Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
If only you could go back in time and tell your college-age self to relax; it's not your fault that attempt at a Friends With Benefits Relationship (FWBR) with your buddy from down the hall didn't quite work out. In a series of interviews with 25 university students, communications professor Kendra Knight, PhD, conducted a qualitative study of how communication — or, more accurately, a lack thereof — plays into FWBRs.
Even though Dr. Knight began the interview process hoping to gain more subjective anecdotes than hard data, a few common threads started to come up in her conversations with students. Most of them explained that a FWBR can be enticing because it seemingly requires less emotional effort than an actual relationship. One interviewee stated specifically, "You're not supposed to work at it." That's probably why very little communication — "relational talk," as Dr. Knight describes it — goes on within a FWBR once it's begun. Something that's so supposedly easy shouldn't merit much discussion, right?
Dr. Knight reached some important (though less-than-surprising) conclusions when she prodded her subjects for the deeper reasons why they didn't want to talk shop with their casual partners. Several female participants shared a fear of coming off as the "crazy girl" if they tried having a "talk" about the boundaries of their FWBR, though a general anxiety about seeming possessive or clingy was expressed by male interviewees, too. This gets at a major theme in our dating culture, whether the relationship in question is casual or committed: Jealousy is seen as weakness, and ain't nobody got time for that.
Dr. Knight found that when someone does try to have a conversation with their FWB, they usually get shut down — or the FWB gets defensive and tries to shame the other person into ending the talk prematurely.
So, while it's nice to believe that your hookup pal won't mess with a good thing — or may even make a gesture of support —FWBRs are rarely so simple. That said, we're holding out for Science to publish an exact formula on how to achieve the perfect open relationship. Any day now.