Friends with Benefits is Hollywood's second installment of 2011 on substituting casual sex for a real love relationship. A Screen Gems release scheduled to hit theatres on 22 July, the film stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. The movie comes on the coat tails of Paramount's No Strings Attached starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher released in January. In addition to the two movies, a new NBC sitcom Friends with Benefits is scheduled to premiere on August 5. Is Hollywood trying to proclaim 2011 as the year that America finally comes to grips with the sexual revolution? It has been over forty years since the "summer of love", yet this year's Hollywood propagated casual sex theme seems vaguely familiar. Maybe Timothy Leary and the rock opera Hair were on to something in the sixties. Not!
The term "friends with benefits" was coined ten years ago, around the turn of the century. It originally referred to college and high school teenagers practicing casual sex without the commitment of a love relationship. Often applied to oral sex acts between teenagers of the day, the phrase also carried a generational rebel yell in response to the cultural pressure to practice safe sex. Although the term may be trendy, coming of age young adults have explored their sexuality since we donned the first loincloths, so the concept is any thing but new.
In the context of the movie, the casual partners are adults not sexual neophytes learning about the mystery of sex; and therein lies the lie. When applied to sane, sober adults Friends with Benefits is simply not desirable. It is a good bet that one of the partners is lying about their emotional and intellectual disconnection, and secretly desires something more. It is impossible for the average human to separate the instinctual level of mind from their perceptual and conceptual levels and participate in repetitive, mechanical sex with the same partner without developing emotional and/or intellectual ties. I would like to meet the adult woman and man who could share carnal knowledge on a regular basis where neither develops a true love fantasy about the other. In a random poll of 50 men and 50 women between the ages of 21 and 40, not one person stated that they would prefer a "friends with benefits" relationship over true love. Giving the devil his due, the contrived, predictable plot line of the movie reflects reality as the casual sexual partners eventually develop feelings for each other.
Unfortunately, many of us may relate to the title of the movie for a different reason and associate the idea of "friends with benefits" to the emotional and intellectual disconnections of our own failed love relationships. We can recall turning to familiar sex as an attempt to cope with relationship discourse. As the movie illustrates, sex is a poor substitute for true love and only provides a fleeting reprieve from the sources of disconnection and frustration. It is common for couples in a troubled relationship to employ the "friends with benefits" strategy in order to recapture the infatuation of their early throes of romance. Although a great idea, without the knowledge to achieve real emotional and intellectual growth, sex by itself is usually not enough to save the relationship.
Here is the good news. If you are like most mentally healthy and not chemically dependent adults and looking for true love versus "friends with benefits," it may be easier to find than you think. The balanced instinctual, emotional, and intellectual connections shared between love partners, true love, is the pinnacle of love relationships. In order to achieve an enduring true love there are only two requirements. First, a strong mutual physical attraction must exist between partners. Second, both partners must be willing to grow by valuing each other's emotional and intellectual behaviors.
Be mindful of the implied assumption of a mutual physical attraction because this is not always the case among adults. Some adults are fully capable of entering a love relationship devoid of an instinctual physical attraction to their partner, but openly proclaim attraction through words. Commonly referred to as trapping behavior, the reasons include dating fatigue, gold, gospel, glory, convenience, and sex. These love traps can be the cruelest of true love buzz kills because they frequently involve a lesser partner relationship. That is when one partner has a strong physical attraction and the other is a friend receiving benefits. If your love relationship is devoid of a strong mutual physical attraction, it is a safe bet that at some point, one of you will be looking for something more.
Growth through valuing our partner's feelings and thoughts sounds easy but isn't. Many of us will spend our lives seeking the comfort of a "compatible" love partner or settling for a "friends with benefits" arrangement in order to avoid this mental growth. We cause relationship friction when we think in terms of right and wrong. If we open up the options from only right and wrong in a given area to accept that there are other methods, approaches, points of view, behaviors, etc.... that are not necessarily wrong, just different, then we can feel safe exploring our partners behaviors. Providing a safe mental environment for our partner to do the same is essential for the connections of true love to form.