Here's The Complicated Truth About Whether Having Sex Ruins A Friendship
Maybe hooking up with your friend wasn’t the direction you pictured your relationship going in, but alas, here you are. Whether you’ve always secretly hoped this hookup would happen, or it was an in-the-moment, emotionally-fueled impulse, you’re probably wondering what your roll in the sack means for your relationship. Can you put it behind you, or will memories of your sexy night cloud your vision every time you look at your friend for the rest of your life? While sex with a friend won’t necessarily ruin your friendship, it will most likely change your dynamic in some way. The only way to know how, exactly, is to have an honest conversation with them about how you both feel.
“The main difference between a great friendship and a romantic relationship is typically sexual intimacy,” Kayla-Brooke White, life coach at Blush Online Life Coaching, tells Elite Daily. “If that line is blurred, it can become very confusing for one or both partners. Having sex with a friend can change how you perceive them or how they perceive you.” If that line has blurred after a hookup, start by communicating and understanding the significance you and your friend each attach to sex, Dr. Jess O'Reilly, sex expert and host of the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast, tells Elite Daily. If you view sex casually and as an act that can be shared with multiple people, maybe you’re open to restoring your friendship after hooking up. If you view it as something a little more sacred or special, she says you may be less inclined to stay friends.
“Each of these approaches is valid — you have to do what works for you,” O’Reilly says. If sex means something different to each of you, you might expect different things from your post-hookup relationship. (Yes, this has the potential to be awk AF.) But once you know where you stand, you’re one step closer to smoothing the transition back to a non-sexual friendship, if that’s ultimately what you both want.
If you both want to continue your sexual relationship while still maintaining your friendship, O'Reilly says to ask yourself what boundaries you want to set. “How much time will you spend together, and do you want to set rules, like no sleepovers?" This conversation can help you agree on clear terms that will define your relationship and help you feel confident you’re not jeopardizing it by having sex. The same boundaries apply if you don’t want to continue your sexual relationship but still want to stay friends. Having an understanding of what's cool and what's not cool can help set you both back on track.
Hooking up with someone you've been friends with for a while can be emotionally jarring, and might make you wonder if you should pursue a romantic relationship. O'Reilly advises against reading into this too much. "You don’t need to be romantic just because you’ve had sex,” she says. “Many people see sex as a component of romantic relationships, but others do not." Intimacy, attachment, and comfort could all be reasons you two felt sexually attracted to each other in the moment, but aren't necessarily indications you’ll be compatible romantically. What’s important is that you’re both on the same page.
Also consider the possibility that you might want totally different things. If one of you wants to pursue a romantic relationship post-hookup and the other wants to go back to being friends, try reframing the situation in your mind as a disagreement, instead of an unresolvable conflict. “Almost every relationship disagreement is resolvable if you’re willing to consider multiple perspectives and respect boundaries,” says O’Reilly. “You can remain friends if one of you is interested in a relationship and the other is not if you both accept and respect the boundary."
Part of respecting boundaries is being real with each other and with yourselves. “If your friend wants to become involved with you romantically and you’re not interested, you need to be very clear about your intentions,” O’Reilly says. “Don’t lead them on. Though it can be affirming and fun to be chased, in the long run, the friendship will only survive if you’re honest and don’t take advantage of their interest."
But if you’re the one who’s secretly hoping they'll change their mind and fall for you, consider taking some time apart. “Some distance can help any feelings or awkwardness pass,” says Anita Chlipala, LMFT. “Tell your friend why you are taking distance. Be open and honest and say that you developed feelings and that it's difficult to spend time with them right now. I recommend being specific about whether you want them to reach out, or if you want to be the one to reach out when you’re ready.”
There are many paths your relationship can go down post-hookup, so know that you have options you can choose to prioritize over going your separate ways, both emotionally and physically. You can save your friendship if you’re both on the same page. If you’re not, ask yourself whether you’re willing to accept each other’s boundaries. The answer to that will be the answer to whether or not your friendship has a future. Honesty and compassion should be top-of-mind when talking about what comes next. So while this whole situation can feel awkward and strange, ultimately it can result in an even stronger friendship than what you had before, or even the beginning of a romance you never expected.
Additional reporting by Elite Daily Staff.
Kayla-Brooke White, life coach at Blush Online Life Coaching
Dr. Jess O'Reilly, sexologist, speaker, and host of the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast
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