In the 2011 rom-com Friends With Benefits, Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake’s characters are two jaded people who have sworn off relationships — so they form an agreement to hang out and hook up with no strings attached. The whole situation seems pretty ideal at first — they're enjoying spontaneous lunches and no-frills sex together without any of the complications that come with commitment. The only problem? They start falling for each other. And as we all know, feelings can throw a serious wrench in a FWB situation. So, can you be friends with benefits if one of you falls in love?
As it turns out, this fictional scenario is super common. And it makes sense, too. When you have sex with someone, there are powerful chemicals at play in the brain. The hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, both of which are released during sex, are associated with feelings of attachment and bonding. Now add in the friendship factor, which probably means you already feel a sense of trust and closeness with your FWB, and it’s no surprise why many people end up feeling some feels.
“It’s very normal for regular sex with someone to create romantic feelings and a change in the relationship status,” says relationship expert April Masini. “The power of sex is underestimated all the time.”
Masini notes that if you begin to feel jealousy regarding the possibility of your FWB seeing someone else, then your FWB relationship is likely changing. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Relationships naturally evolve all the time. The only question, of course, is where to go from here. In other words, is it possible to remain FWB after one of you starts falling? According to Masini, it’s definitely tricky territory.
“It is possible for some people to maintain a FWB relationship with someone while they have a different, primary romantic relationship, but it usually becomes complicated quickly,” she adds.
In other words, if you have an open relationship and a FWB on the side, there’s a chance that you could make it work. In general, though, once you start falling for someone, it’s only natural to want something more than a FWB relationship. Then it becomes a question of whether your FWB is on the same page. And if they’re not, it could likely prove pretty painful for you to try and maintain a FWB relationship when you’re yearning for an exclusive committed relationship. On the flip side, if it's your FWB that's showing signs of falling in love, then that's obviously going to change the dynamic as well. And the last thing you want to do is potentially hurt your friend by ignoring the fact that their feelings are changing.
That’s why Masini recommends acknowledging the change in feelings ASAP once you're aware of it. This means having an open and honest conversation with your FWB.
“If you don’t, you’ve got a lot of awkward behavior happening,” she says.
For example, if you're experiencing jealousy regarding your FWB hooking up with other people, it’s best to be honest about how you're feeling, or they may be confused by your jealousy.
Once you’ve acknowledged how you both feel, it’s time to reassess your FWB status. The reality is, it will likely be difficult to maintain the same relationship once you’re in love with your FWB. So, if your FWB is falling for you, too, then you can certainly try to advance things by defining the relationship on a different level. That could mean adopting the classic boyfriend/girlfriend labels, or deciding to be exclusive, among other things.
“This is tougher than it sounds because you have to change some boundaries that you’ve ignored as a FWB, but that won’t work in a traditional romantic relationship,” she explains. “You have to set mutual expectations for the relationship.”
But what if your FWB isn’t on the same page? When your feelings change, so do your desires — which means it’s time to figure out whether your FWB can still fulfill those now that your feelings are stronger. They may not be able to, and you know what? That’s totally OK. It doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to be friends, nor does it mean that you aren’t capable of enjoying a FWB situation. All it means is that your needs have shifted, and you definitely deserve someone who can meet them, whether that means a new fling who you enjoy commitment-free romps with or something a little more serious. It’s safe to say that it may prove pretty challenging to stay FWB when one of you falls in love. That said, falling in love with your FWB isn’t the worst thing that can happen — it’s not only super common, but it's actually a great sign that you’re an emotionally healthy being who’s capable of evolving, complex emotions. And that’s something to celebrate — not be ashamed of.