Friends with benefits is an amazing concept – in theory. Everyone loves sex with no strings attached, but in reality, it rarely works without leaving its scars on your emotional psyche. By the end, you’re left with way too many harrowing questions and no one left to answer them.
I was introduced to the concept of “friends with benefits” in 2011, when the movie with the same title starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis released. I was 15 at the time, and thanks to the two attractive leads, I sat with my hormonally imbalanced friends wondering what it would be like to ever have such a relationship.
In the movie, an emotionally unavailable guy meets an emotionally damaged girl and, a few outings later, they strike a deal to indulge in a purely physical relationship. The newly minted fuck-buddies also lay down a convenient condition: They stop having sex in case one develops feelings for the other.
Six years later, Justin and Mila’s rules returned to haunt me in bed – the girl lying beside me had just asked me if I could hold her for a while. Her name was Alisha and I had met her in college after a professor decided to club us in a group for a project. Back then, we were just friends united by a dull task, destined to inevitably lose touch after college.
But several months after graduation, Alisha waltzed back into my world in the role of the emotionally damaged Mila. She had recently broken up with a guy who had cheated on her, while I was tormented by an older long-term relationship. With copious amounts of alcohol and a lust only known to thirsty 20-year-olds, it was a match made by Hollywood. Our emotions had taken the backseat long ago, so we were ready to indulge in meaningless sex night after night.
With copious amounts of alcohol and a lust only known to thirsty 20-year-olds, it was a match made by Hollywood.
Our arrangement was flawless. We’d ignore each other throughout the week, and drop booty calls over the weekend. In the movie, Mila and Justin also engage in meaningless sex, but they also hang out during other times. Alisha and I however, had decided on no contact, no feelings, and no comforting.
This perfect scenario lasted for about a month.
Soon after, our pseudo-liberal love story would also face a conflict based on unreciprocated feelings. In the movie, Mila and Justin end their friends with benefits arrangement once she realises that she would like to start dating again. In my story, Alisha began vocalising her feelings in the form of kiss emojis, hearts, and innocent attempts to hold my hand. Truth be told, I was happier with our lack of contact. That way, I always had an escape route if things were to go south.
As our weekly rendezvous continued, Alisha would seem invariably upset upon my arrival. Even though she didn’t mind having sex, I realised that she also wanted displays of affection toward her from me. Every time, I would loosen my grip on her hand, she would let go and turn to her side. She would often try and make conversation while I’d be dressing up to leave.
Of course, I was vaguely disappointed. I couldn’t get myself to open up to her because I still believed it was just a physical thing.
I guess Hollywood had spoiled us. Toward the end of the movie, Justin and Mila begin avoiding each other, until Justin realises that he hadn’t bothered opening up to anyone except Mila. A certain flash mob at Grand Central Terminal becomes his way of wooing Mila into becoming his “best friend” again.
A happy, neat, no-loose-ends conclusion, tied with a bow. No recrimination, no indictment, no anger, and absolutely no complex residual feelings left to deal with. But real life, as we know, is nothing like the movies. Thanks to the film, though, I still believed there was a way I could save my treasured friends with benefits situation.
During our last night together, Alisha asked me to stay awhile, even though I was showing myself out. Something about her tone convinced me, and I slowly snuggled close to her as my fingers found place between hers. She responded by tightening her grip and moving our hands closer to her chin. That night, I held on until Alisha was fast asleep.
In the wee hours of the morning, I got off her bed and looked at her face one last time before walking through her door. I later received a text from her: “I’m sorry for doing this, but our relationship is taking an emotional toll on me. I cannot see you anymore…”
Alisha’s final text tasted of bittersweet irony. We had begun this charade to forget about the emotional wound left by our former lovers – not knowing that this arrangement would leave a gaping new emotional wound of its own. I continued to seek only physicality in my future relationships mostly because I wanted to continue running away from my emotions. The emptiness that I had felt at the beginning never truly left me.
Friends with benefits is an amazing concept – in theory. Everyone loves sex with no strings attached, but in reality, it rarely works without leaving its scars on your emotional psyche. By the end, you’re left with way too many harrowing questions and no one left to answer them. Give the arrangement enough time and you might realise that you stand to lose a great companion. In the movie, Justin and Mila realise that they love each other but that seldom happens in the real world. A FWB relationship rarely ever works out, let alone lead you to the realisation that you’ve found the love of your life. At the risk of sounding repetitive, there are no happy endings.
Alisha and I still bump into each other at parties, but our conversations never go beyond a lingering, awkward “hi”s. Now, we pretend as though our month-long rendezvous never happened. Perhaps, things would’ve been different had we never engaged in our nights of debauchery. Maybe we could still be friends, maybe we could be lovers. But now, we’re each just somebody that we used to know.