Reader’s Commentary (from a psychotherapist with a practice in relationship counselling and sex therapy, for couples and individuals):
“A patient has asked for my reaction to the Ellie column on “friends with benefits” (August 17):
“Ellie's response was direct and realistic - The very term, friends with benefits (FWB) in its apparent simplicity implies no agreement for exclusivity or fidelity or commitment.
“However, over the years, I’ve found that friendships with benefits are fraught with misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
“Even though the term seems self-explanatory, such arrangements frequently result in hurt feelings. There are several reasons for this:
- When the relationship begins, there is usually no explicit discussion of each person’s expectations. Both people “fall into” such an arrangement, with no clarification regarding guidelines or how to end it if one person becomes emotionally involved with another. (In such an eventuality, they may choose to continue or end their friendship.)
- Often the relation is “unequal,” i.e., one person is more emotionally involved than the other, especially if the sex is good. While this is often the woman, sometimes it may be the man.
- When the sex continues to be passionate, the relation may become more intense for one or both persons - the sex is more than “just good sex” and the friendship becomes more than “just friends.”
- From the very beginning, the two individuals may also be quite different in their temperaments. One person may be more needful or lonely. One person may become bored more easily.
“One person may be more open to seeking a new or committed relationship. Another person may be resistant to the idea of exclusivity.
“One person may assume that a friendship with benefits is an “open relation” with each person free to have outside sex without disclosing to the other.
“For these reasons, I try to help those in a “friendship with benefits” to clarify mutual expectations sooner rather than later, in order to prevent hurt feelings or misunderstanding later on.”
Ellie - No surprise that Toronto psychotherapist, Dr. Robert Langford, who regularly sees patients over several or more visits about their sexual relationship, has a broad picture of how differently various people will respond to the FWB concept.
I’m delighted to share this information with readers since my column, due to its promised anonymity for those who send questions, and are less likely to seek a process of professional help (though I encourage it), must respond within the parameters of what information they provide in a single email.
FEEDBACK Regarding the wife who felt another woman “crossed the line” with a work colleague who’s the letter-writer’s husband (August 21):
Reader – “Why doesn't the man simply respond to her on Zoom telling her that he and his wife have wondered if they know of someone they can introduce her to once COVID- 19 is over?
“He could even comment that his wife thought it was humorous that she’d like to meet someone “like him” because, of course, his wife knows his faults.
“This way, he lets the woman know that it's a friendship only, his wife is aware of his Zoom relationship with this woman and that he’s not interested himself.
“This is always a simple but effective response to anyone who may be checking out a potential partner whether inappropriately or just not wanted. It saves face on both sides.
I’m worried about my friend. She’s smart and very attractive and divorced. Her first husband got into trouble on a business deal and left her with heavy debts to pay. Her next relationship (living together) ended when she learned he was cheating with a co-worker. Recently, a man who proposed to her “forgot” to tell her he was not yet separated from his wife.
I’m not surprised that men pursue her, but I don’t understand why she gets deeply involved with them so quickly and misses what have been red flags along the way.
You’re a good, caring friend. However, such a troubled history suggests a deeper problem that she hasn’t been ready and willing to explore. If you feel close enough, ask her to consider taking a break from serious relationships in order to explore her wants/needs for the future, including developing her own red flag antennae.
Tip of the day:
Thinking a Friends-With-Benefits relationship is simple? Discuss what each of you expects from it, the “rules” to establish, and whether your “friend” is having sex with others, too.