As much as we might not think about it, movies and TV often shape the way people think about relationships. So, when every depiction of a friends-with-benefits situation on the screen ends either in major drama with those in the relationship never wanting to see each other again or in a happy ending with a casual sexual partner-turned-true love, the assumption is that these kinds of relationships just don't work.
Good news, though: Science has come in to explain that successful friends-with-benefits relationships really do exist — and there are just three things you need to make them work.
In a recent study published in Archives Of Sexual Behavior, those who were happy with their FWB relationships felt connected to their casual partner, were willing to sacrifice for them, and spent less time looking for an alternative, should their current partnership fall apart.
Researchers examined casual sexual relationships between 171 college students, comprising of 118 women, 52 men, and one person who did not disclose a gender identity. The participants had all had at least one casual sex friendship within the last year, though not necessarily with another person who participated in the study.
According to the research, those who were happy with their friends with benefits relationships actually did something that goes against what rom-coms (and often our friends) tell us to do — they got invested.
The students who reported that they were the most happy within their casual sexual friendship were those who said yes to statements such as, "I tend to think about how things affect 'us' as a couple more than how things affect 'me' as an individual," and "It makes me feel good to sacrifice for my FWB partner."
While it may seem that behaviors like that make the relationship too much like an actual relationship rather than casual sex, investment seems to be important for a drama-free FWB situation.
"When people do that kind of activity, their FWB relationship tends to be better: They tend to have less strife and less conflict than other FWB relationships, and a lot of it is that sacrifice that most friends actually do for one another is as true as it is in FWB," Jesse Owen, head of the lead author on the study, told Broadly.
It's important to remember that this was a very small study, and that all of the data researchers collected was self-reported, so they can't know for sure that participants who felt connected to their partners didn't also feel disappointed when a casual sex relationship didn't turn into a real relationship. But this research does give us some evidence that movies like Friends With Benefits don't always show the reality of relationships, and that keeping your emotional distance from a casual partner might not be the best way to make it work.
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