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.