they might not be anything you're ready to act on, but regardless, those feelings ARE there!

Don't say that they aren't, because if that was true, chances are you would have no idea how many months the two of you had been occasionally sharing time together in a bed, let alone knowing the exact amount of time right down to the day!


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Don't try telling me they aren't, because if that was true, chances are high you would have NO idea how many months the two of you have been occasionally sharing time together in a bed, let alone the exact amount of time right down to the numbers of day!

Here's the thing. The most critical factor involving in understanding how to have a successful FWB relationship is being friends with the person you're casually exchanging benefits with from time to time.

This means you can forget all the relationship rules out there but this one: If you have romantic feelings for your friend, do NOT start exchanging benefits with them.

I'm not saying you shouldn't do this because they will never love you back, or because you'll never get what you need from the relationship, although those things could very well wind up happening. I'm saying don't do this because the premise of your relationship will be a lie!

While telling someone how you feel is never easy, it's almost always better than the likely alternatives that they find out how you feel from someone else or you burst out with a declaration of the true depths of your feelings after having a "casual" relationship for years and years. In these cases, your FWB could very well feel hurt and lied to, because in a manner of speaking, that's exactly what you will have done!

I do believe healthy FWB relationships can be exceptional and lovely if both people do about it the right way.

The right way means finding someone you're physically attracted to and who you have a solid friendship with, but who you never, ever can see yourself dating.

If you begin this way but then your feelings change, talk to your FWB about it! It's only natural that you might get a little confused or become more invested once you've become more intimate with each other, even though this certainly isn't the case for everyone or for every situation.

If you don't feel you can communicate openly and honestly, or if you don't feel safe or comfortable talking to your partner about pretty much anything at all, you aren't friends with benefits, you're in a one-sided, toxic relationship you're scared to let go for whatever your reasons are.

Ultimately being in FWB relationships isn't all that different than being in any other form of relationship, which means it can only thrive when communication, clarity, honesty, and friendship are involved.


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She hosts the love and dating advice show, Becca After Dark on YourTango's Facebook Page every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 pm Eastern. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.