After Being Friends With Benefits, Can You Ever Go Back To Just Friends?

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Even though they may seem interchangeable, there's a big difference between a fuckbuddy and a friend with benefits. While "fuckbuddy" tends to point to someone with whom your relationship is 100% defined by sex, there's more history with a friend with benefits. There's no chicken-or-egg questioning here: The friendship came first. The booty came second.
For a lot of duos, one of the biggest concerns in this kind of arrangement is whether or not the sex will ruin the friendship — especially if and when one party decided they no longer want to be having sex. If that moment has come for you, you're probably wondering, How do I get out of this without losing my pal?
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That depends almost entirely on how the FWB relationship has been progressing, says Michael Aaron, MD, a sexologist and sex therapist in New York. "You've got to look back and see where you're both at, what has been said so far, and what the other person is thinking," he says. "That's why I always advise open communication at the beginning and throughout [this kind of relationship]."
Indeed, it's important to be extremely honest at the outset of a FWB situation. "If you don't want to be in a relationship, and never see yourself getting into a relationship, you have to be clear about that," he says. "And it's a good idea to check in throughout and see how you're both feeling." That way, if someone is starting to catch feelings, or one party is feeling like the sex is becoming too important, it's out in the open.
You've also got to be real with yourself about what you're getting out of this relationship — and what stands to go away if you break off the sex. "People aren't always honest with themselves about the secondary gains of a relationship," says Susannah Hyland, a psychotherapist in New York. "And a secondary gain can be anything that you're getting. So, sure, you enjoy having sex with this person. But that's also someone you're waking up next to, and maybe that's a level of intimacy you're going to miss."

"IF YOU END THINGS SEXUALLY WITH SOMEONE, BUT YOU'RE STILL SENDING THEM LATE-NIGHT TEXTS...THAT'S SENDING A MIXED-MESSAGE."

Susannah Hyland, psychotherapist
Forgetting these "secondary gains" can lead to messy post-breakup situations — and it's these situations that can muddle, and eventually ruin, a friendship. "If you end things sexually with someone, but you're still sending them late-night text messages or throwing your arm around them when you're sitting next to them, that's sending a mixed-message," Hyland says. "The other person could think you're still interested in them sexually or romantically, which can lead to issues." That's why it's so important to set those boundaries as soon as you end things — and stick to them.
As for the breakup itself, Dr. Aaron suggests using the ever-popular "sandwich technique" — in which you blunt a harsh truth by telling it between two positives. "You could say something like, 'I really care about you, but I'm afraid the physical part of our relationship is starting to be too important, so I think we should pull back from it. I'm doing this because our friendship means so much to me,'" he says.
But Dr. Aaron is clear: You can't predict how the other person is going to react, and there's no guarantee of a positive outcome. "You're dealing with an autonomous person," he says. "This isn't your standard breakup, which you can typically predict. You want to treat it delicately if you want to save the friendship." As always, honesty is key — and the best way to ensure that the friend still exists when the benefits don't.
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