what is a friend with benefits

Maybe you just want sex. Or a fun connection, a physical relationship—but none of the baggage of a full-on relationship.

Maybe you're enjoying something really great, but not sure how to define it.

Maybe a FWB is right for you.

What does ‘friends with benefits' mean?

I'm not fond of the term “friends with benefits.” I prefer, “Someone I'm sleeping with,” or “a lover.”

My terminology suggests what people have been doing since God created penises and vaginas: Enjoying each other sexually and romantically without any social commitments. When all parties are evolved adults, it can be a very satisfying arrangement. But it is rarely without its complications.

There are pros and cons of a friends-with-benefits relationship. But, lots and lots of pros.

9 reasons dating and sex are better as a single mom

To keep weirdness and heartbreak at bay, enjoy all the pros of such an arrangement, play by these rules:

Rules for friends with benefits

1. Understand what a lover is.

A friend with benefits, or a lover, by definition, is not your boyfriend or a possible husband. He is a lover. Your arrangement is between the two of you, for mutual enjoyment — whether physical, intellectual, emotional or all of the above. It is not a public relationship. Read this to learn how to find a boyfriend or husband.

2. Your kids, friends and family do not meet your FWB.  

He is not a social media connection or mention. See above.

3. No sneaking men into the house when your kids are asleep.

Your kids are not morons. They hear weird noises in the night, sense a change in their home, feel your little and big lies. That teaches children to distrust their own instincts and feel unsafe in their own home.

4. A friend-with-benefits is not your support system.

Don't call him when your refrigerator breaks or you have a bad day at work. That is a boyfriend. That is not this guy.

5. Relationship rules do not apply to a FWB.

Texting the next day and remembering birthdays are not the domain of an affair. Nor is monogamy. You are not entitled to get pissy if these things do not transpire.

6. Have fun.

This is supposed to be a delightful arrangement. When it becomes abusive or tormented, get out.

7. Accept your friends with benefits relationship for what it is.

A lover is not someone you are trying to manipulate into a serious relationship. You mutually chose this arrangement because of any number of reasons: you have sexual chemistry but do not fit into one another's lives. Or,. you need one another's companionship but are both otherwise not interested in a serious commitment.

8. Just hooking up? Leave the door open to more.

This is something that you do within yourself (i.e. do not discuss it with him). But reasons to have a friend with benefits is that you do not have the emotional bandwidth to devote to another person, you are terrified of commitment, or one of you is otherwise entangled in another romantic situation. But people change. Life changes. Time and place have a way of doing a number on us. Be open to the possibility that you and this man could be more.

Because, yes: Guys who are friends with benefits develop feelings. Women, too.

Also: A friends-with-benefits relationship can last forever, beautiful in its entirety, exactly as-is.

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How to get a friend with benefits

How do you look for a lover when you don’t know what you want?

Last time I was dating more than 10 years ago, what I was looking for in a man was clear: the bazillion specifics and intangibles that would make a good husband and father.The list is roughly the same this time around, but the end game is not as obvious.

My kids and I have a great little thing going, and the thought of meshing my daily life with another adult seems potentially rife with disaster. After all, anyone who has been married can tell you that it’s the tiny travesties of dirty socks on the floor, improperly loaded dishwashers and wayward toothpaste caps that peck away at the majestic Redwood of romance. Before long all that is left is a wee toothpick of what may indeed be love, but one that could not prop up a tent made of Kleenex. Add to it the thought of various children, exes and emotional baggage and I come close to blacking out, closing out my OKCupid profile, and strapping on my chastity belt.

If a new husband is on your agenda, I suggest avoiding statistics on divorce rates for second marriages, and if you stumble upon figures for unions involving kids from previous relationships, avert your eyes. Sure, cohabitation is a natural step in a relationship, but could it ever work for me? What about co-parenting? Why not find something between miserable solitude and the Brady Bunch?

My most recent relationship was a big one for me, and my SMILF BFF can’t understand why it didn’t work out – especially when I share my reluctance to have a full-time, live-in lover. Larry and I had a great thing going. Like me, he’s divorced, a writer, and a smartass. He’s also a great dad, even though his kids are now college-age and he lives alone in a beautiful brownstone apartment in one of the city’s prettiest neighborhoods, about an hour away.

We had a routine that was made up of two distinct parts: once a week he’d spend an evening at my place with my kids. I’d cook dinner, and he’d toss them around the living room, read them Dr. Seuss and go along with the little projects kids often dream up. Once I found Helena and him – crayon in hand — drawing clothes on a piece of a paper, cutting them out with plastic scissors and taping them on her Barbie.

I loved seeing Larry with the kids – he clearly adored them, they him, and Larry and I were in love. Everyone loved everyone, but then it ended. Even though I never said it, I wanted more, and he couldn’t sign on to being a father figure to little kids again. But did I really want more? Or did I just want him to want more? Did I need him to beg to thrust himself into my life to prove his commitment? He was totally committed to me, he’d often say. And he was committed – this man loved and adored me in ways no one else ever has. If I made a list of all the things I’d hope someone would appreciate me, he had it covered – including my qualities as a mom.

But I think the parts of me that he appreciated most were those on display in the second part of our relationship – the weekends when my kids were with their dad and it was just the two of us. His brick-walled apartment was like our private getaway as we’d talk for hours over dinner at nearby bistros, spend long mornings in bed after which he’d make coffee and run out for fresh bagels. Things people do when they don’t have kids. And for 24 hours on the weekend, that is indeed who I was.

But the rest of the time I am a very full-time mom to two tiny children who need a whole lot of me. This is my life. I am my life. And I love my life more than I ever imagined I would. To be with me means being part of this life – doesn’t it?

Or can it be something else?

I recently heard from a single mom who was feeling down and lonely and dismayed by her dating prospects. “I want something just for me,” she said. She couldn’t yet fathom incorporating a man into her family life. But she is a woman who needs to be with a man. So am I. How can I make that work?

Of course, this can’t be all about me. What Larry didn’t say but what I sensed was that he wanted more, too. He’s an adult with hobbies and friends but when we were dating he spent a lot of time watching cable and talking on the phone with me. He was welcome to spend more time at my home, but he didn’t come. Instead, he waited patiently for the times we could be alone. Those were times I waited for, too.

Over the past couple of years I’ve written about all the fun I’ve had dating. I also wrote about a heartbreak or two. And a couple times I’ve found myself in relationships. For me, dating is simple. Sex is a carefree frolic on a spring day in the Alps. Relationships? Another story:

In bed I’m accepting. You’re nervous? Maybe worry you’re a little tubby around the waist? Quicker or slower or softer than you think things out to be? It’s all good. You’re human! I’m human! Let’s enjoy ourselves.

In relationships? I’m critical. If you have shitty table manners or talk too much about your years and years (and years and years) of therapy, your presence evokes impulses to shove the cloth napkin way, way, way down my own throat right there in the osteria, using the table knife to effectively lodge the linen in my esophagus and take me to the sweet release of the white light.

In bed I am patient. There is something — something delightful, wonderful, actually — about the process. Exploration and learning each other. The slow build and ever-promise of discovery.

Out of the sack? I’m inpatient. What’s the rush, you ask? Not sure. I feel vulnerable — insecure, I admit  — if I am not confident in your feelings, like, yesterday

When it comes to sex I don’t judge your history. You and your ex never did it? More pent-up lovin’ for me! Things were rote in your last relationship? Just a poor match — let’s kick it.

In dating, I revert to the maxim: people don’t change. Your behavior over the past 40 years is a great indicator of how you will moving forward. Fooled around on your wife — and every other woman you’ve dated? I accept that is who you are. All your girlfriends complained you weren’t romantic or attentive? I’m not going to be the exception.

In bed I have no issues asking for what I want. Or giving what you want, for that matter. The pleasure is really is all about the giving, and allowing to be given to.

In relationships, I can be passive-aggressive. I don’t try to be. It’s not that I set out to play games. No. It is just that when I’m annoyed or irritated or hurt or devastated I usually don’t trust those feelings. I tell myself that I am wrong and that my judgement is off. So I don’t express how I feel. But those feelings come out anyway, because that is what feelings do (that is what my therapist said, anyway).

Sex is fun and uncomplicated for me. Once in a while you stumble upon an outlier — someone really selfish or way too freaky for the general population. Otherwise, an occasional unilateral orgasm is totally fine. Sometimes a person is just exhausted and can’t keep up with the other tonight. I’ll get you next time — or trust you will get me.

Relationships do a number on me. Here goes: I tend towards anxious when I’m dating someone seriously. Worried I’m committing to the wrong person. Worried I like him more than he likes me. Concerned that somehow this one, too, is barreling down the road towards yet another heartbreak. No matter how wrong I know it is, I’ll keep score. Have at the mental ready all the thoughtful things I’ve done for you in the past month, or ways I showed I cared — and a long, long list of the slights and inconsiderations you’ve inflicted on me.

I’m clear that I need sex. In the past couple of years I’ve come to accept regular sex as a basic human need — right up there with exercise and love. Relationships? I’m can be super-lonely when I’m not in one. But when I am, I start singing the same blues that everyone does about how hard they are. And then when I really start to sing the blues, I’ll call him. And initiate the not-so hard part.

Friends with benefits FAQ

Let's get down to business. Need a friend with benefits? Here is what you need to know.

Where to find a friend with benefits?

Start with online dating sites. Here is the list of the best dating sites for single moms and dads, and where to get your needs met.

Of course, you might meet men at work, through friends, in your neighborhood, or on the subway (happened to me — super-hot Eastern European guy chatted me up on the downtown N where we started kissing and wound up dry humping against a pillar at the Harold Square station —in the middle of a weekday.)

Single dads can be a great addition to your schedule. Here is how to find, meet and date single dads.

At this stage of life I have been surprised to have several experiences with younger men — extremely attractive (no question objectively better looking than me), successful, charming guys who were surprisingly way, way into me. This post explains why young, hot guys dig older moms.

How to ask a guy to be friends with benefits

First, sleep with him. Make sure that you will get your needs met (because otherwise what's the point). Get a sense of whether it is satisfying for him, too.

Also, do you get the sense he wants more — a commitment, exclusivity, a full-life relationship? Any other needs that you cannot meet? Think twice about whether this guy is the right casual partner.

Then, be really honest. Some scripts:

“The sex is so hot. I want more! But can we have an honest conversation? I'm not interested in a boyfriend situation. This will have to be casual, and open. Would that work for you?”

How to end a friends with benefits situation

Again, be honest. Be kind, but direct. Just because there was no explicit commitment doesn't mean you are allowed to ghost him. Say:

“This has been so lovely, but I am ready for a serious relationship, so I'm pursuing that with someone else / this has come to an end for me / the connection isn't romantic for me any more.”

Do friends with benefits work?

Friends with benefits are just like any human relationship: It is can be beautiful and perfect until it's not. The key is to set boundaries, communicate, and be realistic.

How long does a friends with benefits arrangement usually last?

FWB can last a lifetime, for one evening, or anywhere in between. If you are hoping that a casual lover will become more, or worry that your buddy will take off, maybe you are catching the feels. TOTALLY NORMAL AND HEALTHY! Just check yourself, communicate your needs, and respect the relationship for what it is.

What does friends with benefits mean to a guy?

PSA: Both men and women have physical, sexual, romantic, intellectual, emotional and social needs. Men have been socialized to be more open to casual sexual relationships, but also fall in love, appreciate connection, commitment, monogamy and devotion — just like women.

Friends with benefits can be elegant and beautiful, or messy and dramatic, just like a long-term, monogamous marriage. In other words: If you want a simple formula for a romantic or sexual relationship, good luck!

How do you tell if your friend with benefits wants more?

I thought this passage in the short-story “Visitor” by Bryan Washington, was a very sweet yet direct way to address a want for a more serious relationship with his lover:

Later that night, at his place, Joel asked me what we were doing.

We stood barefoot in his kitchen, hunched over his counter, kneading dough. Immediately after fucking, I’d mentioned, offhand, that something sweet wouldn’t be a bad idea, and Joel had gone over to the pantry. Now he patted and stirred while I massaged. We dropped globs of sugary dough into the fryer beside us.

Cooking, I said.

I think, Joel said, that we’re doing more than that. And I think that you know it. And I think that we should talk about that.

We’re talking now, I said.

When Joel went silent, I looked up. The sizzling beside us was all I could hear.

I feel pretty good about you, he said, sighing. All things considered.

Noted, I said.

And I’d like to know if you feel the same. It would mean a lot to me to know that.

But what if I don’t feel what you feel, I asked.

Then nothing changes, Joel said. Except that I’d know.

O.K., I said, and what if I do?

Then I don’t know, Joel said. But you have to say it. I can’t know unless you tell me.

Neither of us said anything to that, until we noticed that the batter was smoking. We lifted three sweet pancakes from the pan to a bowl, and Joel immediately tossed one into his mouth—but not before tearing off a piece for me.

It burned me. It was delicious. We both reached for another.

Can friends with benefits fall in love?

100%, every day. Happened to me a few times. xoxo

Happy loving, ladies!

Also, therapy can also be a great tool for feeling confident about dating and romance. Online therapy, which connects you with a certified, licensed counselor by your choice of phone, text, email or video, is super-convenient and affordable. BetterHelp offers unlimited plans starting at $60/week.

Updated. Originally published September 22, 2014.

About Emma Johnson

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


  1. EQ on September 30, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    This is one of your most interesting posts. I adore it because it states so clearly and non-judgmentally one of the realities of life as a single mom, or a single woman in general. Dating is not like it was ten years ago. Often your goals around dating are entirely different. I’m not looking for a father for my children; I’m not looking for someone to take care of me, at least financially. (I don’t think I ever have – at least consciously- been looking for that.) Sometimes you can not find all of the things you want and desire in one person. I appreciate that you specify that a lover can be someone that you share other sorts of intimacies with, such as intellectual and emotional. I have to say that Europeans seem to have a healthier understanding of this concept than we Americans do. Sure, there is always room to be hurt in any sort of encounter where you make yourself vulnerable, but keeping the above in mind certainly helps to cushion some of the pain.

  2. JT@The Faux Foodie Girl on September 24, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I really needed a reminder of the definition “person I am sleeping with”…yes he is not a boyfriend. Something so simple can be so complicated and happy to have read this couple of times to remember what my current “friend with benefits” situation really is…
    You are an amazing voice of reason!!!!! Thank you!

  3. DarthW on September 24, 2014 at 10:47 am

    LMAO: “or one of you is otherwise entangled in another romantic situation. “. So this FWB situation is supposed to also be cool for a single mom if she’s managed to entangle a Poindexter in her life: got him paying for all the dates, got him thinking he and single mommy might make a good “team”, got Poindy buying a bigger house and bigger car than he needs to accomodate she and her brood because she’s suckered him into believing in the fantasy of loving a single mom and her kids? Cause that’s how I’m reading it.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely cool with FWB, and have enjoyed the fruits of such, usually until she “wanted more”. However, I do aim not to find a woman who is “entangled” with a boyfriend, and especially a husband. I aim to have some type of integrity, albeit most of the single moms I’ve dated don’t know what “integrity” means.

    • Emma on September 24, 2014 at 10:56 am

      Darth, you are so transparent. You proclaim to only date casually and trick women into a fuck. But you also demand monogamy? (how does that work for one-off dates??)

      It is so obvious to anyone who follows your posts that you are a tender-hearted sweetie pie who has had his heart broken by a few single moms. Wounded, dear and needy, you erect a (self-proclaimed) phony macho veneer and publicly denounce relationships and women. Poor thing.

      My hug offer stands.

      • DarthW on September 25, 2014 at 11:46 pm

        LOL. Puhleze. Spare me your psychoanalysis. No, single moms didn’t “break my heart”. I finally wised up after seeing that most relationships with single moms only benefit the single mom and her brood.

        Firstly, I no longer try to pursue committed relationships or seek a spouse like most single moms pursue. FWB, as you describe here, is ideal for me, but often women will start FWB and then get all “touchy feely” and “want more” because I’m a steady earner, have a full wallet with all the “fixins” (house, cars, 401K).

        Secondly, I don’t trick women into a fuck. When we have sex, it’s because they also want it. Granted they may think there will be more, but I don’t tell them stories like “You’re the one.” or “Where have you been all my life?” If they think there is more to our dating than fun and sex, it is because they make it up in their own mind, not because I tell them such.

        Finally, I don’t “demand monogamy”….I also don’t sleep with women who I know are otherwise romantically involved with someone. Most single moms, however, demand a Poindexter’s monogamy because she wants all his time, attention, and money for her and her brood. But, of course, based on your article here, Poindy should not expect that single mommy should be likewise loyal and monogamous. That’s where the saying that single moms want “alpha fucks and beta bucks”; Single moms want the bad boys on the side for sex, while they have Poindexter at home babysitting her kids and paying for all the rent and groceries. If single mom wants to ride 100 cocks, I’m all for it; Just don’t sucker some poor nice guy into commitment and paying for you and your kids and not have the integrity to aim for your part in the commitment.

        Does your new beau realize that he shouldn’t expect you to have any loyalty to him if things get more serious?….HOWEVER he should still expect you to raid his wallet at all times.

    • Marissa on October 6, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Ok, yup. I was totally on board with all the points in this until “or one of you is otherwise entangled in another romantic situation”. That sentence should have been left out, in my opinion. For obvious reasons…like that’s a a-hole thing to do. Done, I’m not wasting my time discussing this.

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