How to navigate the non-relationship

Ah, friends with benefits. That old chestnut. They do make for great Rom Com movie plots.

Friends with benefits on the big screen is either a complete (and hilarious) disaster OR a drawn out love story, where the ‘just friends, no commitment’ thing is part of the journey (before they realise how much they meant to each other, fall madly in love, pop out babies, get a dog blah blah blah). You know the story.

In real life, not so much. The ‘just friends, no commitment’ thing is generally where the story ends.

I mean, you hear the odd happy ending where person A falls madly in love with person B and they drive off into the sunset. You also hear the odd horror story where only person A does the falling in love bit – cue the drama and madness.

Most of the time however it just fizzles and people move on. Your person B becomes ‘just that guy that I was seeing’. Quite anti-climatic really, which is ironic because well, you know.

So, I was in a non-relationship for almost a year and it’s been a really interesting experience. That sounds sarcastic, but I mean it genuinely.

Spoiler alert: It did not end in true love like the movies, it just ended. We’ll blame those pesky feelings and emotions for that.

I’ll also blame emotions and feelings for being hesitant to share this in blog form, but as my 2016 is all about being vulnerable, open and out of the comfort zone, I’m going to do it anyway.

Besides, I’ve always wanted to write about love and sex for the following reasons.

a) They’re such confusing topics… navigating your 20s + sex + love = very difficult.
b) Advice columns are often really similar (and pretty sexist) and I think I’ve got a different point of view.
b) I have strong opinions (I know, shock horror).
c) My awkward experiences are (I think) great fodder for a blog.

Exhibit A: My killer breakup story, which has sadly not yet been blogged about. Boyfriend tells girlfriend (moi) he’s in love with another girl during week 2 of an 8 week Euro holiday with girlfriend’s family. Oh, and then boyfriend says the other girl might be in London at same time as us… so like, maybe we could have a threesome? True story.

Anyway, my non-relationship has been weird and wonderful and I’ve so badly wanted to blog about the experience along the way, but I didn’t in case it made the whole situation even weirder. However, considering it was me that broke the cardinal rule of Friends With Benefits (aka not letting emotions get in the way) I feel like it’s okay to share.

Here is what I learnt about navigating a non-relationship.

#1 Understand that connection is different to commitment

If it’s more than a one-night-stand you obviously like each other as people. You’re attracted to each other physically, mentally. You talk, you share stories, you bond. You share your life’s hurdles and you hear about the ups and downs of the other person’s world.

You’re affectionate, intimate and you (hopefully) genuinely care about the other person.

This is lovely (really lovely), but it is not the same as wanting to commit to the other person. Make sure you understand the difference before getting into a FWB situation.

#2 Have guidelines

They don’t need to be hard and fast rules, but you have to have some idea what’s going on. Are you sleeping with other people? Where’s the boundaries? Do you meet each other’s friends? Are there topics of conversation that are off-limits? What are you both comfortable with?

#3 Don’t read into everything

Oh, it is so easy to pull apart every word, every text message, every glance, every touch. It is also very easy to conjure up a completely false version of events. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you read into every little thing, so don’t.

Go by what has actually been said, what has been agreed upon. The other person’s actions are completely different to the ‘guidelines’ of the non-relationship? Well… hate to say it, but that might just be your perception.

(But don’t beat yourself up if you find that you’re psychoanalysing everything – happens to the best of us! Just acknowledge it and move on).


#4 Know that it’s okay to romanticise the situation

I get it (trust me). You start daydreaming, imagining what the couple version of you two would be like, it’s romantic, fun, alluring. It’s totally okay to imagine – let that creativity run wild!

But, if this is a regular occurrence it probably means you’ve developed feelings for that person. Which is totally cool, but it does change the dynamic and the other person deserves to know that you’ve changed your mind.

#5 Talk about it (if you want the answers)

There needs to be guidelines, but there also needs to be honest and open communication. That being said, you don’t have to talk about the non-relationship if you don’t want to. I spent the first 6 months avoiding a conversation because I didn’t want to ruin the unspoken rule we had going – that it was a casual, no strings thing that didn’t need to be discussed. It was great.

This was working fine until we went to Amy Schumer’s movie Trainwreck. Want to make a FWB situation weird? Go see a Rom Com where the FWBs end up in love. Ah. It’s funny now. Super awkward at the time.

However, when I realised later on that what I wanted had changed, it was a conversation that needed to happen. You both enter the non-relationship agreeing that it’s casual, no strings attached. If you change your mind, you really need to tell the other person before it goes bad.

I’m really proud of how this bit went. We joked early on that this could end badly (our very own Rom Com disaster), but we ended up with what we thought could be an educational resource for school students. Woo! Emotional maturity for the win.

#6 Don’t settle

It’s okay if a non-relationship isn’t your thing. Just cos it works for me, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. It’s okay to want more, it’s okay to want less. Be honest with yourself.

#7 Expect respect

Same rules apply whether it’s a one-night-stand, a long-term relationship or FWBs. It’s your body, your emotions. You deserve to feel safe in every situation you’re in (and obviously you have a responsibility to ensure the other person also feels safe).

#8 Have fun!

If you’re both on the same page, this set-up can be the most fun ever. You only ever see each other when you’re both at your best, which means no grumpiness, no arguments, no stressing over having to spend time together. Just two (consenting) adults getting their rocks off when they’re in the mood. Yay orgasms.

If you’re happy, you don’t have to know what it is, you can just enjoy the moment definition free (but obviously if you find yourself wanting more then it’s time to chat about it).

#9 Know that it’s okay to feel however you feel after it ends

We humans are capable of so many emotions, it’s quite amazing. You’re allowed to feel any and all of them after a non-relationship ends. Sure, it’s *technically* not a break up, but you can still feel those break up feelings.

For example, you may feel sad, disappointed, bitter, happy, lucky and like you need to pour all your emotions out in a blog on the internet. And that’s okay.

Often I think there’s a tendency after a FWB falls apart to feel like it’s ‘wasted time’. I disagree, but really there’s no ‘right way’ to do this. There’s a few things I’d recommend avoiding (eg. violence and Facebook stalking are no-no’s), but it’s your emotions, your non-relationship, so feel however you want to feel.



Author: Alana James

Passionate about social justice, communications, politics, news, leadership & finding the beauty in everyday moments.

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