"Friends with benefits": but who benefits?

When I saw ads for the recently released Friends
with Benefits
, I thought I was experiencing déjà vu. Wasn’t that film
released last year? Why no, the movie I had in mind was different, and
it was titled No Strings Attached.

Well, not entirely different; same
frivolous treatment of self-centred loveless sex; different week. When I did some IMDb research to find
out a bit more, I came up with yet another title on the same theme, Friends
(with Benefits)
, made in 2009.

Really? Three movies on the same ghastly topic
in two short years? What’s up with that?

A piece by Diana Appleyard in the UK Daily Mail provided some answers. Or did it?

For a growing number of young women,
sleeping with a friend is no longer a taboo but a lifestyle choice. There is
even a term for it — Friends With Benefits — the supposed benefit being that
the friends not only enjoy each other’s company, but sleep with one another,

If it sounds a recipe for disaster, that’s
because it very often is. As the forthcoming Hollywood film Friends With
Benefits reveals, a no-strings relationship often leaves at least one half of
the couple — and usually it’s the woman — feeling confused, unsatisfied, and
wholly unconvinced by the ‘benefits’ they’re supposed to be relishing.

What sounds simple and clear cut rarely is.
In the 2009 film Friends (with Benefits), the protagonists are secretly in
love with each other and always have been, so there goes the “just friends”
theory. In No Strings, the woman unfeelingly proposes the no-commitment
aspect and it’s the guy who falls in love and attempts to foster an actual
romance—which perhaps places the story less in the romantic comedy genre and
more in pure fantasy. In the most recent FwB film, the girl is the first to want
more. As several reviewers observe, the film starts out satirizing the romantic
comedy genre, then rapidly falls into the trap of employing every worn-out
chick flick cliché as it stumbles towards its romantic happy ending.

Reality doesn’t pan out quite as often,
rarely delivering romance, commitment, and mutual satisfaction in such relationships.
In her article, Ms. Appleyard features various couples who are currently in FwB
arrangements (names have been changed, but you have to wonder why, if this is
no longer “taboo”).

Lucy admits she feels jealous of Doug’s
other relationships, is sometimes confused by their arrangement, and is keener
on Doug than he is on her.

[…] ‘I’ve even asked him why we can’t get
it together and he says, flippantly, that I am not the kind of woman he wants
to marry…

I think I am more jealous of his other
relationships than he is of mine, but we both know the score. I tell myself I
want him to be happy and meet the right girl, but when he’s dating I get
confused about my feelings. Doug says he respects me too much to lie to me and
just isn’t ready to commit to a relationship.’

Oh my. Doug “respects” his friend Lucy too
much to lie to her, but not enough to refrain from using her for sex or insulting
her with his opinion that she’s not marriage material. With friends like that,
who needs an exploitative jerk?

Rachel Morris, a psychotherapist
specialising in sex and relationships, who predicts an unhappy outcome for Lucy
and Doug — and for any other friends in a set-up likes theirs. ‘Most of the
women in these cases are seeking a proper relationship. In a way, it’s likely
the man in this relationship is being quite callous. The emotional consequences
are huge — and someone is going to get hurt.’

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the
‘someone’ is overwhelmingly the woman. And contrary to feminist dogma, the
reason is biological.

As psychotherapist Rachel Morris points
out, sex changes everything: the moment a woman becomes intimate with a friend,
her feelings change irrevocably in a way that men’s simply don’t.   ‘Young people today, male and female, pretend
sex is no more important than a handshake. Yet intimacy has a profound effect
on the emotions, which can be very confusing, especially for women.’

Rachel adds: ‘A hormone called oxytocin is
released in a woman’s brain during sex, which gives her a biological
pre-determination to seek a connection with that man.

‘Men, however, are biologically programmed
to sow their seed and seem able to disconnect emotionally from sex in a way
that women cannot. So friends with benefits relationships are often more
emotionally confusing and upsetting for women.’

A second couple featured in the Mail article illustrates this:

Malcolm says: ‘I have enjoyed my time with
Martina but our relationship is confusing. We made  it clear we’re
just  friends, but we have complicated the issue by sleeping together.

‘I think when Martina finds out I’ve met
someone I want to be my girlfriend, she’ll say we can still be friends.

‘Then, if my relationship doesn’t work out,
I can go back to Martina. Both ways, I win.’

Ms. Appleyard calls his attitude
“shockingly clinical”, which is, in my opinion, extremely kind. The phrase that
popped to my mind could not be used, as it would compromise both my dignity and
that of the barnyard animal to which I wanted to compare ‘Malcolm.’

Malcolm [was] certain of exactly what sort
of relationship he was after. He says: ‘I knew what I wanted from her —
on-a-plate, no-strings fun. To have a friend I could enjoy being with, with the
added benefit of sex.’

But Rachel Morris says that, quite apart
from potential heartbreak, the belief that friends can sleep together and not
wreck their friendship is just naive.

‘It is fashionable, at the moment, to try
to take the intimacy out of sex, to see it as a no-strings pleasure that can be
picked up and put down at will,’ she says. ‘But human beings are not made this

Regarding pre-marital sexual dalliance and non-committal males, an old rural
saying went: “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” But at least
(metaphorically) you’d have to date the cow and romance her a little. Now, as Malcolm
reveals, he wants his fun “on a plate.” Just like his steak and potatoes. No
fuss, no effort on his part. It’s beyond me how any women could convince
herself that this sort of arrangement would be in any way desirable. It’s
shocking that after thirty years of feminist empowerment, this is what some
women are settling for.

I remember a Virginia Slims cigarette ad
campaign from the Seventies that quipped: “You’ve come a long way, Baby.” From unwilling,
exploited, sex object in the bad old 60’s, to willing, exploited, confused and
dissatisfied sex object. That’s progress? And some hardcore feminists used to
call marriage sexual slavery…

Listen, girls: the real thing is worth
waiting for, worth standing your ground for. And as the cosmetic ad says:
“You’re worth it.” But you’ve got to respect yourself. If you don’t, no one
else will. As for the guys, man up. “Both ways, I win,” is not the attitude of
a grown-up, but a spoilt toddler.

The truth is that there is no winning going
on at all, except perhaps at the box office. No one, save Hollywood executives,
benefits from this lifestyle choice, society least of all. In the supposedly ‘ideal’
FwB situation, both partners are emotionally detached, enjoying the physicality
of sex while dismissing the bond that is meant to unite them in something very
intimate, beautiful and long-lasting (some of us would call it “marriage”). In
other words, the woman is just as selfish, flippant and non-committal as a man.
Doesn’t sound like the type of folks you’d want to be the parents of future

In the typical FwB arrangement, one partner
(usually the woman) is more emotionally invested and ends up getting hurt.
Ultimately this sort of thing also harms the man: he gains nothing when he’s
permitted to evade not only his responsibility for the relationship, but the
opportunity to become a whole human being, concerned about something   greater than his own basest appetites. There
can be no winners where the results are broken hearts, bleak futures, and the ongoing
celebration of self-centredness. That’s neither friendly nor beneficial, just
terribly sad, and in the long run, tragic for society.   When is Hollywood going to tell that story? Romantic
comedies always have happy endings; real life, not so much.


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