There are tons of tricky social situations we have to navigate when it comes to dating. Breaking up with someone can be awkward, being broken up with can feel terrible, and telling your friend with benefits you want to stop the “benefit” part of things can be super weird. In fact, you might not believe it’s possible that friends with benefits can go back to being just friends, but before you toss the entire relationship in the garbage, you might want to think twice.
You two might have been friends before you started benefitting each other, so that foundation might still exist. If both of you are free of emotional attachment, a clear and kind conversation might just do the trick. I spoke with Jess O’Reilly, sex expert and host of the Sex With Dr Jess Podcast, about how to properly have this conversation. She says, “Be straightforward and upfront. Let them know how much you’ve enjoyed yourself and offer an honest explanation of why and how you’d like the relationship to change.”
Adding a little honey to the sting of this rejection can also help your friend focus on how important they are to you, instead of dwelling on the fact that you don’t want to have sex with them anymore. O’Reilly suggests, “Let them know what you value about your relationship and how you’d like to refocus your energy.” Suggest that you really love hanging out with them and your other friends, or going to dinner, or seeing a movie, and you’d like to spend more time doing that from now on.
It’s important to communicate that returning to just being friends isn’t an indication that the relationship you have with this person doesn’t matter to you. Even if you weren’t dating, you still felt a connection of sorts, were sexually intimate, and are friends after all! O’Reilly says, “Every relationship is real — even if it’s not romantically-focused. FWB may be casual in that you’re not committed to monogamy for the long-run, but it’s not casual in terms of how you treat one another.” Mutual respect and communication helped you two get into this situation, and they can help you get out of it, too.
All relationships go through transitions and phases, and a friends with benefits arrangement might not work anymore because one person might start dating someone else, they might have diminished interest in sex in general, or they might simply miss the friendship. O’Reilly says, “The passionate stage of love, which tends to be more lustful, may have run its course; it happens in every relationship. You may miss the non-sexual elements of your friendship, which can take a backseat to sex at times. You may feel a stronger non-sexual attraction and wish to cultivate a different area of the relationship.”
If you’ve decided to date someone else exclusively or simply want to stop having sex and just be friends again, the best thing to do is clearly and kindly communicate that. There’s a chance your benefit buddy might be offended or unhappy with this change, but if you’re honest and respectful, your friendship has a really strong chance of surviving.
Remembering that you two were friends before sex came into the picture and focusing on your shared interests, past experiences, and creating new memories will help your friendship grow in this new phase. There might be wounded egos or hurt feelings, so be considerate of this and give your friend space if they need it after you two stop being intimate. There’s no guarantee that your friendship will go back to the way it was pre-benefits, but if you’re upfront, clear, and compassionate, your friendship just might be stronger than ever.