Friends With Benefits, Huh? Stop Kidding Yourselves!

Now, I apologize in advance if it sounds like I am gender stereotyping in this blog entry.  I am simply reporting on observations from my own psychological practice and let me tell you, I do see respective tendencies among men and women when it comes to the concept of Friends with Benefits (FWB).   Let’s talk about it.

To be clear, FWB is an arrangement made between two people who decide to have sex on some type of a regular basis but who are not exclusive to one another.  In other words, they are free to have sex with other people if they desire to do so.  Here’s why this will get you nowhere.

Both people who agree on being FWB are doing so for their own legitimate psychological reasons.  These reasons abound and include (but are not limited to): insecurity, fear of commitment, fear of getting hurt, previous relationship trauma, difficult past breakup, and flawed parenting or caregiving.  In the face of any of these issues, I have an abundance care and empathy because none of these things are easy to deal with and can yield years of internal struggle.  Having a FWB relationship may give the illusion that it will help solve some of these problems (for example, someone with low self-esteem might seek out sex to feel better about themselves) but it will be short-lived; having a FWB relationship is a temporary solution to a more chronic problem.  …so for those of you using the infamous cliché, “well, he doesn’t want a relationship and neither do I:” Smarten up!  Regardless of the fact that you both wish to not be in a relationship, you cannot protect yourselves against the fact that your wounds will inevitably screw up your FWB arrangement.

A common scenario I witness is a woman wanting more from a FWB relationship and a man avoiding commitment all together (note that it can also be vice versa).  I stress that both have issues related to insecurity however it manifests differently for each individual.  After being FWB, the woman quickly realizes that she wants more exclusivity.  She then, expresses that fact somehow (she might text more often, or make more date propositions, or ask to meet family members).  In return, the man begins to distance himself in order to appease his insecurity about commitment and communication (he might not return texts, avoid rendez-vous, or make sudden cancellations).  This is the classic chase of the pursuer and avoidant and this is when the FWB agreement inevitably goes south!  The woman chases and the man avoids, giving the woman a faulty “crazy” label and giving the man a faulty “a-hole” label. 

I stress that whether they are chasing or avoiding, BOTH HAVE WOUNDS THEY NEED TO DEAL WITH.  Because the boundaries of FWB relationships are often fuzzy and unclear, someone’s wounds will inevitably get in the way.  That fear of commitment will become prominent or that fear of rejection will rear its ugly head again and, what was once a “simple” sexual rendez-vous, is now a hot frikin’ mess!  And what sucks even more is that you can’t work through your issues with your FWB partner because they are simply a FWB partner.  They will not support you and/or prioritize you through a crisis like a friend friend would or like a romantic partner would.   

Look, the point is that you need to be aware of why you might choose a FWB relationship.  Call yourself out and tell yourself the truth.  Chances are that the wounds influencing you to enter a FWB relationship,  are the very wounds that make a FWB relationship the worst possible decision for you!  For example, if you are insecure, seeking a FWB relationship (to ease your insecurity and discouragement) will make everything worse!  Your insecurity will eventually pop up and the FWB idea will explode in your face!  They key is to be aware of your soft spots and get therapeutic help to become the best adult version of yourself you can be.  Once this psychological work is underway, you can then start making decisions about the direction of your romantic life.  I can’t guarantee this but it is my hypothesis that 9 times out of 10, your decision won’t include a FWB arrangement.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.