Updated: Jan 13
This phrase has always grated on me whenever I’ve heard it used and I could never pin point why. Being a middle aged women, on the cusp of turning 50, trying to understand or embrace this phase, I feel I’m at a disadvantage. No amount of social media followers or likes will change the fact that I am a product of the 70’s, where low fat was the diet preference, telephones were attached to walls, and the biggest thing to happen on the weekend was Saturday morning cartoons on a black and white TV set that only had two channels with a foiled covered wire clothes hanger as the antenna.
But like my grandparents did before me, by ditching the 8 track tape stereo system for a CD player, I won’t get stuck in the past, but do all I can to stay up to date with the ever changing times. Especially, as I am a new singleton, out here in these Covid streets, not wanting to get caught looking for love in all the wrong places. With this cautious spirit, I thought that I would take a moment and delve into my psyche and understand why when I hear someone describe their relationship status as “Friends with Benefits” my insides to cringe.
When taking myself on these types of self explorations, I like to start with the fundamentals, and in this case I chose Websters online dictionary as my jump off point. Primary Schoolish, I know, but this is how my brains cognitive functions work. Remember, I did mention that I was a product o the 70’s?
a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.
I’m aware that this is not every ones definition, however it’s the one that not only I grew up with but resonates best with me. But to go a bit deeper and personal than the good ole’ Webinator, I can only label a person as a “Friend “when I know for sure that I can count on them for one of two things.
Bury a Body
Bail me out of Jail
Yes, I recognise that these are extremely dire situations to require support from a person, but I’ve found that it’s in these extremely dire situations when one finds out the truth of who their ride or die bitches are. And this can be a heart breaking revelation, because these kind of requirements aren’t easily met. It takes a hell of a lot more than a few gossipy chats over coffee at Starbucks and one or two all-day thrift shopping excursions. In my experience it requires years of listening to the same bullshit excuses and repeatedly watching the same insane mistakes being made, while all the while being there with compassion, and support. And let’s not forget the big major let down or hurt. Followed by the “I ain’t never speaking to that Bitch again!” phase. That leads to estrangement. Then, luckily you get blessed with a chance meeting at a random taco stand, where you realise how much you miss them and get the chance to talk it out, forgive and mend fences. Because you realise, that even after all that drama, you both still think that each other is the shit and feel lucky to have the other in your life. So you make the time and investment even if it’s just for shits and giggles.
For me there are 4 persons who meet this definition of “Friend” and I don’t have sex with any of them. I value the friendship too much to risk the complications that sex brings. YES, complications! Nothing about sex is simple or straightforward. REAL TALK!
AND NOW ON TO
1. an advantage or profit gained from something.
Simply put, and maybe this is my ego, but the benefit/profit gained from being my friend, is that a you get to hang out with me, without judgement or critique, with radical acceptance. I recognise that I am idealistic, and somewhat romantic in the last statement, and not all benefits are received from performing a service with the intention of receiving a payment. However, describing the intimate act of sex as an advantage for Philia, the greek word for affectionate love, comes across as manipulative. Maybe that’s why “They” say don’t mix business and friendship. Once there is an exchange of goods then the relationship becomes purely transactional, one with an expectation of payment for services rendered. Even if the service or exchange of goods is sex. I’m not saying that one of you then become a sex worker, accept one of you then becomes a sex worker.
Mateo Sol wrote:
“As Aristotle put it, philia is a “dispassionate virtuous love” that is free from the intensity of sexual attraction. It often involves the feelings of loyalty among friends, camaraderie among teammates, and the sense of sacrifice for your pack”
Movies and cheap romance books, (come on, we’ve all read one or two in our life time, I’ll admit to it!), that portray this carefree, worldly wise, grown up, “Friends with Benefits” scenario all end up with the two main characters finally recognise the beauty of what they have, and the luck to have found it. Then the instant maturation in the “Ah Ha” moment of the story that leads them to decide to stop the manipulation and self denial and give this great opportunity for the Love they’ve always wanted a chance. Yes, this is the fictional Hollywood bullshit we all love and dream of experiencing. Having a loving relationship without putting in the real work of growing the fuck up emotionally.
In my online exploration to better understand this new relationship definition, I stumbled upon Bonnie Pfiester’s “How To” article on this topic, written in June 2020, titled “8 Rules For Making Friends With Benefits Work”. After reading Pfisster, I came to ask myself “Am I reading too much into this?” Because Pfisster’s advice made “Friends with Benefits” sound like a modern term for what my generation called dating, albeit a watered down version. It also reminded me of the expression from my youth “Just A Friend”, used when your best friend caught you talking a little bit too close with a guy she had no information on. That conversation went like this;
Bestie, “Whose that?”
You,“Oh Him? He Just A Friend.” Followed by a wink, or sly smile.
Subtext: Yes, I’m sleeping with him, but don’t expect to see him at the family cookout or get an introduction.
So, in this light the “Friends with Benefits” phrase could be the 21st Century version of the 20th Century’s phrase“Just A Friend”. Remember Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” song. Here’s the link, thank me later:
Maybe it’s my age or prejudice but back then “Just A Friend” had a cute, cheeky and naughty ring to it. Like getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. You weren’t going to put the cookie back but cheekily munch on it and suffer the consequences later. However, when I hear the today’s 20 somethings use the phrase, “Friend with Benefits” it sounds so caustic, worldly weary, and unscrupulous. Or maybe I’m just listening to a particular group of twenty somethings with a bad accent. Or romancing the past as I often do.
“They” say that all couples who stay together long enough ultimately end up as friends. And that seems to be what we are all striving for in the end, isn’t it? That person we can look back through the years we’ve spent a lifetime with, and giggle at your shenanigans before you close your eyes for the last time while holding their hand. Romantic, sappy, that’s me. You’d be a fool to think that you can short cut that with a label. Because that takes the work of time, patience, understanding, forgiveness, compassion, acceptance and love. Where if you’re lucky , you'll reap the benefits of mental, emotional or spiritual growth. It’s the difference between Tesco’s tin curry and homemade curry that took all day to make. Not to say that curry in a tin doesn’t have it merits, but it can’t hold a candle to curry made with love in the old family pot. There is no short cut to quality, depth, and beauty, the price has to be paid with no discounts. And sadly we live in a world were the painless, fast, and easy way is not only expected but demanded.
All those who I call “Friends” have the benefits of my love and acceptance. Otherwise they are just an acquaintance or to put it kindly, someone I’m friendly with. Maybe, it’s just that I have yet to have this experience in life. Maybe I’m too black and white in my views. Or maybe this “Friends With Benefits” turn of phrase is another bullshit social unicorn/myth, that Hollywood and romance writers have sold to both women and men.
When first investigating my angst with this, I thought my uncomfortableness revolved around the word “Benefits”, and it seemingly cheapening the beautiful act of physical intimacy. But now, I see that it’s the word “Friend” that grates, because it cheapens the priceless, and few hard won friendships that I have in my life.
8 Rules For Making Friends With Benefits Work.
What It Really Means To Be Friends With Benefits