My immediate reaction was righteous indignation – typical case of skewing the answer by asking a prejudiced question, which I visualized to be:<2009 “About 60 percent of college students have a relationship they describe as ‘friends with benefits,” according to a new study by Michigan State University.”—The Week, 12 June, page 20>
a) Check here if you have ‘friends with benefits.’
b) Check here if you don’t have ‘friends with benefits.’
But how about providing:
c) I am unfamiliar with the expression ‘friends with benefits,’ although I can take a good guess as to what it means and if you wish I will do so in the space provided and then agree or disagree with whether or not I think it applies to me.
And if they had just asked instead: “How would you describe your relationship with friends?” How many would actually have come up with this particular apparently cobbled-together (although apt) cutesy FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS invention. Don't these morons know how to take a proper survey?
Well, it appears, to my chagrin, that approximately 100% would probably have been familiar with the expression FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS. And, in fact, after doing some checking around, I’m now feeling like the last living specimen of a sentient human being who is unfamiliar with the experssion. And I know I shouldn’t be influenced by that 1,150,000 Google hit count – never believe Google numbers – that appeared on my screen at my location in space-time, and the thousands of examples I found in various archives, but in my weakness, I am. (>;)
The only “dictionary” I could find which listed the term (“He said, using the word ‘dictionary’ generously”) was the Urban Dictionary which includes 30 submissions from moronic to not bad. But, wait a second here, wouldn’t you have to know the definition in advance to know which ones to believe?
Here is the definition that I cobbled together as best I could after doing some research on the subject:
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS: A relationship (often associated with ‘hooking up’) in which each partner is free to have others, often beginning as a close friendship but later turning sexual, with the sex being seen as a pleasurable amusement, a ‘benefit,’ rather than a sign of any deeper love or commitment. What constitutes sex, however, is open to debate. Many teenagers would go along with President Clinton’s view that oral sex (in addition to mutual masturbation) does not constitute ‘sex.’
And here is one of 30 submissions I found in the Urban Dictionary that seems to come closest to what I take to be the mark:
<2003 “FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS: Two friends who have a sexual realtionship [sic] without being emotionally involved. Typically two good friends who have casual sex without a monogomous [sic] relationship or any kind of commitment.”—Urban Dictionary, August 23>
When Wikipedia said the following in an article titled “Casual Sex,” they didn’t do much to clarify exactly what is meant by FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS:
In 2004 there appeared in the Sunday New York Times Magazine a lengthy article titled “Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall.” This article concentrates mainly on high school teenagers, and the following are excerpts:<2008 “A casual relationship is a physical and emotional relationship between two people who may have a sexual relationship or a near-sexual relationship without necessarily demanding or expecting a more formal romantic relationship as a goal. A casual relationship differs from casual sex, which has little or no emotional element, and different from a one-night stand, as the relationship extends beyond a single sexual encounter. Related terms are friends with benefits and fuck buddies or bed buddies.”—Wikipedia, April> [[Yes, related, but how?]]
The following excellent and more recent New York Times article titled “Friends With Benefits, and Stress Too” wraps up just about everything I would care to know on the subject. I note that the 60% rate of college students having FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS relationships reported in this older article is confirmed by the newer study reported above in this week's The Week:<2004 “. . . The trend toward ‘hooking up’ [‘the term itself is vague -- covering everything from kissing to intercourse -- though it is sometimes a euphemism for oral sex, performed by a girl on a boy.] and ‘friends with benefits’ (basically, friends you hook up with regularly) [[the implication here seems to be that it is possible to have friends with benefits without ‘sex’]] has trickled down from campuses into high schools and junior highs -- and not just in large urban centers. . . . ‘Being in a real relationship just complicates everything. . . .When you're friends with benefits, you go over, hook up, then play video games or something. It rocks.’ . . . some friendships become sexually charged and lead to ‘friends with benefits.’ . . . It's unclear just how many teenagers choose hookups or friends with benefits over dating. . . . having close friends of the opposite sex makes romantic relationships less essential. Besides, if you feel like something more, there's no need to feign interest in dinner and a movie. You can just hook up or call one of your friends with benefits.. . . The day we met in person, Melissa was in a foul mood. Her ‘friend with benefits’ had just broken up with her. ‘How is that even possible?’ she said, sitting, shoulders slumped, in a booth at a diner. ‘The point of having a friend with benefits is that you won't get broken up with, you won't get hurt. He told me online that he met a girl that he really likes, so now, of course, we can't hook up anymore.’. . . Clearly, for some teenagers, ‘friends with benefits’ is a misnomer. Take away the sex, and they probably wouldn't hang out at all.”— New York Times Magazine, 30 May>
A final question, which I could not find the answer to, was where and when was FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS coined. The best I can do is say that the oldest example I could find was from 1997 (see quote below). And it seems possible that the expression might have been born on the TV show Friends (1994-2004) or as a reference to it:<2007 “To some, it may seem like an ideal relationship, less stressful than an affair, longer lived than a fling or that elusive one-night stand. You can even sit around in your sweats and watch ‘Friends’ reruns together, feeling vaguely reassured.
Yet relationships in which close friends begin having sex come with their own brand of awkwardness, according to the first study to explore the dynamics of such pairs, often called friends with benefits, or F.W.B..
The relationships tend to have little romantic passion, but stir the same fears that stalk lovers: namely, that one person will fall harder than the other.
Paradoxically, and perhaps predictably, the study suggests, these physical friendships often occlude one of the emotional arteries of real friendship, openness. Friends who could once talk about anything now have an unstated taboo topic — the relationship itself. In every conversation, there is innuendo; in every room, an elephant.
The research, conducted among Michigan State University students, confirmed previous findings that most college students report having had at least one such relationship. Although that is undoubtedly true of many couples throughout history, ‘friends with benefits’ have become a cultural signature of today’s college and postcollege experience.
‘The study really adds to the little we know about these relationships,’ said Paul Mongeau, a professor of communications at Arizona State University who was not involved in the research. ‘One of the most interesting things I get from it,’ he said, ‘is this sense that people in these relationships are afraid to develop feelings for the other person, because those feelings might be unreciprocated.’
In the study, appearing in the current issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, Melissa Bisson, a former graduate student at Michigan State, and Timothy Levine, a professor in the communications department, surveyed 125 young men and women and found that 60 percent reported having had at least one friend with benefits.
One-tenth of these relationships went on to become full-scale romances, the study found. About a third stopped the sex and remained friends, and one in four eventually broke it off — the sex and the friendship. The rest continued as friends-with-benefits relationships.
In a follow-up study, the researchers gave 90 students who reported having at least one such relationship a battery of questionnaires asking about passion, commitment and communication.
‘We found,’ Dr. Levine said, ‘that people got into these relationships because they didn’t want commitment. It was perceived as a safe relationship, at least at first. But also that there was this growing fear that the one person would become more attracted than the other.’
Yet, he added, the overall qualities of the relationships appeared to be true to the name. On standard psychological measures, they appeared more like friendships than romances.
Friends with benefits scored in the middle on a scale assessing intimacy and low on passion and commitment, the study found. ‘When scores were compared to previous findings with romantic couples, scores on all three dimensions were lower, with the largest differences observed in commitment followed by passion,’ the authors wrote.
The relationships may be less common than reported. ‘Friends with benefits’ appears to have become an umbrella term for a wide variety of sexual arrangements, some of which are quite familiar, Dr. Mongeau said.
In addition to budding romances, he said, the ‘friends’ may also be former lovers who occasionally see each other or they may be people who hang out at the same places and now and then end up wrapped around each other, even though they are not really friends.
Dr. Mongeau said the study seemed to have captured the dissonant, circular thinking that characterized what it felt like for a friendship to enter treacherous territory.
‘There’s clearly a strong desire to be with this other person, who fills important needs,’ he added. ‘But at the same time, it’s as if I’m saying, “O.K., I’m not going to get passionately involved — because then it’s at risk of being a real romance.”’—New York Times, 2 October>
(quotes from archived sources)<1997 “If you've ever seen the TV show ‘Friends’ Courtney Cox [[as Monica Geller]] breaks up with Magnum P.I. (a.k.a. Tom Selleck) because he doesn't want to have kids. . . . Courtney's on the rise. She's a working woman, and she's going places and doing things. She's got plenty of best friends with benefits but above all she wants a daughter.”—Daily Collegian (Penn State University, State College, PA), University Wire, 3 October>
<1998 “We have had sex a few times, but I'm not sure if there is more to us than friends with benefits. He's showed affection in public, but I can't tell if he's interested in more?”—Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), 10 September>
<1999 “Greg was just a summer thing, and we're broken up now, but we're still like friends with benefits and I like the way that's working out 4 me.”—Real Teens: Diary of a Junior Year by G. Ham, page 148>
<2001 “Dear Abby: I am attracted to one of my college friends. We went out last Saturday night, and I asked if he would like us to be ‘more than friends.’ He said, ‘No. We’re graduating in a few months, and I don’t want either of us to become ‘attached.’’ I asked him if he would like us to be ‘friends with benefits.’ You know – friends who show affection and who comfort each other, with no strings attached. He said OK as long as there would be no repercussions – then he kissed me.”—Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon), 31 March, page 30>
<2001 “When teens talk about ‘friends with benefits’ or ‘friends with privileges,’ they mean: A. Friends they turn to for sex, and nothing more.”—Chicago Tribune, 4 November >
<2003 “‘How to Deal’ ponders a question nearly every teen (and college student) has been faced with: Can two people be ‘friends with benefits,’ (i.e. hook up) without emotional attachment?”— Daily Bruin (University of California, Los Angeles), University Wire, 21 July>
<2005 “LOVE FOR SALE: I’m herewith resigning as a member of the liberal media elite. I’m joining with the conservative media elite. They get paid better. First comes the news that Armstrong Williams got $240,000 from the education department to plug the No Child Left behind Act. . . . Now we learn that . . . syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher had a $21,500 contract from the Health and Human Services Department to work on material promoting the agency’s $300 million initiative to encourage marriage. . . . W.’s administration was running up his astounding deficit paying ‘journalists’ to do what they would be happy to do for free—just to be friends with benefits, getting access that tougher scribes are denied. . . . I still have many Christmas bills to pay. So I’d like to send a message to the administration: THIS SPACE AVAILABLE.”—by Maureen Dowd in New York Times, 27 January, page A25>
<2007 (movie review) “More Than Friends With Benefits: In ‘Race You to the Bottom,’ Russell Brown's enervated relationship drama, a pair of thoroughly unlikable 20-somethings explore the possibility of becoming more than friends with benefits. First, however, they must decide what to do about their pesky, live-in boyfriends. New York Times, 4 May>
<2008 “MODERN LOVE: That was the nature of our three-year-plus ‘friends with benefits’ relationship: every couple of months we got together at his place for sex and not much else. . . . Whenever I would convince myself that maybe, despite our age difference, despite our unconventional introduction [On a whim . . . I clicked to the “Casual Encounters” section . . . on Craigslist], our pseudo-relationship could turn into something more, he would disappear again. . . . Instead, I listened quietly, enjoying the role of confidante, knowing that the next morning I would be able to slip away unencumbered, our lives neatly separating until the next encounter.”—New York Times. 5 October>
<2009 (the movie) “She [[screenwriter Liz Meriwether, 27]] looks as if she could be cast as the love interest in a Woody Allen movie, a thinking man’s Scarlett Johansson in dark framed glasses. Her first movie script, Friends With Benefits,” is being produced by Ivan Reitman (Jason Reitman’s father).”—New York Times, 20 March> [[due out in June, 2009]]
Ken G – June 10, 2009