The Happy Hookup: Friends with Benefits

Who needs "friends with benefits"? Real women know how to reap the benefits of casual sex the old-fashioned way—"taking a lover".

By Sarah Tomlinson

Everett Collection

I've never been one for "friends with benefits." I know the concept works for a lot of women, but to me it suggests resignation: getting it on with a dude who's only around because you both lack better alternatives. I don't envy the girlfriend whose neighbor coaxes her over for a lackluster couch fumble with a beer and the director's cut of Blade Runner, or the one who texts the cute barista from her local coffee shop while watching New Girl in her yoga pants, just to see if he'll stop by for an ego boost. Friends-with-benefits hookups are the frozen pizza of sex, and aren't any sexier than their name, even when portrayed in a Justin Timberlake movie. but everyone's doing it, and online dating sucks, and there aren't any other options, are there?

There are. Before FWbs took our culture by storm, women took "lovers." The difference between the two might just be semantics—sure, the word lover is anachronistic and a turnoff for some—but for me, it's more than a vocabulary switch: It's an attitude adjustment, like changing from flats to heels. "Taking a lover" feels sophisticated and daring, womanly and seductive, the opposite of being taken for granted. When I started thinking about my affairs this way, it felt like I was turning sex without commitment into an exhilarating experience that tapped into my sensuality and power. 

During my late 20s, as a music journalist in Boston, I took a lover. And then another. I sought out both men, even though neither were potential boyfriends due to factors of temperament, circumstance, and geography. They gave as good as they got, providing hot, enthralling distractions while I wrote, healed a nasty broken heart, and flailed around trying to grow into the woman I wanted to be. 

When I met the lanky local musician with chestnut eyes, tangled black curls, and a reputation as wicked as his grin, my desire for him blacked out all common sense. I'd heard the rumors that he was trouble. Well, maybe we could start a rumor, too. He was looking for a place to live, so I hooked him up with some friends of mine, securing his gratitude. 

Having just weathered a painful breakup from a guy I'd thought would be my forever man, I wanted solace and took the initiative. I put myself in the musician's path—going to see his band and hitting up BBQs at his house—wearing a little extra red lipstick and a clingy tank top with pink guitars. The anticipation added to the heat. 

When he took me upstairs to show me his new room, it was as if I had planned it all along (which I had). This was no end-of-the-night compromise. The first time he made me come, it was hard and fast, the way I had seen it be for boys, my jeans tugged down, my shoes still on. 

We never planned our trysts, which made me crazy, but it also added to the excitement. I knew I might run into him amid the city's small music scene, which gave every night out the feeling of foreplay. When I spotted him at a rock club or party, everything came alive. At night's end, our eyes hardly seeming to meet, we would slip away together, magnetized by a common desire. 

Unlike those friends with benefits who share little beyond proximity and sex, we often stayed up talking and listening to music until dawn. We didn't have any role in each other's daily lives or future plans, and we could be totally honest about how deeply our creative pursuits drove us. I walked home in the morning amped up to write, feeling like I was growing into the independent, successful artist I longed to be. While I had a few borderline-needy moments of wanting a greater role in his life, most of the time he felt at a remove: He was in the midst of an extended breakup and often away on tour, and I was inspired by how completely he put his music above all else, including women. I wanted to feel that entitled about my own writing. 

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