Relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein LCSW and I often counsel women who are stuck in unfulfilling relationships. Despite their best efforts to push, cajole, or demand progress, their relationship remains stagnant. More often than not, these women are dating emotionally unavailable partners. One type of emotionally unavailable partner is a “friend with benefits” (hereinafter FWB).
An FWB is a sexual partner who wants gratification without strings attached. To be clear, these two people aren’t dating, going to dinner, or meeting each other’s friends or family. They do not provide emotional support to one another. The only thing on the table is sex. And it comes without the expectation of monogamy.
While an FWB situation can be mutually satisfying, this is the exception rather than the rule. As a relationship therapist with 20 years’ experience, Aimee attests that women in these dynamics often suffer tremendous emotional trauma:
“There is an enormous divide between intellect and emotion. While many women think they are capable of being 'cool,' they're often surprised when deep feelings develop. Sex releases oxytocin — the body’s love drug. When oxytocin is released, a woman will feel emotionally bonded to her sexual partner. Many women begin to find themselves overwrought by unrequited infatuation.”
At School of Love NYC, we are sex-positive. If you’re currently in an 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 an FWB situation hoping 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” and women with whom they'll have casual sex. It's very rare to turn an FWB situation into something more. If you're 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 subpar.
If you aren't sure, 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 might 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 don't 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 might still feel uncomfortable.
This type of arrangement requires thick skin. Are you okay not getting a call back, a check-in, or a basic “How are you?” Are you okay getting naked with a partner only to have him 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. You believe 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 might 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 of finding the right one.
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Here's a more in-depth look on how to identify and disengage from emotionally unavailable men.
Monica Parikh is a lawyer, writer, and dating coach. Deeply interested in love and relationships, she recently started School of Love NYC to help men and women develop happier and healthier relationships. Aimee Hartstein LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist with 20 years of experience. She specializes in relationship and couples counseling.