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My friend Erin asked me a question the other night at dinner. Apparently, she’s been dating more and trying out dating applications like Bumble and Tinder. She was surprised to see how many people on there didn’t really want committed relationships. She asked me, “Ryan—what is a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship? I feel like people are asking me if I’m interested in this and I don’t know why.” Okay—great question Erin. We should break this down!

A friends with benefits relationship is a type of open relationship with the person is generally interested in having no commitment and no exclusivity within the relationship. Let’s take a look at what the relationship is and why it happens.

Expert fact: According to Jessica Fern, a psychotherapist and the author of Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy, as of September 2020, about 4% of Americans, nearly 16 million people, are “practicing a non-monogamous style of relationship.”

a couple in the bedroom - friends with benefits

First, my experience with this…

While I’ve never been in a friends with benefits relationship—what I can say is that whenever I was on online dating applications, many people (both men and women) wanted this type of a relationship. Maybe they didn’t exactly come out and say it—but what they did and presented to the world certainly said it.

For example, if you’re going through an online profile and you see someone say that they “don’t know what they want” in terms of their dating goals. And they have plenty of revealing photographs of themselves on their dating profile… Well, that might indicate that this person is looking for an FWB relationship.

Take my word for this—a person who wants a committed and long-term relationship definitely presents themselves to the world in a different way!

A friends with benefits relationship

A friends with benefits relationship is a type of relationship where there is no intention to have any type of love commitment. For the most part, the two of you are interested in having a casual and intimacy focused relationship.

When you look at a regular relationship—you might go out on dates with the intention of having children, a marriage, or other future committed aspects of your life. Engaging in this type of relationship means that the two of you generally have no interest in doing that.

For the most part—this is strictly about INTIMACY.

Benefits of this relationship type

Here are some benefits of this relationship type:

  • Potentially non-monogamous: Maybe you’re already in a relationship where it’s “open,” if that’s the case, then this type of a relationship might suit you pretty well.
  • You don’t want children or a future: A lot more people are determining that they don’t want kids in their lifetime. If this is the two of you, then maybe this relationship will work.
  • There’s less of a chance of arguing: Don’t get me wrong—there’s still a good chance that the two of you will argue in this type of a relationship. But if you have the groundwork sorted out—you might not have as many arguments.

Drawbacks of this relationship type

Here are some the major drawbacks to this type of a relationship:

  • You might “catch feelings” as it’s called: In many cases, an FWB relationship ends up with one of other person’s having intimate feelings for the other. This is pretty normal considering you’re engaging in intimacy, together.
  • There’s a chance you’re getting cheated on: Most times, the FWB parter is going to have multiple partners that they are with. They are simply someone who isn’t interested in commitment or being with someone long-term.
  • Arguments could arise: In many cases, jealousy and other feelings could come up when you’re not on the same page. For the most part, an FWB relationship could be happening without both people even knowing it.

See also: What is considered cheating?

Friends with benefits meaning to a guy

When a guy says that they want to be in an “FWB relationship” with you—it generally means that they have no interest in making you their exclusive partner.

You could expert this person to have multiple intimacy partners that they are with. Or be talking to multiple women when they are talking to you.

If this doesn’t sound like something you’d be keen on having happen to you—then avoid this relationship type, entirely.

Related: What is an NSA relationship

Friends with benefits meaning to a girl

For a girl, when they are looking to have an “FWB relationship,” it commonly means that they are either cheating on their current partner or that they have no interest in having a family in the future. Usually, women who want friends with benefits might have some deeper rooted problems that they need to address.

This is different than men/women because women should be ones that start families more than men. It’s no secret that men are driven by their intimacy with other people. But when women are—it’s a bigger problem.

Usually, a woman who wants an FWB setup isn’t interested in family, children, or commitment at this type. You’ll be one of their many partners.

a couple in the bedroom - friends with benefits

How it differs from dating

A friends with benefits relationship might differ from dating because the two of you might not do as many things together. For example, in a dating setup—you’ll probably want to explore hobbies or new interests, together.

In a friends with benefits relationship, the two of you might meet up for a drink. But then after that, it might be time for you two to head home.

The idea is that your focus is purely on intimacy. And while you might have “dates” so to speak—it’s really just time to get together and then get focused on what you really want to focus on.

Then, you have the whole premise of having multiple partners. And you have to be okay with that.

Why people want a friends with benefits relationship type

Usually, people want this type of a relationship when they don’t really have goals with their dating life. In many cases—people who are looking for this type of a relationship do lack some security in life. Or they have issues with their home-life that are causing them to only seek intimacy.

It’s not uncommon for a woman who is recently divorced and has children—to be seeking out an FWB relationship.

Simply put, it might just better align with their life at that current moment. It doesn’t mean that they will always have this type of a relationship going forward.

When to avoid having a friends with benefits relationship type

The most common reason to avoid this type of a relationship is if you’re interested in having a family, interested in commitment, or would like to have an exclusive partner.

It sounds obvious—but if you have any type of reservation about this type of a relationship, you should avoid it. Even if it makes you feel like you might be doing something that isn’t going to have a strong impact on your self-image.

The reality is that this type of a relationship is probably still going to be work. And it may still cause you pain, trouble, and difficulty in life. Being in an FWB relationship doesn’t mean that conflict and other stressors as part of a partnership won’t arise.

Expert tip: Commitment and exclusivity are different. According to the University of Georgia, “Commitment means you will keep on treating your partner with respect, even if you are upset or angry. Commitment also means that you promise to support your partner now and in the future”

A couple on the train

Rules for having this relationship type

If you’re going to engage in this type of a relationship—try to set some rules for success:

1: Establish your principles and own personal rules

Having a sense of “what’s okay” and “what’s not okay” should be set between the two of you. This makes it easier to set up some type of framework for when things are okay and when things are not okay.

In this sense—you’re being avoidant of problems or conflict that might come up. It’s important to establish these very clearly and almost write them down as a type of agreement.

Expert fact: 30 to 60% of married couples will cheat at least once in the marriage. 74% of men and 68% of women admit they’d cheat if it was guaranteed they’d never get caught.

2: Agree upon what it means to be in the relationship

It’s also good to set clear intentions for the relationship. Even though the relationship type sets the intentions, too. It’s great to be very clear.

For example, saying something like, “I really want you to know that no matter what happens here—I generally have no interest in having children or wanting to be married.”

3: Know when to end it

If you’re having a lot of stress with this relationship type—end it. When it’s not working for you—end it.

Trying to retrofit or make the relationship work for you based on what’s available within it—is not going to work. Remember, the relationship started off on a non-committed foot. That means that the person you’re with is not going to invest a lot of time or energy into it.

When it’s not working—move on!

4: Be okay with the outcome

Remember, you’re engaging in this yourself. And you’re agreeing to it. If you don’t get the end result you’re looking for—it’s time to look in the mirror. No one is forcing you to be in this relationship.

Protect yourself. Be safe. And know what you’re doing.


Questions and answers about this relationship type:

What about best friends with benefits—is it the same?

Yes, generally, a best friends with benefits is the exact same as a friends with benefits situation. The only difference is that the person wants to be closer (meaning being closer friends).

What are “online” friends with benefits, though?

It means that the person might want to exchange pictures with you. And have moments of intimacy that are strictly online-only. This might arise when you’re in a Discord room, chat room, or other type of online forum.

Fact checked:
Board reviewed by Marianne Tomlinson, LCSW (Couples and Family Therapy). Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Learn more.

About the author

Ryan Sanderson (LCSW) Ryan is a game and relationship enthusiast who enjoys all things quizzes, games, fun, love, relationships, and family. He's a licensed social worker and helps families, couples, and children in need. He's spoken about love and relationships on Salon.com, Forbes, and Mirror, to name a few.

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