What are Friends with Benefits?

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
April 11, 2019

Seinfeld was dubbed “the show about nothing” and aired for nine seasons from 1989 to 1998.  Arguably, its popularity soared because it cleverly addressed a multitude of issues through unique storylines and plot twists.  Seinfeld centered on the lives of Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer and followed them through their everyday travels and many, many relationships.  An episode entitled “The Deal” aired in the second season and addressed the topic of Friends with Benefits.  Jerry and Elaine, who became close friends after a past romantic relationship, spend the first part of the episode discussing the possibility of engaging in a sexual relationship for fun while simultaneously maintaining their friendship.  They humorously come up with a set of ground rules to set up the Friends with Benefits arrangement for success.  As the episode goes on, Jerry and Elaine comedically depict the difficulties and challenges in maintaining the fine balance between sex and friendship.

friends with benefits

Friends with Benefits is a notion where individuals can engage in sexual relations without any relationship or romantic strings attached.  A Friends with Benefits arrangement allows two friends to enjoy being intimate with each other without any expectation of a relationship.  Two friends engaging in this type of pact agree to refrain from having feelings, acting on emotions, or wanting something more from the relationship.  In addition, two friends promise to protect and preserve the friendship above all else.  In essence, they want their cake and want to eat it too.

Friends with Benefits is a challenging arrangement to be in.  Sex is an intimate act involving trust and vulnerability and somehow always manages to complicate a relationship.  It can be very difficult for both parties to hold up their end of the bargain.  More often than not, one partner begins to develop romantic feelings and starts to seek more from the relationship.  If this occurs, the friendship can become tainted and forever strained, as one partner feels badly, while the other is left pining for more.  The tension can ultimately become too much, causing distance in the friendship, and eventually the dissolution of it.

Despite the fact that a Friends with Benefits arrangement is not easy, it can be done.  The friendships that persevere from this type of deal are composed of individuals who can compartmentalize their emotions.  They are able to turn off their emotions and focus solely on having fun and enjoying sexual relations with each other.  A special type of duo needs to exist in order to successfully achieve a Friends with Benefits arrangement.  There has to be a significant amount of trust and compatibility in the friendship, high self-confidence in both partners, and strict emotional boundaries.

As human beings are human beings, we are imperfect and flawed.  At times, we cannot control our emotions or feelings no matter how hard we try.  Even if we set our minds to it, our hearts sometimes have other plans.  Sex seems to raise the stakes in any relationship, whether it is a friendship, romantic relationship, or marriage.  When intertwining sex into a friendship, the parameters of the friendship immediately change.  Things get blurry.

When Elaine and Jerry came up with their ground rules on Seinfeld, both of them were pretty pleased with their insight and creativity.  They believed that they cracked the code and solved all of the pitfalls of any Friends with Benefits relationship.  They figured that their black and white rules would make things clear and distinct in order to avoid them from becoming blurry and gray.  As expected, Elaine begins to experience feelings halfway through the episode and the perfectly thought out arrangement culminates in conflict.  Although Seinfeld was fictional, it was able to capture real life experiences flawlessly, as it did with the Friends with Benefits arrangement.

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.

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