By Colleen Cunha
Here at Ithaca—or really at almost any college—people are constantly thinking about relationships. One subgroup of people in these giant congregations of hormonal “young adults” are those who call themselves “friends with benefits.” These are an interesting bunch. People in this category essentially believe that they are not in “relationships” with their partners and have no commitment. They are looking for a kind of non-exclusive friendship that also satisfies their sexual longing. This trend often appears during the years of uncertainty and experimentation in high school and college.
As someone who has never really seen the appeal in a no-strings-attached relationship—as convenient as it may sound—I wonder how someone could possibly long for a relationship that seems fake and meaningless. Isn’t commitment something humans inherently need?
One case to acknowledge is the “open relationship,” which can be quite similar to friends with benefits, but may be a half step closer to a real relationship. The obvious question to the outsider in this situation is, “If you like each other enough to date and hook up, why is this relationship open?!”
The most likely answer here is that one person often likes the other more, which can obviously lead to a tricky situation. Maybe she is extremely interested in him, but he wants to be free and available at the same time as having her by his side whenever he calls. Sometimes these arrangements evolve into real relationships when the less committed person “comes around,” but if that doesn’t happen, odds are the situation is going to end in a mess.
Another potentially dangerous situation is when “friends with benefits” destroys a perfectly good friendship. If two people are good friends and are very attracted to each other, they may decide to give it a chance. They think, “Why not satisfy my sexual longings with someone I trust and enjoy being with?” Well, that right there sounds a lot like a relationship, but without the commitment. Something like this could very easily lead to miscommunication between the two people. Their once-great friendship has come to a huge turning point—one that could mean the end for the good relationship they had.
In all of these situations, it is entirely possible for the gender roles referenced to be swapped. Anyone in a relationship like this, whether it be a guy and a girl, two guys or two girls, has the potential to get hurt.
Then, there’s the 500 Days of Summer complex. This is an example of a situation where the two people in the relationship are not seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to what the relationship actually is, as tends to happen with friends with benefits or open relationship situations. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about two people who are essentially best friends with benefits. The boy falls in love with the girl, but the girl one day leaves him (SPOILER ALERT) and quickly marries someone else. Her uncanny ability to be emotionless in what seemed like a happy relationship with the first boy is almost disturbing. Even so, she did not feel terribly guilty when she “stopped seeing” the first boy because she met this new man, who was essentially her soul mate.
Of course, I know there must be some plus sides to such open relationships, or these situations wouldn’t exist. The easiness of the situations must be some of the allure. Feeling sexually satisfied by someone you like being around and trust is a good thing, and it can get very close to being a real relationship without the (as some would call it) scary label. If both people sincerely want no emotional commitment in a relationship, then friends with benefits may sound like the perfect situation. But don’t emotions eventually come around? If you truly are friends with the person, it’s probably going to be quite difficult to keep that balance of sexual attraction, friendship and a total lack of exclusivity going for a long time.
The real thing that makes me, personally, very uneasy about situations like this is how close a “successful” friends-with-benefits situation comes to a real relationship. It’s virtually “going steady” with someone, without the steady part. Is tiptoeing the line between being in a relationship and being friends with benefits healthy? I cannot honestly think of a situation where it would be ideal for both people for a long period of time, but maybe it’s just not for me.
Colleen Cunha is a sophomore cinema and photography major who wants to be friends… without any benefits. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.