Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Friends with benefits" -- at our age?

I'm moving this post from 3/2010 to the top because of the recent comments -- I invite you to comment, also!

Can we have a bedmate who isn’t a soulmate -- or even a steady date -- at our age?

Miriam, age 57, wrote me this email pondering whether or not it’s possible to have a “friend with benefits” -- AKA "sex buddy" -- at our age, getting the perks of sex with someone we feel comfortable with, but don't consider a love relationship:


I read in Better Than I Ever Expected where you and others have had neighbors/ friends/ buddies you have sex with when in between partners. I never considered this option before and would like to explore it.

I eventually want another lifelong love. I could only consider having sex with someone I like and love. I'd like to try the sex-buddy approach, but I have a burning emotional question: Even if he's currently a friend who is willing to be a sex-buddy and there's not a chance between us for a long romance --how do you keep your oxytocin bonding feelings from taking over and locking onto your sex-buddy when you should be looking for a more robust, true love, like you had with Robert?

I'd love to know how to navigate this territory without getting derailed or distracted from my goal of finding a long term love. So who are good candidates? And what kind of parameters do you have with such a pillow pal? Monogamous with each other for the time being? Either one is free to have other partners? How do you end it?

I think you said in your book that you actually had a sex buddy when you first met Robert. How did you transition out of it? Any tips for how to make this successful?  

I had several sex buddies during my long decades of single life. These were men who were friends first, and we genuinely liked each other. We recognized and discussed honestly that we were not each other's true loves and we understood that our relationship would not develop in that direction.

Yet we were attracted to each other, and at the time we were not in other exclusive relationships. We did a lot of talking before we decided that we would enjoy being sex buddies.

We agreed from the beginning -- and I think this is very important -- that we would not be exclusive with each other, would not stop seeking that eventual soulmate, and if we started getting serious about someone else, we would terminate the sexual part of our friendship.

In my 30's and 40's, I had a dear sex buddy whom I enjoyed for many years, on and off (depending on whether one of us became involved in another relationship that needed to be monogamous). We were good friends in and out of bed.

But that was largely hormone-driven. Now other sexual needs drive us than our hormones -- we want to be touched and held, we love our arousal and our orgasms, we love the high of sex with an enjoyable partner and the laughter and intimacy afterwards. You're right that our bonding brain chemicals could play tricks on us and convince us were' in love when the sex is good, even though our logic says no.

The person you mention who was my buddy for two years (I was 55-57) right before Robert and I became involved was in a committed relationship with someone with disparate sexual needs. My friend and I met with his mate and discussed what would be acceptable. We agreed to do only what didn't feel threatening to my friend's partner. This worked out very well. But I know this is rare. We were, all three of us, unusually verbal and honest, with good communications skills and a solid friendship. 

Then, when Robert and I shared our first kiss, I immediately broke things off with my buddy, who understood and wished me well. We stayed close, Platonic friends -- and we still are.

Of course I was honest with Robert, who was understandably uncomfortable about the whole business -- he had never had such a relationship, and didn't understand or like this. So be aware, if you enter into such a relationship, that you might encounter this, too.

Robert eventually got to know my buddy and like him, though he continued to furrow his brow and shake his head at what seemed to him to be very odd behavior!

Miriam also asked me this:

Who are the candidates? When I think of my single male friends, overwhelmingly, I consider them like brothers, and there's no sexual vibe at all. The only other candidates would be former lovers, if we've been able to separate amicably and maintain a friendship. I'd be willing to try that, but then I'm concerned about that oxytocin bonding boost. Since I have already been in love with them once, I fear I'd get too bonded to them again, and stop putting out energy to be available for anyone else, even though I know there's no romantic long term future with them. But the sensual touch sure would be nice!

I would not return to a former lover whom I had loved for this experiment. It just seems full of potential problems, because your earlier emotions could kick in easily.

Readers, help us here. Where did you find a sex buddy who was emotionally safe? How did you approach a friend with an offer of FWB? I hope you'll comment.

21 comments:

  1. Friends with benefits? What a glorious phrase, what a wondrous idea. Personally I haven't been so fortunate to experience such a joy, not since I grew out of my 30s and 40s. I firmly believe the attraction at that stage of life was as much because women in my age group were actively seeking husbands and fathers of their children. Now ... well, I'm in my early 70s and the women I meet, for the most part, have put sex on the "too hard" shelf. They obviously don't know about Ellen Barnard's study in the British Medical Journal. Too bad, so sad. But, I won't give it up. I'll keep searching for women understanding the joy of Friends with Benefits.
    Thanks

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  2. Bill, thanks for you comment.

    >They obviously don't know about Ellen Barnard's study in the British Medical Journal.

    Bill, Ellen Barnard was commenting on the BMJ study -- it was not her study.

    But your point is well taken!

    - Joan

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  3. AnonymousJuly 02, 2010

    I have a question about this passage--

    "We agreed from the beginning -- and I think this is very important -- that we would not be exclusive with each other, would not stop seeking that eventual soulmate, and if we started getting serious about someone else, we would terminate the sexual part of our friendship."

    I understand that the relationship isn't exclusive, that the point is to meet and date other people in order to find a long term soulmate.

    But what about sexual health and safety? For health purposes, I imagine that the relationship is not exclusive, but that the sex with a sex buddy is exclusive until that sexual exclusivity is transferred to a new love relationship.

    Or did you and/or your sex buddy have sex with other people while you had sex with each other?

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  4. At the time, we were having sex with more than one partner. There are several ways to negotiate sexual health: condoms with everyone, or condoms with all new partners if the primary pair had been tested and everyone was being totally honest about what they did outside the relationship. I appreciate your question, thank you.

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  5. Am I missing something? If, while you're with a sex buddy you are having sex with other partners, then what is the need for, or the point of, or the advantage of a sex buddy?

    I thought a sex buddy was when you weren't having sex with anyone, and it was to be sexual with one person until you found someone else to have sex with. If sex partners are in your life, then why establish a sex buddy?

    I thought the advantage of a sex buddy was to have sex exclusively with them while you were meeting other people and until you wanted to have sex with someone else.

    Like I said, Am I missing something? I'm not being rhetorical or sarcastic. This is a real and sincere question. I'm exploring whether this would be possible for me. It helps to understand the parameters that others have put around it, their experience of it, and the risks/benefits while I figure out how I want to do it.

    I really appreciate your perspective. Can you help me understand this?

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  6. Anonymous, by its very existence, having a sex buddy is playing outside the rules, so there are no rules governing how one does it.

    Having an exclusive relationship with a sex buddy usually runs counter to our impulse to find someone we can fully love -- we want to keep looking because we know our sex buddy is not our great love. So most sex buddies agree to be open to other relationships, and to stay honest with each other.

    But as I said, each couple makes up their own rules, or agrees not to have rules.

    You ask what the point is of having a sex buddy if you continue to date others and potentially have sex with others. The point is to enjoy sex, to nurture that part of ourselves, and not to let sexual hunger make us jump into wrong relationships!

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  7. Of course older people can have "friends with benefits," though I don't think the label is particularly helpful. Relationships span a spectrum, and can be constantly changing, as yours did with the lover you had before Robert. My philosophy is that, if you feel like having sex with someone, why not? We're certainly aware of the precautions you need to take to be safe. The only reason not to is if you are in, and value, a sexually exclusive relationship with someone else. What happens afterward, including the degree of attachment you feel, is up to the two of you.

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  8. Over 30 years ago Burt Lancaster's aging character Lou in the movie Atlantic City had such a lady.

    My experience - its VERY common. Often the ladies I've met on line aren't even looking for a friend - just a one night stand to get the job done.

    Point is - the ladies are looking too.

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  9. MidwesternGuyMarch 21, 2011

    I think the "sex buddy" thing is kind of like masturbation. You never really feel a truly close intimacy with the person. But, it's nice to have orgasms with another person. I've just found that the true intimacy of those orgasms is somewhat lacking. It's really the kind of relationship that I have now. It's kind of like "Diet Sex". :)

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  10. Joan,

    Somewhere in your book you talk about the time you had an arrangement with your primary partner that you would each happily have multiple sex partners. And this worked for you until you had that HIV scare. Which scared you into having one partner but had him claiming to be monogamous but cheating.

    The lesson I got from that was that multiple partners is risky, whether they're honest with you or not. But maybe your experience was before the condoms-all-the-time-every-time policy was in vogue? Is that why you now suggest multiple sex partners even with a sex buddy, as opposed to your decision to be monogamous back then?

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  11. Anonymous, you read my book carefully! Yes, this was "before the condoms-all-the-time-every-time policy."

    I need to point out that my primary relationship at that time -- the one who lied to me -- was not a sex buddy. He and I were in love, or so I thought.

    We opened our relationship because he had never in his life managed to be exclusive (including through two marriages), and I wanted an honest relationship.

    Then after our scare, he was the one who pleaded for monogamy. I didn't know he meant that applied to me but not to him.

    Fortunately, that relationship is far in my past. When Robert and I got involved, neither of us wanted anyone but each other. I was happily monogamous with him.

    Once he was propositioned by a beautiful woman of our age, a well known former actress, in fact. He told her he was flattered, but "I'm in a committed relationship."

    She said, "She wouldn't have to know."

    He said, "I'd know."

    He told me this right after it happened, baffled that someone would persist when he said no.

    FYI, I'm not suggesting multiple sex partners -- I'm not trying to tell anyone how run her or her life. I'm just telling you what made sense to me at the time and addressing the reader's questions. Your mileage may vary! That's what makes this continuing discussion so interesting!

    -- Joan

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  12. By the way, I don't know if all the "Anonymous" comments are from the same person or from several people. You can give a first name of your choice instead of "Anonymous" where it says "Name/URL" -- the URL is optional, and you can just give a first name (doesn't have to be your real name).

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  13. Actually, I'd say that "a certain age" is the perfect age to have a FWB, since at least the guy can't put a baby in you!

    I think your attitude is appropriate. It's great to look for the One Special Person -- as many older women are doing -- but in the meantime, everybody still needs some lovin'.

    Miriam is wondering how she could be attracted to one of her "brothers." But ... wouldn't that make it a little kinkier, a little more exciting? Why not break that taboo? We've broken just about all the others.

    She says there's no sexual vibe with any of her male friends. That makes sense, as we tend to suppress sexual feelings in order to maintain our friendships (although women are better at this then us men).It becomes like a LTR where one partner is not always "in the mood" any more. But you can still help ease yourself into the mood and loosen your inhibitions. (Have drinks, create a relaxing environment with lights, music, candles, put on a sexy movie, etc.)

    And frankly, any man with a skillful hand (and lips) can put a woman "in the mood" quickly, as long as she'll let him get close and make a move. (I know I sure as hell can!) So sometimes you just have to suspend your judgement/inhibitions long enough to just let "it" happen. Give it a chance!

    -- l.a.c.

    true cougar tale

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  14. BTW, I also posted this comment about laugh lines and crow's feet a couple years ago.

    l.a.c.

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  15. This is an interesting topic for me because I'm facing something like this and mulling my options.

    An former lover, we're both 60, just contacted me. He has called every 10 years since we stopped seeing each other at 35 (we were together for about a year and a half and had a brief fling shortly after he married). We have chatted over the years but it drifts off when it comes to getting together -at those times I wanted lunch, he wanted lunch plus sex, but he had enormous guilt and it all felt like too much risk.

    He is long married, has two children in college age. He married a woman he had been with before me - I had never thought he'd be someone I would marry so I wasn't upset (I knew of this relationship at the time) but I had memories of our time together that were good, though not great.

    He has no intention of leaving the marriage and I have no intention of looking for a fuller relationship with him where one can't be found.

    I've been alone for a long time and wonder if having sex with someone I'm familiar with would be a way for me to feel comfortable enough to start dating again. I basically agree that trying this type of 'friends with benefits' experiment with an old lover might not be a good idea but as I said to friends, 'I can't believe I'm saying this but I feel like using him to get back in the game while I try to meet someone I can really be with.'

    Reposting this blog topic has been very timely and helpful as I can't make up my mind! It has given me more to consider.

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  16. Tanya, thank you for your candid and thoughtful response. My first question: Does his wife approve of his deepening his relationship with you, or would he be cheating?

    If the latter, how do you feel about enabling cheating, and the likely repercussions when his wife or child finds out?

    I think a "friends with benefits" relationship is more likely to work when both people are in the same situation and it's all out in the open.

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  17. Thank you for this, Joan, the idea of cheating adds yet another layer. This aspect also keeps me from moving forward. Surprisingly, he doesn't like the idea either!

    My sense is nothing will to happen too soon, if at all. Your comment about the 'friends' being in the same situation and everything out in the open is a point well taken, and something to remember.

    Thanks for all your good work!

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  18. Joan,

    I thought I'd give you an update, "the rest of the story," at least the story up until now.

    I did decide to invite my former lover into a sex companionship with me. We spent a good deal of time talking through what it meant, what the boundaries were, etc. We've always been able to talk through emotionally complex topics, and we're both pretty mature. I'm sure that's to our advantage.

    We are both free to date whomever else we want, and we do. He wants to have sex with whomever he wants, and he does. I only want to have sex with one man at a time, and for now, that's him. We practice exceedingly safe sex (that's another story altogether).

    We've been in such an arrangement for a year now. It's worked out really well. The only way this has worked is that we are both quite sure that we are not each other's mates and don't have a long term future together. We enjoy each other's company when we get together every 2-3 weeks, but we each feel freed up to explore other relationships.

    I'm thrilled that my sex companionship doesn't interfere with my genuine interest in getting to know other men. I pursue and am pursued by attractive men in the online dating world. I still seek a mate and feel confident he will come along eventually.

    In the meantime, I get my touch needs met with someone I like and trust. I can only have sex with someone I know well and trust, so this option works great for me. If I didn't have a sex friend, I would feel much more restless, touch-deprived, and petulant about relationships. Instead I feel well-caressed and contented with the pace of my love life.

    I do agree with you that it takes an enormous amount of emotional maturity for a sex friendship to work well.

    My friends think I'm out on a limb that could break and fall off. They've all said they couldn't pull it off emotionally. So I feel a little on the edge of my social group. Which is why it's great to have you as a resource and a touch point to hear other people's experiences. I'm more normal than I know!

    Thanks for all you do.

    Miriam
    age 58

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  19. Miriam, what a valuable update, thank you! It sounds you took plenty of time to talk things out ahead, reached an arrangement that worked for both of you, and it's working for you! That's wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I'm sure it will prompt more conversation here!

    -- Joan

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  20. Hi Joan,

    I just heard you on a Huff Post (2014) panel about friends-with-benefits. I really enjoyed your comments and thought you added a great perspective to the discussion, e.g., "It IS a relationship!"

    You mentioned that you are in such an arrangement now since August. I'm so happy for you! I've been hoping that you would find what satisfies you after the loss of Robert and before falling in love again.

    If I heard correctly, you said that your friend is a former boyfriend. However, when you commented on these earlier posts, you advised against making ex-lovers friends-with-benefits.

    How is it working? Why is it working? Would you change your advice? Or do the circumstances in this case make it an exception?

    I think anything you care to share would be helpful to the community. At least I know that it would be helpful to me!

    Ella

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    Replies
    1. Ella, thank you for reading and listening so closely! Whether an ex-lover can work as FWB depends on whether one person is hoping to re-ignite the original relationship, or if they both have truly moved on. If they're able to come together now with a new perspective and a different agenda, it can work sometimes, as long as both genuinely agree on the new parameters. If one person is holding onto the old relationship, though, I don't think FWB will work.

      Delete

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