Friends with benefits

I thought I knew what I was doing, but things got really complicated. And I think I might have really messed up our friendship.

Friends with benefits (FWB) is a tricky relationship to define.

It falls somewhere between a dating relationship and a non-romantic friendship.

Usually, FWB means that two people engage in some sort of sexual activity without being in a committed relationship with each other. FWB is different from hooking up because the physical stuff happens more regularly, while hooking up is often a one-time thing.

How is FWB different from dating?

Generally, when you’re dating someone you have special feelings for that person. In typical FWB scenarios, you’re just friends—friends who hang out and sometimes kiss/make out/have sex. Friends with benefits are free to date other people, because the physical stuff is “no strings attached,” meaning you’re not committed to each other.

Here are some other characteristics of typical FWB relationships:

  • The physical stuff is often more important than the emotional connection
  • Neither person is supposed to get jealous, even if one person starts dating someone
  • FWB relationships are often kept secret from friends and family
  • You both understand that you don’t plan on moving things into a relationship in the future.

Why do people want to be FWB?

There are a few different reasons why FWB might appeal to people:

  • It can feel safe to explore sexuality with a trusted friend.
  • FWB relationships might seem like a good alternative for people who don’t want the commitment of a dating relationship.
  • Some people think that FWB is a way to avoid the emotional “drama” of dating relationships.
  • People who have strong romantic feelings for their friend might think that a FWB relationship will evolve into a “real” relationship.

The downsides

In some FWB relationships, the people may have different expectations, or their expectations may change over time. For example, one person might want a more serious relationship, while the other person might want to stay FWB. When two people want different things, one or both may feel confused, disappointed, or angry, and their friendship might change or even end.

If you’re thinking about having a FWB relationship,
here are some things to think about:

  • “No-strings-attached” can be easier said than done. Ask yourself: is it realistic for you to expect this of yourself? How will you deal with jealousy or sadness if it comes up?
  • Friendships often change once “benefits” are added. Are you prepared to deal with that change and/or the possibility that the friendship might end?
  • Not everyone understands FWB relationships, and some people disapprove. Are you going to have to keep your FWB situation a secret, and if so, are you okay with that?
  • Expectations are challenging when it comes to FWBs. Do you know how your friend feels about you and what he or she expects from your relationship? What about your own expectations – are you hoping it will turn into a “real” relationship? How will you feel if it doesn’t?
  • Talking openly can be awkward, but is crucial to making a FWB relationship work. Is your friendship strong enough that you can talk about important safety issues, like sexual histories, what is and isn’t okay with you, and how you’re going to protect yourselves?

If you’re having trouble figuring out a friends with benefits relationship, you can always reach out to Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or contact us online. We’re here to help.

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Last reviewed September 2013 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team

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