Convenience is a wonderful thing and I'm always down for a new life hack that will make my day a little bit easier. If you're too busy to date, aren't looking for a serious relationship, but are into the idea of spending time with someone you like and getting some action, you might have a friend with benefits. This common arrangement can be uber convenient, and it's completely normal to start liking your friend with benefits. After all, you're friends and you're sexually compatible. Isn't that basically dating?
Not necessarily. Friends with benefits is clearly a sexually convenient and consistent hookup arrangement without the responsibilities of being in a relationship. But sometimes the lines can blur, and you might find yourself feeling more than just friendly towards your friend with benefits. OK, so now what? Does that mean you two should try dating? Or does it mean that your time as FWB is coming to an end? Did catching feelings just ruin everything?
I spoke with Jess O'Reilly, sex expert and host of the Sex With Dr Jess Podcast, and she says, "Spending time together can inevitably lead to feelings of attachment and since you’re also engaging in physically intimate activities, it’s normal to feel a human connection." So if you have feelings for your FWB, congratulations — you're human. Consistently being intimate and friendly with someone breeds attraction, and can lead to attachment and affection.
O'Reilly also has a scientific explanation for why feelings can develop in this situation. "From a neurochemical perspective, sex can result in feelings of bonding and attachment, as the chemicals released during sexual desire, arousal and orgasm include hormones related to companionate love." So, you can blame oxytocin, but that chemical not necessarily the ultimate culprit. O'Reilly believes we can experience these chemicals that make us feel bonded and connected to someone and remain unemotionally attached. She explains, "We are more complex than our neurochemistry, so you can exercise a good degree of control over your thoughts and behavior, which also affect how you feel."
In my own experience, being friends with benefits has always led to casually dating, so I've yet to experience being FWB without feelings creeping in and raining on the sex parade. O'Reilly agrees and says, "We experience powerful feelings in response to our friends, family, lovers and even strangers, so it would be impossible to have no feelings for a FWB lover."
But O'Reilly believes being strictly friends with benefits is possible if we frame the dynamic in a certain way. She says, "Simply put, you cannot eradicate feelings, but you can adjust the way you think about and behave in response to them. If you’re worried about falling in love, you can remind yourself of how lust and passionate love operate — they tend to last with intensity for short periods of time and they’re associated with the unknown, a lack of predictability, novelty, risk, and even fear of rejection."
So clarifying for yourself the difference between enjoying the comfort and familiarity of a consistent sexual parter and the feeling of romantic love and lust can help you keep the boundaries clear and well-defined.
While keeping a rational perspective on your FWB dynamic can help you keep feelings in check, the risk of developing feelings for your hookup buddy shouldn't discourage you from having one in the first place. In fact, having a relationship that's based in honesty, clear communication, and respect can be a positive influence in your life. O'Reilly believes, "I see FWB as a modern, more transparent version of what many people have been doing for years. In the past, we may not have had the option to admit that we wanted casual sex, but now more people can embrace this arrangement as a legitimate choice."
A FWB situation can embolden you to open up to new sexual desires and fantasies, since you're with someone you trust. You'll also be free of the pressures that come with formally dating someone. However, O'Reilly doesn't believe that a FWB situation is completely devoid of responsibility, and says, "You’re still dealing with a human being and need to show respect for their feelings — even if you’re not romantically involved."
So if you start having romantic feelings for friend with benefits, or they start feeling them for you, the best way to proceed is with clear communication, sharing what you both want from each other and the situation, and then respecting the other's choice. Being clear with each other every step of the way can help ensure you two continue enjoying the super convenient arrangement and stay FWB.