Friends with Benefits — at our age?
I get occasional emails from women asking whether a “friends with benefits” — aka “sex buddy” — relationship is possible at our age. The women who write me usually worry that they’ll become too emotionally involved. I say that if you’re worried about this, heed that fear, because it’s likely a warning sign that this will happen.
Casual sex without entanglement can work, but only if we really believe it can, and we’re clear ourselves as well as with our partners about the boundaries. Are we friends first, lovers second? Are we playing at romance, or refusing to let the relationship become romantic? Are the reasons that we want to be friends with benefits but not actual “in-love” lovers clear and valid to both of us? Honesty is required in this kind of relationship.
One woman asked me whether becoming sexual with a former “in-love” lover would work. I don’t think so. If the relationship was once a full-on love affair, and it ended for good reasons, going backwards seems to me just confusing. The emotions that this love affair triggered once can’t help but surface again, it seems to me, and someone will get hurt.
I hope I don’t need to say that if there’s another person involved — your friend/lover has a primary partner — that it has to be okay with the partner. Don’t sneak or lie — if it can’t happen honestly, it shouldn’t happen. I don’t moralize much because I believe that anything two consenting adults do is no one’s business but theirs. But if another partner is involved, that partner has to give consent, too.
In my thirties, forties, even fifties, I had friends with benefits at various times — men who remain friends to this day, though it’s been decades since we were sexually involved. Could it work today? I think so, given the right man, the right friendship, the right communication, the right circumstances. Please comment if you’re involved in a friends with benefits relationship at our age, and tell us your tips for making it work.
My friend and writing colleague Tina B. Tessina, PhD, “Dr. Romance,” is a licensed psychotherapist and author of “The Dr. Romance Blog” as well as 13 books. Her newest book is Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. Tina contributes these tips and food for thought before embarking on a friends with benefits relationship:
If you’re thinking about having sex with a friend, be very careful, because it is not easy to preserve a friendship once you have sex. We think we can control our feelings, but it’s not so simple.*If one of you becomes romantically attached as a result of the sex, the friendship will probably not survive.*If you’ve done it before, and you know you can keep your feelings in check, you might be successful, but what about your friend? Are you sure he or she is aware of his or her own feelings and motives?*Think about it in advance and talk about it a lot*Are you going to keep dating others while you’re doing this FWB thing?*What if one of you falls in love with someone else?* What if you just want out of the deal after a while?*What if only one of you falls in love, instead of remaining friends?Keep talking throughout the FWB arrangement It sounds a lot more fun and easier than it really is.The benefit is being able to have sex with someone you know, rather than a stranger. The disadvantages are: It could be the end of the friendship.
One person (usually the woman) could fall in love, while the other (usually the man) doesn’t want to pursue more of a relationship. It may keep you from finding a real relationship, because you’re too comfortable to look.If you start to develop feelings, pay attention! Don’t ignore it. Let your partner know, and watch the reaction. If you don’t get a positive response, cut off the sex. That’s the way to see if the other person is also emotionally attached or not. Don’t languish in a friends-with-benefits relationship when you want more. If he suddenly meets someone else and marries her, you’ll be devastated.If you want to cut off the sex, you need to explain why you’re doing it. “I’m developing deeper feelings for you, and since you don’t seem to return them, I have to stop having sex with you. I’d like to still be friends.” Or, “I can’t even be your friend for a while, because I’m grieving.”Maintaining this type of relationship is not easy for anyone. It only seems easy at the beginning. My office is full of people who had their hearts broken this way. Older people tend to be a little wiser and more cautious about it than younger people, but all ages get hurt.Don’t just let things develop on their own. Definitely talk about it beforehand, or as soon as possible. You need to establish that the friendship is important to both of you, and you don’t want to ruin it. You also need to talk about feelings, to open that subject for future discussion.* If you want to turn a friendship into a full-on relationship, and you’re serious about it, then you need to talk about that, too. Your friendship will be altered forever when you have sex for the first time. You have things to lose here, and things to gain.*Make some agreements, discuss the above questions, and keep talking about it.Back to being friends
Friendships that go from friends to lovers back to friends can be very close, because you know each other so well. The first thing you need to do is talk about it. Make a deal that you won’t do anything that would jeopardize your friendship, and stick to it. (That means, acting as a friend, and not acting jealous if he/she has a date.)The more emotionally mature you are, the easier it is to re-establish the friendship. Openness increases intimacy. So friends who can talk about everything feel closer than friends who can’t.
I've noticed over the years that these "Friends with Benefits" relaltionships are initiated by the ladies – I suppose I should be flattered that
my female friends are the ones to take the friendship up a notch. So far, such beneficial friendships have only improved the existing friendship.
A coworker/social friend of many years approached me saying her husband hadn't been with her for over eight years and she missed it.
A long time social friend invited me over for dinner then asked if I'd watch her and her rabbit toy and give her something to watch.
We're still friends and still occasionally rendezvous to watch each other.
Another long time social friend just called me up and asked if she could come over so I could satisfy her needs.
A long time friend asked me out to dinner and said that now that her divorce was a year past her she wondered if I'd join her in her hot tub and end her celibacy.
A long time friend travelling cross country diverted her route through my town to spend the night with me. When it came time to make the sleeping
arrangements she asked if she could sleep with me in my bed.
Another travelling friend drove 270 miles round trip to visit me. I was puzzled, but she soon made her reasons clear.
And a long time local friend called me up one night and asked if she could come over and move our friendship up a notch.
There is another related dynamic – what I call referral.
A trade school male friend called me to see if I'd "date" one of his female students who was having a difficult time due to a recent divorce.
The lady turned out to be most direct about what she wanted.
A long time male friend and mentor asked if I would date a close friend of his wife's who'd been raped and the three of them had agreed that
she needed male nurturing to help heal. When I met her she told me she needed to "get back in the saddle."
So even with friends of friends – there is a trust there.
And there have been referrals.
One of the travelling friends had a friend who was lamenting not having a sexual outlet. My travelling friend said, "I know a guy." and that
new friends with benefits relationship is still going on – we're both in our late 60s.
Last year the local friend called and said she had a travelling friend coming through town who had needs and asked if I'd help out. The three of us
had a wonderful dinner then the travelling lady and I left to take care of her needs. She still stops in when she's passing through town.
A friend in high dollar corporate sales called me up to say she had a client, who'd become a friend too, who was away from home for three weeks and
and missing her man. She asked if I'd be willing to take care of the client's needs. Turned out to be a beautiful lady.
Don't mean to drag on – just making the point that this is common – at least in my world. We elders are forthright in asking for our needs.
Its the women who are confident in asking for what they need. And, there's no negative effect on the existing friendships – they seem much
enhanced. And the sexuality shared has always been slow, sensual, loving, and nurturing – mutually beneficial.
I indeed have a Friend with Benefits, going on for 15 years now. Since we no longer live in the same area, we meet each other once or twice a year and travel for a week.
I have always told my relationships that I am not willing to give up my Friend with Benefits. Yeah, there has been some grumbling about it. I always come back with more love.
It has always been a joy connecting with each other. My son asked why don't I marry my Friend with Benefits? That would spoil it. We both like our own space and living our separate lives. We are aware of each other relationships but don't go into detail about it.
There have been a few blow ups. One lasted for months but finally my Friend with Benefits called and said she missed me too much to continue staying angry.
Miriam, you've given all of us an extraordinary gift by sharing so much. Thank you. I see that your commitment to truth and your wisdom are what make your relationship with Andrew work so well now.
Your willingness to share candidly makes our community the resource it is. On behalf of all my readers, thank you! (And I hope more readers will thank you personally here.)
You and Tina Tessina are right: you have to talk, talk, talk about what’s going on for both of you. Andrew and I do this all the time. It takes a lot of maturity from both of us. We realize that we both can’t have what we want at the same time, so our arrangement is ultimately unstable. He has what he wants now: multiple lovers, including me who he feels the closest to. But I’m not getting my one-woman man. When I do find my mate, Andrew loses me as a sex friend, which will be a great loss for him.
This instability causes occasional tough feelings: sometimes I feel a flare of jealousy if he spends extended time with another lover; he feels a stab of fear when I date a promising new prospect. We are committed to making a lasting friendship work, with or without sex, through these ups and downs. And we’re committed to each other’s happiness in life, even when that means we won’t get all of what we want from the other.
So, why does this work at all? Andrew is a naturally sensual toucher even without strong desire, and he’s delightful and caring company. I get both emotional and touch nurture that keeps me warmed up for a more total love experience with someone else.
You know, there are all kinds of articles for committed couples about the joys, pain, and trials of committed love, and it normalizes the tough times, since no love partnership is perfect. Well, the same is true for sex friends – there are plenty of joys, pain, and trials too. We just have less common cultural experience to share with those who are going through it.
Andrew and I get together no more than twice a month. That gives me a chance to clear the deep bonding feelings out of my system so I’m open to others. And I have plenty of time to date and keep myself open to finding my mate. I’m genuinely interested in and attracted to other men. Over the last six months I’ve noticed that the men I’m meeting are getting better than the ones I saw before: not yet compatible enough, but good, solid, attractive men. I have a growing sense that I’m getting closer to my goal. In fact I’ve just started to see a man who is the strongest prospect yet – he’s attractive, really interesting, and emotionally intelligent.
I’m actually in a place I never thought I’d be: with Andrew I have the nurture of a lovely man whom I like and love, while I look for a man for whom I will forsake all others. 3 years ago, without a sex friend, I looked out on the dating world and saw only a dry place – lots of plants but all tumbleweeds. Now I see abundance – a river full of life’s diversity with possibilities for me if I’m willing to notice where the life is. I have a touch friend who keeps me just buoyed up enough to have the patience to look for a man who will be a great mate for me.
I consider myself a fortunate woman. But it hasn't been through luck alone. Care, attention, graciousness for those involved, and keeping my goals in place are all prerequisites.
As I mentioned before (my April 7/11 comment on your March 20/11 post), my sex friend is a previous lover. In that comment I talked about how it works well for me, and it does. Now I thought I’d add some of the ways it’s challenging, to give your community a sense of the textures to this kind of a sex friend.
Why this works at all is that both of us knew, when we broke up, that we were never going to be a long-term committed couple. We had non-workable differences that, if we both stayed true to who we are, could never be managed in a relationship. We also broke up for 2 years before we entertained the notion to try this current arrangement. During that time we had virtually no contact, aside from a couple of events we were both at for mutual friends’ important celebrations. I mention this because it was necessary for both of us that we get through the intense, long, and wrenching period of pain and grief from breaking up since we each loved the other deeply.
There are 2 roads I’ve walked in the last 3 years that both produce ambivalent feelings. While on the one road during the past year when I’m with “Andrew” my sex friend, I so enjoy being with him that I have to remember why it didn’t work out in the first place. You’re right — the old feelings come back. It’s not even a matter of, “I remember how I loved him deeply.” I love him deeply still. Sometimes when I spend time with him, I want it to last forever. I’ve asked myself — is it okay to love and enjoy him so much now that I’m not committed to him and we have no long term future together?
While on the other road, during those two years of dating others and not having a viable sex friend, I felt so impatient and frustrated with my dating life (lots of men, low compatibility) along with the lack of a deep touch connection, that my usual hopeful perspective was seriously endangered. And yet I knew that I had made the right choice to end my love relationship with Andrew.
So now with Andrew as a sex friend, how do I keep from hoping that he and I could get back together? My in-love feelings are counterbalanced because I also experience the dissatisfactions that broke us up in the first place. In other words, ALL the old feelings come back. Since we broke up he realized more strongly that he is a committed polyamorist with tendencies to keep his deep love for a known lover but transfer his sexual desire to a newer liaison. My desire stays high. So I’m much more often in the mood with Andrew than he maintains with me. Besides that, I want a one-woman man who stays crazy about me. And I’m committed to not settling until I get it. As dissatisfied as I’ve always been about this dynamic between us, now that we’re not a couple, I’m not tied by a commitment to him to “work it out.” I can keep looking for someone who will be more of a full mate with me. How great is that?
Sue, you can bet I've thought about it! Most have moved on in their lives — in a committed relationship now, or seeking male lovers, or having health issues. One died. Hmmm, there are two I haven't excluded though….
Joan, I love your comments, and I agree completely. Thanks for letting me guest post!
Tina B. Tessina, "Dr. Romance" http://www.facebook.com/#!/DrRomanceBlog
Now that you are single again, would you consider going back to any of your former sex buddies? Why or why not? They seem like a great pool of viable candidates.