Monday, July 11, 2011

A Friend in Need is A Friend with Benefits

It's just these times, when popular culture meets my real life in a way that just doesn't make sense, that I feel like I'm slowly morphing into a grown up. Okay, my mother. There I said it.

Here's what's happening. Justin Timberlake has a new movie out called "Friends with Benefits." And, in an effort to appear hip and current to my 22 and 18-year-old, I brought the movie up at dinner by saying, "I don't get this whole friends with benefits thing. It just seems like a big set up for a guy friend to have relationship sex without commitment while his girl friend ends up with sex and no relationship. So who actually benefits?"

"That's just the way young people do it now," they informed me. I did note that they didn't use the word "we do" or "I do" and I wasn't sure if that was because they don't believe it or they weren't trying to have me smack dab in their personal lives. So, naturally I pressed on. I won't reveal what I found out about my young adults and their sex lives, but I will say, that I am feeling better about their personal roles in this younger generation's insistence on taking the relationship aspect out of all things sexual.

So in an effort to protect their privacy, I'm only using excerpts from the conversation.

"I just don't get it because I don't think it has a chance in hell of really working 99.5 percent of the time," I said to them. "It takes a rare woman, at any age, who is secure enough in herself, sexually and otherwise, to be able to sustain a long-term sexual relationship with a friend. Sure a one night horn trimmer (I don't think I actually used this term), absolutely. Maybe even two, but 'hooking up' on the regular is damn near, scientifically impossible.

"Here's why," I school them. "When you have sex you release a cocktail of hormones including dopamine (the "I gotta have it" desire and reward hormone), serotonin and endorphins (the "happy" hormones)and oxytocin (the "cuddle" or bonding hormone). And I don't care how many water bottles full of vodka got them into bed, it's not enough to ward off what's happening in their brains, especially hers.

"When it comes to the science of love," I continued.

"Science of sex? Really?" my daughter said with the slightest tinge of embarrassed disgust to her voice.

"Yes, science. And I don't care if you did just graduate from high school, this is one science lesson you'll want to learn." Ignoring her eye rolling, I continued, "When you have an orgasm (note the cringing of their faces) you release oxytocin, which makes you want to cuddle and bond with the person. Now, the theory goes that the more a couple has sex, the closer they become."

"Well if that's true, then boys would feel closer too," my daughter suggested. And rightly so, bless her sweet, inexperienced heart.

"True, but men are wired to procreate so they and their testosterone levels," I began to explain but decided to stop and stick to the original subject. "But that's a whole different science lesson.

"So if it's true what you're saying that the boy friend will tend to hook up with more than one girl, while his girl friend will tend to hook up only with him, then she's just setting herself up for a case of unrequited love. Which leads me back to the original statement, who's actually benefits?"

Silence. With that question left in their heads, I figure my work is done and they depart, happy to get away from their mother trying to discuss what happens when they have orgasms. But I can't stop my mind from thinking about how in the good old days, friends with benefits meant you always had a supportive ear and a warm hug to turn to when you had a fight with your actual boyfriend. That your closet was mine and mine was yours. That I'd cover for you with your parents, and you'd cover for me with mine.

I can't help thinking that by trading casual sex for commitment, kids these days are cheating themselves in ways they will spend many years and lots of money in therapy to figure out. They aren't training themselves to be partners, husbands and wives, only selfish lovers. They've traded face-to-face intimacy for efficiency and real time words that aren't even words, but instead abbreviations and emoticons texts to express their feeling. Their intimate lives, emotional and physical, have little true intimacy. Romance is something they read about in books. And the fear of getting hurt stunts their ability to love before they've ever experienced it.

As my dad often says, "It's a damn shame."


Jen said...

I have to disagree with you on this. I have several friends with whom I've had sex on more than one occasion. It was even fairly regular for a while. One of these guys is one of my best friends. He and I can talk about almost anything. I've never wanted to have a long term committed relationship with him and I'm pretty sure he feels the same, but we've always had a powerful attraction for one another and we indulge it when we can.

I think it has a lot to do with what you think a relationship has to be. This guy and I have never dated, but we've had conversations that have spanned hours and subjects. We've got several things in common, and several interests the other is so not into. We're really close friends who are both married to different people and really love to have sex with one another every now and again. I can (and have) cry on his shoulder. He's confided his problems in me. I can even honestly say I love him, but he's never been someone I wanted to date or marry.

Lori Bryant-Woolridge said...

Hi Jen,

I really enjoyed hearing your point of view. I think your comment, "I think it has a lot to do with what you think a relationship has to be" hits the nail right on the head. A friends with benefits relationship has to be clear from the start what it is and what it isn't. I agree, if both people are on the same page, as you and your friend clearly are, then I agree, it could work, but I find that most women find it difficult to remain in this kind of relationship.

Thanks so much for sharing!