Saturday, April 20, 2024

Unlike in last year’s pair of movies on the theme, friends-with-benefits relationships don’t tend to end with the partners falling in love — but with them falling out of friendship.

Friends-with-benefits relationships are far more complicated than they are worth. What could be complicated about no-strings-attached sex?

Two movies on this topic came out last year. Since they were pretty much the exact same movie, I did not even bother keeping them straight, but in both the characters fall miraculously in love at the end after there’s been enough drama to fill two hours. The outcome is a complete fairy tale, but the bits in the middle are accurate.

I have my own two stories of why being friends with benefits isn’t just getting in, getting out and still being friends afterward.

That’s exactly what my friend Lori expected when she slept with her friend/roommate Marty one night. Marty was about to move abroad, so a full-fledged relationship just seemed too complicated, and the two never actually had a conversation defining the relationship. Yet when Lori started seeing other people Marty went ballistic. Living together for a few months after he moved back did not help.

One could argue the relationship did not fail because they were friends with benefits, but because they did not define their relationship. But no matter how thoroughly you define the relationship and no matter how many rules such as “no kissing on the mouth” you instate, friends-with-benefits relationships beget a whole Pandora’s box of emotional complications.

The other story is about a friend of mine feeling frustrated with the way things were going with her boyfriend and talking about seeing other people in the side (like her boyfriend would be the hamburger and the other guys would be fries). I asked how she felt about the idea of her boyfriend seeing other people, and without hesitation, she said, “It would suck!” For a friends-with-benefits or open relationship to work, both people need to feel it wouldn’t suck to see their significant other with somebody else.

The very thing that complicates it most is the sex, which is also the main part of the relationship. Some people — the lucky few, I like to call them — can have sex without feeling a shred of attachment. Others feel closer to their partners after sex, and it can be hurtful when their partners do not return these feelings.

Women are especially prone to confusing sexual pleasure with love. We experience everything internally. In fact, I would say that the majority of the people who get any “benefit” from these relationships are men, who are biologically wired to compartmentalize love and sexual pleasure into separate categories. This is why most of my male friends have “booty call” lists on their phones. They are not bad people for wanting to have sex with the girls (or sometimes guys) on these lists and not feeling the need to pursue anything further. That is just how they operate.

Women happen to operate the opposite way. It really is a miracle the species has not gone extinct.

These problems are prevalent in committed relationships as well as friends-with-benefits relationships, but at least in a committed relationship both people say they want to be exclusive and agree they want a physical and emotional connection.

That’s how “No Strings Attached” wraps up for Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher and how “Friends With Benefits” ends for Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.

Unlike in those movies, though, the middle of these real-life stories never end. They go on and on until someone can’t take it anymore and a friendship is ruined.

Last week: The ex communication

Next week: Surviving the DTRs (defining the relationship)