I ran a little piece here not long ago called "In Defense Of The One-Night Stand," making the point that sex, love, and intimacy are three related but disparate states, and that you don't have to have all three in play in order to make a satisfying connection with someone. Unless you do, of course.
There are a lot of us who do need to have all three at once or risk feeling used, hollow, dirty, or just plain lonely. Especially in the dispiriting aftermath of divorce, I think one ignores that need at one's peril: If you are feeling vulnerable, wounded, and betrayed, it is no time to go prove how tough you are by hooking up with strangers.
What if they're not strangers, though? The current phrase "friends with benefits" seems to have replaced the older, crasser, and yet less coldly transactional-sounding "f_ck buddies," but we all know what we're talking about, right? There's this guy, you like each other and there's mutual attraction, and you seem compatible enough in bed. So, once a week, or a month, or a year if you're wired that way, you get together and have fun and part friends ‘til next time, or so it's supposed to go. By either name, it's a functional enough arrangement when everybody has exactly the same degree of attachment (or, ideally, de-tachment). But the tightrope walking! The potential misunderstandings! The oh-so-delicate balance between "just" and "friends!" So few people can really finesse it and, failing that, it's often just another way to cause ourselves pain and disappointment—two things we don't need more of after a divorce, thank you.
Of course, there are those who do FWB's well. Back when my friend Marisa was single (before a dreadful marriage and grim divorce, but that's another story) she weathered a few and lived to tell about it: "FWBs were a nice in-between solution and I managed to do it without getting emotionally involved. I made sure we weren't seeing eachother that often, which helped. We'd hang out for a week or two and go our separate ways for a couple months before hanging out some more. I run into one or two of them once in a while and there are no hard feelings. Of course, my now-boyfriend was originally supposed to be a sort of FWB but we saw each other too much, and maybe I'm too old for that kind of thing, and I fell for him and had to end it. Of course, then we got back together and we're still happily together so it worked out great."
Happy endings! I like ‘em. I have one myself, having had an awkward sort of FWB thing with a long time friend the year after my ten-year relationship fell apart, and that took an unexpected and positive turn, but I can't promise, or even suggest, that your standard FWB thing is likely to go that way.
As Margie put it: "With sex buddies, there's always the risk that one of the parties secretly (or unconsciously) wants a more committed relationship. There are some particular circumstances where it probably works better, because there is less of a probability of unequal expectations. Maybe in long distance situations, where you just get together for a weekend once in a while. Or maybe where both parties have a track record of being good at being "sex buddies."
Just so. And Elise, who's married now, dabbled with FBW's but shudders, looking back: "I found the theory entirely adequate but the reality fairly destructive," she says.
And me? I think the idea of a "friend with benefits" appears cozier—"friendlier!"—than its obvious alternative, the one-time hook-up. But appearances, of course, deceive. Unlike the never-look-back, not-sure-I-caught-your-name-there one night stand, FWB's can require of you a slightly creepy kind of psychic self-manipulation, the ability to insist—to believe—that you don't want anything more from this person (with whom you've just practiced all the intimacies including, perhaps—the rumpled, bed-headed breakfast that we usually reserve for our nearest and dearest) than you're already getting. Great if you really feel that way, deadly if you're just pretending.
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