Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Friends With Benefits: Four Rules to Avoid Heartbreak

Looking for a friends-with-benefits situation often leads to heartbreak.

Some people say that a friends-with-benefits (FWB) situation is the ideal of all possible romantic scenarious: You can have your cake, and eat it, too. Well, the truth is that many of these situations end in heartbreak, with one person caring and wanting more than the other. At the end of the day, someone usually gets burned by the fiery mix of passion and a lack of foresight.

If you're going to risk the odds and try a FWB situation yourself, you have to be careful and vigilant about your needs, thoughts, and feelings. I know, I know: Already it sounds less appealing. But should you wade into these non-traditional waters, following a few simple rules will make your life easier and will prevent unnecessary self-destructiveness.The more clear you are about the boundaries early on, the less confusing things will be later. But make no mistake: Friends-with-benefits relationships is like a playing a game of Russian Roulette because the odds of getting hurt are not in your favor.

Rule # 1: Don't mix your social circles.

Letting him or her hang out with or get too close to your friends borders on a relationship, so be careful about sharing too much of your life unless you're prepared to take the relationship to the next level. If you introduce your FWB partner to your friends, your friends can become attached, making things more difficult down the road if you simply want to keep things light. In addition, introducing him or her to your friends will invite the inevitable positive or negative comments your friends are bound to share about your new love - er, lust - interest.

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Rule # 2: Don't share too much emotionally unless you want things to get more serious.

If you confide in him or her about life issues that are causing you stress, this increases the kind of intimacy you want to avoid if you don't want to get too emotionally attached. One of the things that makes FWB a tricky proposal is the fact that it's hard to avoid emotional intimacy when you're spending time with someone - particularly when you're engaging in sexual activity together. What's more, the real goal is to have both sex and emotional intimacy, so engaging in FWB relationships actually works against the goal you'll strive toward in a healthy, long-term relationship later in your life.

Rule # 3: Be realistic about the future you have together.

The best way to be honest with yourself and realistic about what to expect is to have a conversation with him or her early on about the parameters of your FWB relationship. You might think that a FWB relationship is and always will be just about sex, but that's not always the truth. In fact, a real romantic relationship can develop from a FWB relationship. But for that to happen, you will need to relax and communicate openly about your needs and your feelings, and circumstances will require that the timing is right for the other person and that you are the kind of person he or she is looking for in terms of a long-term partner.

Rule # 4: Manage inevitable jealoousy when it arises.

No matter how cool or detached both of you try to be, odds are that jealousy will rear its ugly head. If you find yourself getting jealous, be honest and tell your FWB partner, and the two of you can talk about whether the FWB relationship is truly working for both of you. If he's the one who starts getting jealous, for example, and you also realize that you don't want to get involved more seriously with him, it's time to consider detaching and letting the benefits side of the relationship go.

In the end, any kind of romantic relationship - whether it be marriage or FWB - involves a fair share of risk. The more aware you are of your needs, the more effectively will you be able to get close to the fire but avoid getting burned.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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