Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon , in light of the new “please don’t make me watch it” romantic comedy No Strings Attached , writes about how the premise of the movie, that “friends with benefits” rarely works, echoes in real life. Someone falls in love, someone gets attached, someone is being manipulative and trying to get more. We all know the drill. But one thing that struck me in her article was that perhaps the people who found that FWB doesn’t work did so because their concept of romantic relationships was all screwed up going in.
Over and over again, her interviewees characterize falling in love and choosing to partner with someone as a trap that FWB is about avoiding. One of her subjects even says, “Because the idea of sex without consequences is the most awesome thing on the planet.” If you see being in love with and committing to someone as a “consequence,” a word we usually reserve for something like getting an STD, then that’s where you have started to go off the rails. The problem seems less with casual sex itself and more with people treating love as some sort of plague that’s to be avoided at all costs. Even if you weren’t screwing the people you’re trying not to fall in love with, I’d imagine you’d probably still be making yourself miserable by creating attachments that you then try to deny you feel because you equate love with weakness. Or if you equate love with trying to extract some horrible cost from someone else.
Maybe I’m not the person to ask on this, since I’ve spent most of my adult life in long-term relationships. When I’ve been single, it’s been great, but if something happens where suddenly not being single seems like the better option, what’s the harm in going for it? Fear of someone thinking that you’re the kind of person who wouldn’t mind sitting on the couch watching The Wire with your significant other? Most people I’ve seen pull the FWB thing off successfully did so because they weren’t shut off to the possibility of falling in love; they just didn’t have it with the person they were sleeping with. I’ve seen more than one friend see their friend with benefits happily wish them well when they called them up to say they had to cut it out because now they’ve met someone they want to get snuggly with. FWB requires flexibility, which is easier to cultivate if you’re not trying to build a bunch of arbitrary rules about what you won’t allow yourself to feel.
And sure, you could fall in love with your friend with benefits. You could also fall in love with someone who is just your friend, or someone you had a romantic date with. All of these people can reject you. You could live with someone for 15 years, only to have her turn over and say, “You know, I’m bored. Here are the keys, and it’s been great knowing you.” Risking rejection isn’t fun, but it’s not really something you can protect against effectively without cutting yourself off to greater possibilities.