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My dad recently asked me if “friends with benefits” was an Obama public assistance program. At that moment, I realized how far we’ve come. There was a time “high school sweetheart” didn’t refer to a bizarre sexual fetish. There was a time “You up?” was a question husbands asked their wives before turning on a muted SportsCenter. Even as I told my dad what “friends with benefits” meant, it sounded like a fairy tale. “You and a girl exchange sexual favors, with no strings attached, until something better comes along. When that ‘something better’ magically appears, a fairy Godmother erases the spurned party’s memory and you two stay friends forever,” I said. My dad, after hearing the explanation, actually started to tear up. He proudly looked to the sky as if I had just won a medal in Sochi and said, “It all sounds too good to be true.” And you know what? He’s right. The friends with benefits situation is an illusion grown from a lie. It’s Neverland. You’ll never get there, and even trying will make you depressed.
At some point, every “friends with benefits” situation devolves into this: one person leaves. You two made a pact. It was going to be “casual.” But that’s the problem–how can you exist with this kind of promise AND make it casual? Those two realities would seem to be at odds. Nobody casually promises anything. It’s inherent in the idea of promises, pacts, agreements, and so on that there is nothing casual about those arrangements. When one person leaves, the other person feels betrayed, or at least pathetic. When you leave, you’re leaving for “something better,” meaning the person you were already with was the “something worse.” You can high-five your buddies all you want since you’ve got action waiting for you, but wouldn’t it be better to just avoid the title all together? Just have sex. Try that out. Introducing a “friends” clause into sex is like saying, “You know what? There’s not enough emotional involvement here. Let’s up the stakes.”
I tried thinking if I’ve ever had a good “friends with benefits” situation. One time, I had the arrangement with a girl and she wanted me to come over at 2 a.m. I was drunk, close to my apartment, and I had the choice of having sex or pizza. And you know what I chose? Pizza. The next day, she asked why I hadn’t come over, so I told her the truth. She couldn’t believe it. She called me a liar. She jokingly (but not really) said I must have been with another girl, thus using our “friends with benefits” designation to it’s highest degree. I don’t blame her. We came to this arrangement for sex without the dinners and the calls and to make everything easy. When it was totally easy, she lost to pizza. Things ended shortly after. It was never the same, and now she’s left to think I’m a liar–or she has some real jealousy issues with dollar slices. And I’m left to wonder if pizza is more sexually satisfying to me than a woman. Where were the benefits? This was my BEST “friends with benefits” situation.
“Friends with benefits” is an excuse. It’s an excuse for this dead period of our lives that didn’t seem to exist for our parents. The median age for a first marriage in 1980 was 24.7 for men and 22 for women. In 2010, those ages had risen to 28.2 and 26.1 respectively. That’s a growth of 14.17 percent for men and 18.64 percent for women, and those numbers are only going up. We have four extra years that our parents never had to deal with, and that’s not even including the dating and courting that would lead up to those marriage proposals. The “friends with benefits” label fulfills our biological needs while making us feel like we are heading in the right direction. It’s a label for our arrested developement that just isn’t true. Let’s drop this bullshit and accept the world we live in. If you really need a label, call it “sex unless I’m hungry,” so I can make my dad even prouder and we can all stop bastardizing the word “friend.”