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this is far superior to "friends with benefits"

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

Let me tell you about "romantic friendships."

By Cora Boyd

Despite having come a long way in acknowledging sexuality as a healthy and normal part of being human, we’re still very much confused about the destinctions and the intersections between sex and love. Somewhat ironically, our current “hookup culture” has transferred much of the historical shame around wanting sex to shame around wanting more than just sex. In a battlefield of playing it chill, the person who is less emotionally invested holds more power, and every drunken “u up” text is an admittance of defeat.

For those who want to have casual sex that doesn’t feel achingly impersonal, we’ve stumbled awkwardly on the model of “friends with benefits,” a non-committed sexual arrangement between two friends. The problem is that more often than not, friends with benefits is emotionally confusing and creates a zero-sum power dynamic wherein whoever cares more loses.

If you enjoy someone’s company, you have an emotional connection with them, you’re attracted to each other, and you’re having regular sex, it’s not an outlandish notion that some amorous feelings might start to develop. But in the framework of friends with benefits, “catching feels” is a shameful threat to the agreement.

But can a healthier and more viable model for casual, regular, and personal sex exist? While there is no guaranteed way to navigate this intersection without a single hiccup, your best bet is what I like to refer to as a “romantic friendship:” a casual romantic relationship built on a foundation of friendship. Here’s how to pull it off:

Make sure you’re on the same page about expectations.

What makes a romantic friendship possible is clarity. Both people need to agree that for one reason or another, a committed romantic relationship is not currently a priority.

“The key here is communication,” says relationship coach Andre Arellanoa. “ In order to have a healthy casual relationship, you have to be clear as to what your intentions are. Speak about what you want to get out of this relationship and be honest about it.”

Maybe you’re focused on saving up money to buy a taco truck. Maybe one or both of you have just gotten out of relationships. Maybe you just don’t see it working out in the long run because your horoscopes are, like, totally incompatible. Whatever the reasons may be, make sure there’s a mutual understanding that this is a low investment relationship in terms of priority, level of contact between seeing each other, and availability.

“One thing to remember in managing relationships is managing time,” says online dating coach Max Alley. “I wouldn’t worry too much about ‘catching feels’ as long as you’ve both communicated to each other that you’re on the same page about how much time in your life you have to spend with one another. By talking about these things you can still let your emotional relationship develop without feeling constrained by how much time you have each week to spend with them.”

Don’t set rules around feelings.

In contrast to the friends with benefits model, a romantic friendship leaves room for nuance and feelings. All relationships vary in intensity, and this relationship may have a low level of emotional intensity proportional to the low level of commitment, but some courtship and sparkle are still permitted on the menu. A little post-coital pillow talk should not be off the table, and the occasional googly-eyed compliment need not send anyone running for the hills.

“Even if I’m not in a place to commit to something serious with someone I’m sleeping with, I still enjoy some thoughtful gestures like bringing me food or texting me good luck on a presentation,” says Al, 23. “It makes me feel more comfortable with them and like they actually care about me for who I am.”

If you’re having regular sex with someone, it’s natural for you to feel some tenderness towards them, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Ensuring that you’re on the same page about expectations allows space to enjoy the emotional connection without someone freaking out that the other person wants more commitment.

Be prepared for the relationship to change.

Priorities, interest level, and feelings can change in any relationship. And because it’s a casual relationship, expect that feelings may change just as casually. If you feel a change coming on, it is your responsibility to be honest about that both with yourself and with your romantic friend.

“I started hooking up with a friend and we had a great time for a few months,” say Nikki, 25. “After a while she let me know that she was starting to have feelings for me but didn’t think we’d get along as a couple so she wanted to go back to just being friends. I was bummed for a couple of weeks but I think she was right, and at the end of the day our friendship was more important.”

Whether you’ve had a change of heart and you want to go back to just being friends, you want to press pause on the relationship while you explore another connection with someone else, or you find yourself wanting to spend more time with your romantic friend than you’d initially expressed, the beauty of a romantic friendship is that its definition is flexible. “Go at the pace you want and keep it light until you’re sure,” says dating and lifestyle coach James Preece.

The arrangement is only mutually beneficial so long as both people are on the same page, and either person is well within their rights to turn the page at any point. Appreciate the relationship for what it is, and stay open to possibility. There is, of course, always the possibility that you might fall in love. And that’s not such a shabby outcome.

Originally published on Tinder's editorial platform Swipe Life. View full article here.

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