Friends with Benefits

by Alison Hagen | 10/19/16 1:31am

College students are typically familiar with the term “friends with benefits,” yet their specific definitions often vary. Most frequently, this type of relationship is labeled as a “thing,” indicating that it exists somewhere between platonic friendship and dating but does not warrant a more official label.

Max Farrens ‘20 described this as a relationship between two people who already know each other who share experiences of friendship and sex, but do not combine the two, keeping the relationship platonic and non-romantic.

“It’s something that continues along in two different lines: There’s a time where they’re doing sexual things and times where they’re not, and somehow those are not related.”

There are many reasons why students specifically seek this type of relationship. Josh Perez ’17 said he finds that these can include trouble with past relationships or avoidance of commitment.

“Friends with benefits, to me, is often times either showing that you are insecure with communicating about what’s important to you in a relationship or that you haven’t thought much about what you need or that you’re so fixated on your current position that you don’t want to go through the process of being accountable to somebody else,” he said.

Both Perez and Ezekiella Carlos ’19 expressed that the D-Plan affects the prevalence of friends with benefits relationships at Dartmouth. Perez explained that since students often spend time with different people during different terms, short term relationships are very common. Furthermore, Carlos believes that the way the D-Plan works makes “hookup culture” pervasive and a reason that “friends with benefits relationships should thrive at Dartmouth.”

In some cases, however, students form these relationships without even an initial or continuous friendship. Carlos refers to this arrangement as “acquaintances with benefits.”

“Friends with benefits is also something that is inevitable since this school is so small and everyone knows everyone, or everyone is separated by at most two degrees,” he said. “I think that at least acquaintances with benefits thrives at this school because everyone knows everyone and I feel like you will absolutely see your hookups around.”

Stereotypes suggest that men prefer friends with benefits relationships more than women do since women value emotional connections more, while men value physicality. However, looking further into the matter can reveal that these stereotypes are not always true.

“I think it’s a very antiquated stereotype,” Perez said. “Is it applicable in many cases? Yes, but it doesn’t have to be a part of the gender binary. You’ll also find women, my friend included, who are very sexually active and that’s what she wants, while I would much prefer to have a single partner.”

Students often find that one of the most difficult parts of a friends with benefits relationship is the struggle for both participants to have the exact same expectations for the relationship and to communicate these expectations clearly.

“Things like hookups, friends with benefits, things like that, only have a shot at being somewhat effective if there’s open communication, which sounds really lame and unsexy, but it only works when there’s a clear understanding of what each party is hoping to gain out of it,” Farrens said. “And that’s way easier said than done.”

While movies suggest that friends with benefits relationships are temporary and bound to result in romance, students find that they may not last for other reasons.

“Friends with benefits can absolutely be healthy, but with any relationship you have to be honest and upfront with your feelings,” Perez said. “It’s totally fine if that’s what you and the other person are comfortable with and you’ve communicated that clearly, but to be honest the point where you’ve communicated clearly with somebody else, to me, it’s beyond a friends with benefits relationship, you just haven’t really put a label on it.”

In the end, these relationships, especially in college, can be extremely complex and each person experiences them differently..

“As much as college students would like to believe that we’re purely physical animals, we have emotions,” Farrens said. “Normally society would say women are emotional, men are physical, but I feel like here, everyone attempts to be purely physical, completely cut off and fine moving on after doing these things. And we need to realize sometimes that’s not the case.”