This article first appeared on mindbodygreen.
Relationship therapist, Aimee Hartstein LCSW, and I often counsel women who are stuck in unfulfilling relationships. Despite their best efforts to push, cajole and demand forward progress, their love life remains stagnant. More often than not, these women are dating emotionally unavailable partners, which we detail extensively in our e-guide, "Come Here, Go Away." One type of emotionally unavailable partner is a “friend with benefits” (hereinafter FWB).
A FWB is a sexual partner who wants gratification without strings attached. To be clear, this person isn't providing emotional support, taking you to dinner or introducing you to their friends and family. The only thing on the table is sex. And, it comes without the expectation of monogamy.
While a FWB situation can be mutually satisfying, it is rarely the case. As a relationship therapist with 20 years’ experience, Aimee attests that women often suffer tremendous emotional havoc from these casual arrangements.
“There is an enormous divide between intellect and emotion. While many women think they are capable of being 'cool,' they are often surprised when feelings develop. Sex releases oxytocin—the body’s love drug. When oxytocin is released, a woman is going to feel emotionally bonded to her sexual partner. Many women find themselves overwrought by unrequited infatuation.”
At School of Love NYC, we are sex- positive. If you’re currently in a FWB situation and it’s working well for you, then by all means, enjoy yourself. However, if any of the below criteria apply to you, we suggest you rethink your strategy to prioritize your emotional needs.
1. You want him to be your boyfriend.
Many women enter into a FWB situation, hoping that the relationship will turn monogamous over time. We hate to break it to you, but this rarely occurs.
Men often make a mental distinction between women to “date” versus those with whom to have “casual sex.” It is very rare to turn a FWB situation into something more. If you are unhappy with the casual nature of the relationship, but hope that he’ll change his mind, we suggest an immediate about-face. Forget the sex and spend your time building up your self-esteem instead. The payout will be well worth it, we promise.
2. The sex isn’t very good.
This arrangement is all about sex, so if it’s mediocre, what is the point?
Good sex is dependent upon a variety of factors—chemistry, compatibility, communication, and a mutual desire to receive and give pleasure. In many FWB situations, there is no underlying emotional connection between the partners, making the sex sub-par.
So, ask yourself the following questions:
• Are you enjoying the sex?
• Do you feel safe and uninhibited?
• Is your partner interested in your comfort and pleasure?
If you’re answering “no” to the majority of these questions, pay attention. Too many people use sex to fill an emotional need, including the desire to feel connected and attractive. Unfortunately, bad sex coupled with a lack of intimacy may very well make you feel worse than before the encounter.
3. He’s not very nice to you.
Even in a no-strings relationship, you should expect kindness and respect. All too often, women accept shabby treatment because they do not feel worthy of more.
• Feeling belittled and ignored either before, during or after the act of sex?
• Engaging in behavior outside your comfort zone?
• Fearful of expressing boundaries?
A “yes” to any of the foregoing is cause for alarm. Take a breather. Pay attention to how you're feeling. Your emotional integrity matters.
4. All your friends are doing it.
Casual sex outside of a relationship is not for everyone. Despite the fact that many of your friends are doing it (and you tell yourself that it’s no big deal), you may still feel uncomfortable.
This type of arrangement requires a thick skin. Are you ok not getting a call back, a check-in, or a basic “How are you?” Are you ok getting naked with a partner only to have them disappear for days, weeks or months until your next encounter?
Know yourself. If you feel like crying after each encounter, disengage and look for something that feels more intimate and safe.
5. Something is better than nothing.
People often hang out with a casual partner, even when they want something more serious, because they hate being alone.
Here’s the thing—to meet a really incredible and inspiring partner, you have to lead an incredible and inspired life. Often, you will have to let go of people and situations that are unfulfilling (or beneath your value), so you can set your sights on something truly worthy of your love and emotion.
If you’re looking for something serious and substantial, you may have to let go of the guy who texts you at midnight every other Saturday night. When you close the door on the wrong relationship, you have a much better chance at beginning the right one.
For a more in-depth look on how to identify and disengage from emotionally unavailable men, check out our e-guide, "Come Here, Go Away."