Something More, Something Less: Friends With Benefits

Published July 23, 2011 by Patty Brisben

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Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl out. Girl says yes. The two date, admit they like each other, have a serious, committed relationship, and fall in love. This is the old standard of how relationships between men and women begin, but lately, pop culture has been turning that idea on its head.

2011 brings us two movies with very similar storylines. In No Strings Attached, lead characters Adam and Emma try figure out whether they can keep their relationship strictly physical, or as the title implies, with no strings attached. No feelings and nothing more than sex. We also now have the just-released Friends With Benefits in which Dylan and Jamie are two friends who ponder whether adding sex to their friendship could work, just as an added benefit.

Both films dedicate 108 minutes to figuring out the questions that have been plaguing women (and, OK, men) for years: Can a man and a woman have sex and nothing more? Can friends have sex without added emotion? Can they maintain their existing friendship without it becoming more than a friendship? In my opinion, friends with benefits absolutely cannot exist.

Why such a cut-and-dry answer? Because these attempts at emotionless sex always turn into something else. One of two things happens. Either the friends fall in like with each other enough to date, or one person wants something more and the other doesn’t, and then their relationship falls apart. I’ve seen it happen countless times, and I truly think this is a problem.

It is rare that a woman can have sex without feelings. We can’t really help it—it’s a part of our genetics. (Both men and women release oxytocin, the hormone and neurotransmitter, during orgasm, which calms us down, soothes our anxieties, and mellows us out. It’s also a key biological factor that bonds people to each other.) What concerns me more than that, though, is what’s behind that. Why are women seeking something less than what they deserve? At the end of the day, even if you do manage to have a version of a “friends with benefits” relationship, you’re going to feel lonely. You’re going to want true companionship that doesn’t stop the second you’re out of bed.

And that’s where things get really messy. Ideally, you would turn to your bedmate—and, in this case, friend—for that hardwired companionship, and guess what? He’s not going to reciprocate the desire for more. Why? Because you’ve said, “Yes, I swear we can be friends and just have sex, nothing more.” You’ve given permission for his caring to go no further.

A woman doesn’t agree to this kind of relationship just for fun or just to see how it goes. There is something deeper she is trying to avoid. By being friends and attempting emotionless sex, the woman is trying to avoid getting hurt. Have you been hurt before? Isn’t it terrifying to put yourself out there again? This is why the friends-with-benefits idea is so attractive. At first, it seems as though it is a safe, comfortable option, when in reality, it’s the weak and lazy way out. This is no way to go about your life—scared and timid. You have to attack your life, not seek an easy way out.

Instead of seeking a new bedmate, I suggest you take the time to get to know yourself better. Pay attention to what attracts you, what excites you, and what empowers you. While you’re getting to know yourself better, think about what you really want in a partner and what kind of relationship you long to have. Friends with benefits is not an option.

Of course, one would be remiss not to acknowledge the very small possibility that both friends want something more. It’s true. This can happen, but it must happen rarely or else it wouldn’t be worth making movies about. Here’s how I see it:  friends are friends. Lovers are lovers. Partners are partners. The end.

3 comments on “Something More, Something Less: Friends With Benefits

  • Love this article, Patty! What great insights to the treacherous friends-with-benefits ordeal. I shared it on my facebook and hope that some of my friends read it and think their current situations through! Thanks for posting.

  • Patty,

    I enjoyed reading the article and wanted to read a portion of it on my radio show this upcoming Saturday. Is this something that I need to get permission to do?

    Please let me know.

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