Ask Wendy

How Do I Break Up with a Friend with Benefits?

October 6, 2017
friend with benefits at lunch
Hey Wendy,

I'm in an open marriage. When my wife and I made this decision about five years ago, I would say it was one of the best moves we've made, and we are very happy with it. I've been fortunate to have made a number of friends-with-benefits relationships during that time, all with lovely, wonderful women.

My question to you is how to end an FWB relationship? I've found that for some of these relationships I'm now less sexually attracted to my partner than when I first started seeing her, and that I'd like to move on.

This makes me feel more than a little awkward, though. If we were in a serious, romantic relationship then a "true" breakup would of course be in order. But many of my FWBs I see only occasionally, as schedules allow, and by definition they are casual relationships. I've been very up front with my intentions with each, and I believe they share the same goals out of our relationship that I do. 

I feel really horrible on some level conveying the message "I'm not attracted to you anymore." That feels unnecessarily cruel. On the other hand, I don't want to just disappear and stop calling. I do feel my friends deserve the respect of having an open, honest conversation. And I genuinely like each of my FWBs; generally speaking, I'd like to remain friends with them. Just not necessarily with the benefits.

How would you suggest I handle one of these FWB breakups?

SR – San Francisco

Hey S,

Well done! Living outside today’s cultural norms to do what truly works for you and your wife is a brave move. I love you for that. I also appreciate how thoughtful and respectful you’re being to your lovers. Kudos. And by definition, a FWB relationship is designed to end—otherwise, these women would be considered your partners, i.e. polyamory. So I agree, it’s tricky.

I see two options for you here: Based on your thoughtful email, the one I feel might appeal to you more is to schedule a non-sexual date with them, like a drink or dinner. Enjoy the time together and let your lover know that you value her. Sprinkle in something that makes her see she’s special and unique to you. Then say, “I feel that it’s time we transition out of a sexual relationship. I enjoy your company and still want to be friends. Are you interested in that?” and see where it goes from there.

I’m guessing your lovers won’t ask why because of the nature of your relationship, but if she’s curious enough to ask, I recommend you do not tell her you’re no longer attracted to her. It fucks people up to be told this, and she’ll question if you were ever attracted to her in the first place (and how many other lovers have not been attracted to her), and it’s a deep dive of a downward spiral from there. Telling her wouldn’t be additive to the conversation or to the friendship.

So, what the hell do you do if she asks straight out? No need to lie—instead, keep the focus off her and make it about you. You could say something like, “I’m not up for the sex right now.” It’s true. You’re not up for the sex in that particular relationship. Or, “I’ve moved away from wanting to be sexual right now.” It will totally feel like you’re stating the obvious here. Hopefully, this will end things on a positive note. However, if she asks, “Can we be sexual in the future?” You don’t have to have a yes-or-no answer to that—unless you’re certain the answer is “no” and you can say as much. This is a tough conversation, even though you’re in a relationship with no strings attached.

Remember, this is strictly for a friend with benefits scenario, not for a committed relationship. Option B: Dodge it. Let it fade away naturally. Simply don’t reach out to her for sexual experiences, and only reach out to her when you want to see her for non-sexual experiences. Now, this might look blurry, and that’s okay. It’s okay for her to wonder, “Will I ever have sex with him again?” This does no harm. And it may be possible that under the right circumstances, you might want to have sex again. But no one has to commit to anything right now (or ever, really) since this is not a relationship with commitments anyhow. If she asks about it, see Option A.

You can begin to create the type of relationship you want with these lovers right now just by making the shift. If you had it all your way, how much communication and non-sexual facetime would you have with these ladies? Got an amount of time that feels good for you? Great! Then work on making that a reality and see how well that reality can flow authentically and congruently for your life.

Good luck.

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