Coitus casualis: rules of the game

Communication is the life breath of a healthy, “friends with benefits” relationship.

by Allison Fingerett

ItâÄôs a problem many college students face: You want sex, but youâÄôre not in a relationship. Unless you have moral convictions that limit your promiscuity, the next logical step (besides, of course, the Internet) is to proposition a friend who looks good through beer goggles. But be warned, it will not end well. As a voyeuristic psychology major, I could not pass up an opportunity to survey people about their sex lives. I interviewed students on campus and posted a succession of Facebook status updates regarding the topic of âÄúfriends with benefits,âÄù encouraging a heated debate. Friends from eons ago came out of the woodwork to comment on issues from monogamy to semantics and communication. Monogamy is a trick bag. Some people write off commitment entirely and chalk it up to nihilism, youth or the human condition. Others are hell-bent on locating their soul mate through an agonizing process of trial and error. There are grey areas, and the spectrum is vast. âÄúPolyamory with romance is possible, as is monogamy with no romance,âÄù said a male on the quad. There are no cookie cutters in relationships, only the importance of clearly stating your intentions up front. âÄúDonâÄôt get attachedâÄù is the mantra of meaningless sex. âÄúSeinfeldâÄù proved the flimsiness of the âÄúitâÄôs not you, itâÄôs meâÄù argument in 1993, and the same holds true today. When someone says, âÄúDonâÄôt get attached,âÄù what they mean is, âÄúI donâÄôt like you enough to love you, so letâÄôs not bring emotions into this.âÄù As long as you are able to maintain your dignity, it could be worth your while. But donâÄôt get it twisted. A âÄúfriends with benefitsâÄù arrangement will never successfully evolve into a romantic relationship. I repeat: never. There is an elusive yet unshakeable distinction. Occasionally, the lines will blur, but if you find yourself reading into the meaning of a post-coital cuddling session, thatâÄôs a sign youâÄôre not cut out for this. The key to surviving hollow sex disguised as intimacy is an ability to take things at face value. That brings us to the issue of semantics. Call it like it is. The irony of the phrase âÄúfriends with benefitsâÄù is that only rarely are you truly friends. Or, if you were, you wonâÄôt be for long. Friends donâÄôt use each other, confuse each other or edit themselves for fear of sounding too needy or cold-hearted. As long as youâÄôre clear on that, you can start efficiently communicating. Consider the subtext of a purely sexual relationship. By working hard to quarantine your emotions, arenâÄôt you essentially telling your partner that he or she is not worthy of receiving them? Highly evolved interpersonal communication skills are required to maintain a base level of respect under such delicate circumstances. If youâÄôre the one who harbors feelings (as one of you surely does), I encourage you to exit your comfort zone and articulate your emotional needs. While you may be inadvertently cutting things short, itâÄôs better than spending the next six months swallowing your pride and clinging to a sinking ship. âÄúFriends with benefits are rad because you donâÄôt get trapped within romance and contrived, gratuitously irrational emotions,âÄù said one male on Facebook. If you share his sentiment, I applaud your realism, but you may be in denial of how your actions affect others. The face-value rule applies to you with equal importance. ItâÄôs not that hard to tell if someone is uncomfortable with the boundaries of your relationship, and ignoring those intuitions because itâÄôs convenient for your genitals is not an honorable thing to do. I donâÄôt mean to make it sound like two mature, rational adults canâÄôt pull this off, at least for a little while. Regardless of how inevitably damaging everyone reported âÄúfriends with benefitsâÄù scenarios to be, a universal acknowledgment of basic human needs often overshadows such surefire insight. Eventually, you learn your threshold, and it gets easier to find a mind/body balance and assert your expectations. In the sage words of Phyllis from âÄúThe Office,âÄù âÄúwe all deserve to be with someone who wants to be with us.âÄù If a true understanding of mutual exploitation is reached, and youâÄôre totally cool with that, remain cautious and have your fun. But donâÄôt lose sight of the fact that you deserve better, whether youâÄôre an advocate of monogamy or not. Recognizing your tendency to stray does not excuse you from forming any meaningful relationships in life, unless youâÄôre psyched about dying alone. If youâÄôre going to have sex with someone you donâÄôt love, itâÄôs preferred, at least, that you like them. Even better is to like the person you are when theyâÄôre around. Egos need stroking, too. IâÄôll admit, I have a friend with benefits. It was fun for a while, but now IâÄôm just exhausted from the sheer effort involved in not getting attached. I remain in a perpetual state of tongue-tied self-doubt. I wouldnâÄôt recommend it, and yet, without it, my life would be much less interesting. HeâÄôs good fodder for daydreams, but maintaining perspective is an ongoing battle. Your friends support you in your accomplishments, recognize your weaknesses and protect you from yourself. They donâÄôt gamble with your emotional state for the sake of an orgasm, and neither should you. I turned to a girl next to me in line at Java City. At risk of being misconstrued, I asked her if sheâÄôd ever had a friend with benefits. She laughed. âÄúDonâÄôt use your friends for sex,âÄù she said, panning the crowd with an outstretched hand. âÄúUse strangers.âÄù Allison Fingerett welcomes comments at [email protected]