Rhonda Perky goes under the f*ck-buddy covers to discover a particularly stringy line
Don’t let anyone who has a f*ck-buddy (FB) tell you they are not in a relationship. They are. It’s not an exclusive/monogamous relationship, nor is it an open* or poly-amorous** one. It is what it is, and that is how you and your FB define it.
In this sense it can be more complicated than a primary relationship, because the rules are idiosyncratic to you and your FB. Some people consider anyone on their drunken-dial sex list an FB; for others an FB relationship is an ongoing, regular by-arrangement affair or something that has evolved over time and exists by the absence of attributes that would define it as a primary relationship.
Some attributes you can expect across most FB relationships include that it is finite, it has mutual boundaries, and most importantly, that you are not each other’s primary partner. You may not have another primary partner, and you may or may not be looking for one, but the FB isn’t it.
Establishing the rules
The rules that you define (and redefine) should be consensual. You can be there for sex, for affection, for companionship, or to help one another prepare for the next relationship of whatever kind, provided it is within the rules you and your FB have defined. This means treating one another with respect. You are not your FB’s dumping ground and they are not yours. Scratch their itch, but make sure yours is scratched, too. FBs also need to know at any point how much ‘friend’, how much ‘partner’, and how much ‘lover’ they can expect to give and to receive, and this can change over time, which means communicating your boundaries. And because an FB arrangement is a relationship like any other, the one rule that is not negotiable is, if you stop respecting yourself in the situation, or don’t feel respected, move on.
Communication: the meat and three-veg of any relationship
What happens when you have a different idea to your FB on where your boundaries lie? If one of your FB relationship rules is that your encounters should remain uncomplicated and fun (and neither of you finds negotiating boundaries particularly easy), things can quickly become complicated and not much fun at all. Similarly when you run into ordinary relationship problems, how much effort do you put into resolving them? Do you refer to the set of behaviours and rules you would apply to a friendship or those you would use with a primary partner? Many problems can be worked through, but the contentious word here is ‘work’. Like any relationship, you both have to be prepared to put in the effort, which can be counter to the rules you have established. A fairly minor issue can easily lead to one partner walking away leaving the other wondering what went wrong.
For and against
There are many articles out there that warn of the dangers inherent in FB relationships. Lissa Christopher argues, ‘Don’t do it’, in her article, ‘Stretching the friendship’, (The Age, 14 February 2011), while Rabbit White shares her experience of falling in love with her FB in, ‘A Meditation on the Fuck Buddy; Or My Fuck Buddy’:
‘It was love… or something like it. In the sex, I opened myself up, and without communication, boundaries became gray, my heart unguarded. And this is where I’d get stuck.’
On the other side of the fence you will find relationship therapists like Harville Hendrix, who advocate using the time you are not in a primary relationship to practice changing your relationship modes and behaviours. Hendrix argues that you can explore your relationship short-comings more effectively when you are dating but not in love, because in this situation you are less fearful of loss and therefore more secure trying out new behaviours that may at first feel uncomfortable. An established FB relationship provides this type of opportunity in a way ordinary dating might not.
All good things come to an end
Because it is a finite relationship, there will inevitably be a time when one of you stops calling, stops responding, or when you or your FB comes out and says, ‘I can’t see you anymore.’ It may be because you have found someone who you want to be a primary partner, or because you feel your needs no longer coincide. Hurt, rejection, grief, are all natural when you lose someone from your life, even if you are not in love with them. But because it’s not a primary relationship, you may find yourself without the support from your friends, your family, and the understanding of your FB that you would otherwise expect.
To FB or not to FB?
I have gone from primary relationship to primary relationship. In those relationships I haven’t been good at maintaining boundaries, nor recognising my needs for what they are: sex, affection, companionship, even exploration. At first glance an FB relationship seems like a good way to learn my own boundaries, to practice new relationship modes, while avoiding many a lonely night under the covers. It might also stop me throwing myself into the first relationship that presents, simply because I have needs I want met that can’t be filled by an endless string of one-night-stands. I also know that establishing a functional, ongoing FB relationship isn’t easy, that I will be forced to set and adhere to boundaries, and to have the difficult conversations I normally try to avoid, and where I am right now, as long as I follow the one non-negotiable relationship rule, that can only be a good thing.
*an open relationship suggests that each is the other’s primary partner it’s just that they are not exclusive.
**poly-amorous implies that each person in the relationship can have multiple primary partners.