Should I Take My ‘Friendship with Benefits’ to the Next Level?

I've been carrying on a functioning (if not entirely sexually fulfilling, from my perspective) "friends with benefits" relationship. Though we do not have other partners, I wouldn't rule that out for either of us. He wants to either take the next step or take the "benefits" off the table. If I have to choose, I would rather stop having sex than be in a relationship. We have talked and made that decision multiple times ... only to continue sleeping together. It feels easy and effortless to maintain an intimate relationship. Our families are close, we have great communication, and in many ways it feels like this is what a relationship "should" be. I'm cynical about relationships, even though I have never really been in one, and I'm not waiting for "The One." Though I like this person a lot and am attracted to him, I'm not convinced that we should do the exclusive, committed relationship thing. Should I be jumping at the chance to have this experience with someone I know cares a great deal about me, since everything seems to fall into place? —Unsure
Dear Unsure,

Your question brings up some very salient points, and I will do my best to answer them for you. First, you state that you are in a “not entirely fulfilling” relationship but that it is comfortable. It’s very easy to stay in those comfortable situations because it’s less risky than the unknown—and that’s often where people get stuck. This relationship doesn’t demand much, require much, or take you out of your comfort zone, and it may seem like that is a very safe place for you. Now your friend is asking you to decide what you want, and it is bringing up some anxiety for you.

You don’t have to choose, but also know that not making a choice is still making a choice. Refusing to decide is a decision, but it is less empowering than making a choice based on what is best for you and your life. You are at a crossroads here; as it stands, this relationship is not fulfilling for either of you, but neither one of you is willing to make a solid decision to end it and to act on that knowledge. You seem unwilling to get into a committed relationship with your friend, but you like the comfort that is offered by the current arrangement. It seems to offer many of the benefits of a relationship without the vulnerability or expectations.

This brings up a couple of questions for me. First, what contributed to your cynical view of relationships if you’ve never had one? I’m wondering if your hesitation to commit to this as a real relationship is based on fear of getting hurt, being disappointed, or having your heart broken? Or is it something else? Second, how willing are you to make a real, solid decision about this relationship and take ownership for that choice?

You ask, “Should I be jumping at the chance?” and I am reminded of a quote by Peter McWilliams that notes: “It is a risk to love; what if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does?” No one but you can say what you “should” do, and you “should” only do that if it is what is true to you, your heart, and your desires. It sounds to me like there are a lot of questions in your mind that deserve to be explored before you make any major decisions about this (or any other) relationship. I do not believe in jumping into a relationship if you’re not ready for it just because it seems “right.” The right person at the wrong time can be just as destructive as the wrong person at the wrong time.

Take some time. Consider getting into depth therapy with someone who can walk this journey with you. You’ve already taken the brave step of asking the questions, so please keep exploring them.

Best wishes,

Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Kris

    September 28th, 2013 at 4:20 AM

    If something about it does not feel right now then just wait until you got into that committed relationship with him! I would much rather maintain my friendship than go into something that wasn’t right for us and then end up losing something that is potentially pretty special. If it were me, and I don’t envy the decision that you have to make, I would definitely have to weigh all of the pros and cons and see what is going to bring the most lasting benefits to the two of you over the long term. What feels good right now might not necessarily be what is going to bring either of you the most pleasure over the long haul. Great sex is great sex, but that comes and goes; a great friendship can last a lifetime.

  • Rachel

    September 28th, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    When you’ve found the one, then you know you’ve found the one. From the way you’re talking I guess I ‘m not conviced you’ve found the one and I don’t think that you really are either.

  • mike

    September 29th, 2013 at 5:20 AM

    I am gonna go against the grain of what everyone else here seems to be saying.

    Why not at least give this a try? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? That the next level doesn’t work out for you guys? If not then big deal, you can still be friends. But you won’t know until you try and if you don’t then there could always be that big what if hanging over your heads that you might always wonder about.

    So I say go for it. But I’m just a guy- what do I know?

  • Bryce l

    September 30th, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    KInd of surprised the guy wants to be the one moving to the nesxt level. Typically we are the ones who want to keep the benefits but with no commitment. Maybe he is really more into you than you think he is.

  • megan Hames

    October 1st, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    I would be asking him why he wants to try to fix something if it ain’t broke
    But maybe it’s broke for him and he isn’t getting quite the same thing from it anymore that you are.
    I guess that’s one way to start looking at it, are the two of you atill looking for the same thing out of this relationship and are you atill getting the same thing from it?
    It kind of sounds like you started out with the same intentions but then somewhere along the way those things diverged and maybe you are now on different paths.
    If that’s the case, I say salvage the remaining friendship, take the benefits so to speak off the table, and look for other significants to fill that other part of your life, someone who may more adequately be what you are looking for in a partner.

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