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Friday, September 24, 2021

Friends with benefits

Friends with benefits, friends with bens, bed buddies, or whatever you call it: this phrase has become quite the topic in popular culture these past few years. Did we not get two movies on the exploration of the topic a few summers ago? (One with the boldness to even use the now-popular phrase as a title.) The entire subject matter and rules of this new casual dating trend are inescapable.

Friends with benefits can spark many a debate regarding what is allowed and what isn’t in any group of friends, but what are the concrete rules of this weird, friendly–dating hybrid?

To some it is literally just what it is — a friend with a multitude of perks, or if you must, benefits. We aren’t talking health benefits or stock options. These benefits are of the more mature and primal nature.

In the ideal of the trend, it is all about the sex or whichever physical (and let’s face it, emotional) benefit you have decided to trade. This version of the FWB relationship is the most common and probably the one most of us later justify by saying, “It was just really convenient.” The tricky thing about this favorite FWB version is the only thing that ever makes anything tricky — your emotions.

As much as the typical romcom depicts this relationship as something fun, goofy, lighthearted and always involving a cast member from “That ’70s Show,” the majority of these relationships just end up being ridiculously uncomfortable and really awkward.

It doesn’t matter what sex you are — if there aren’t clear and clean boundaries as to what is OK emotionally, then you are totally going to get the feelings stomped out of you.

Most FWB relationships start with hooking up with a cute guy friend, girl friend, or just a friend you think is cute, and so the relationship begins. Soon, one of you starts to question what the label on it should be, then there’s crying and attachment and soon you’re breaking up with someone who isn’t even your significant other and therefore really ending a friendship. That doesn’t sound too fun to me.

I have been there though, using my favorite man friend as not only a sex object, but also an emotional crutch. To be fair, he was in a relationship and is six years older than I am. I, however, have kept that friendship intact, because I stopped shoving my emotion and desire to be in a relationship down his throat. There is no room for that in this quasi–casual dating trend. Only room for the less–used and much more efficient version of FWB that is physical fun with solidified boundaries.

In this less rampant, but much more logical version, ground rules are set and boundaries are respected. The first thing you need to understand when entering FWB territory is that it is really a booty call without the whole aspect of anonymity and red-faced embarrassment with a stranger the next day. The next thing I highly stress and will continue to stress is that you are not dating this person unless you both say so. Do not — please, for the love of all things good — do not refer or even consider this person to be in an actual relationship with you.

The entire thing falls apart when you wait for text messages and stalk their Facebook. FWB is no time or place to become that jealous green-faced monster that should be reserved for a year–long relationship.

This all really boils down to separating friend from “friend” and leaving your baggage at the door. You’re in this for one reason! So for best results, keep the emotions and friendship out of the bedroom and don’t send your FWB three texts within an hour; if you want more ask for it, and if not, don’t expect him to turn into Justin Timberlake waiting for you at a bus stop with a flash mob.

MARISSA HERRERA can be reached at mdherrera@ucdavis.edu.

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