“Friends with benefits” (FWB) arrangements usually have rules that conflict with traditional dating scenarios. Both parties enter into the casual relationship with an understanding that there will be no commitment. You don’t owe the other person anything, feelings should be squelched, and attachment isn’t wise.
But sometimes, those transactional relationships lead to real feelings. And sometimes, this happens for only one person in the relationship, and that can be painful. Other times, it may happen for both, but neither person is sure if they can (or should) start a relationship — and also, how to raise the question.
Everyone has a different opinion about FWBs, but these murky relationships can and do evolve into traditional dating as feelings develop. According to Match.com’s 2018 Singles in America study, 55 percent of single men and women have had a FWB arrangement; 45 percent of those who’ve had a friend with benefits have seen it progress into a committed relationship.
So what do you do if you suddenly catch feelings? For your own sanity, you should bring it up.
But how should you address the situation, and what happens if it doesn’t work in your favor? Let’s talk through various scenarios.
Figure out what you want now.
Developing feelings for someone always changes the game. Before you approach your FWB with the change in your feelings, you have to figure out exactly what you want from the conversation.
You have a few options. Do you want to keep on as you are? Start dating officially? Or end the FWB relationship all together? You might not feel that a relationship is a viable option for you at the moment, in which case you should figure out if you want to stop seeing your FWB or change the “rules” of your relationship dynamic; remember, a “relationship” is whatever you decide it is, even if you want it to be slightly more than casual. Or you might want something real, like traditional dating with the intent to figure out if you’re compatible on a deeper level.
You don’t have to be 100 percent sure of what you want; after all, this situation involves two people, and your FWB’s emotions may influence what you ultimately want to do. But you can at least figure out what won’t work for you, like a full-blown serious relationship or continuing as if your feelings haven’t changed. Decide what your hard lines are in advance, so you can stick to them when you meet up.
Ask to meet your FWB outside the bedroom.
It’s important that you ask to chat with your friendly fling outside the bedroom. Do not meet up for the “I have feelings” conversation at either your place or theirs. If you hook up before you discuss the nature of your relationship, you might feel too vulnerable to share your true feelings — not to mention, if sparks and hormones are suddenly flying, you may not stick to your “hard lines” about what you do or don’t want.
If you don’t want to clue your FWB into some serious discussion, ask whether they’re around whenever you know what you want to say; don’t meet up to hook up once you’ve decided you definitely have feelings, but don’t know how to tackle ‘em. If your buddy says yes, ask if they want to grab a quick coffee. Keep it earlier in the day or evening. Have an exit plan.
Be totally honest, and don’t expect a reply right away.
It’s important to be honest and clear with your FWB about how your feelings have changed, especially if the situation began with no feelings. The conversation should have three elements: 1) state how your feelings have changed, and perhaps why; 2) state what you want (or don’t want), or how you might want the situation to change; 3) let your FWB respond however they’d like.
Unless their feelings have also unexpectedly changed, they are probably going to be a little taken by surprise. Don’t expect a reply right away if they seem to be struggling for the right words. Tell them they can have as long as they’d like to think it over, but you’d like to know when they figure out their feelings. Finally, make a quick exit. Go treat yourself to something: a drink with a friend, a walk around the park, ice cream… You just did a hard thing!
And do keep your schedule busy in the days ahead. Waiting for someone to figure out their feelings for you can make days (and nights) awfully long.
Cut it off if feelings are not reciprocated; discuss new rules if they are.
When your FWB gets back to you, know how you’re going to respond. Honestly, no good can come of a relationship in which feelings are not reciprocated, or you two don’t want the same things — even if your fling wants your situation to stay the same. It’s best to cut things off if you guys just aren’t on the same page. Even if you’re not sure you want a serious relationship right that very moment, the odds of disaster or pain are high if you keep hooking up with someone who just isn’t that into you. So, be smart.
If your FWB says they do have feelings, first of all, yay! This is the best outcome. But the discussion doesn’t stop there. It’s up for you two to sit down with each other, complete with this added knowledge about mutual feelings, and discuss a new dynamic. Whether it’s slow dating, a legit relationship or anything in between, be clear and keep the conversation going. Your feelings and the dynamic will keep changing; this is just the first step toward something real.
And again, as I said: A relationship is whatever you decide it is. So, go. Decide! And enjoy the romance.
Jenna Birch is the author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo Lifestyle every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Yahoo question” in the subject line.
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