Today’s question is from our very own Indigo Darling, who wonders about how to navigate polyamory in comparison to friends with benefits.

ask ani a question

Indigo Darling (whose great erotic stories you can read on my blog) is getting started in the world of polyamory, and has an interesting question about the difference between polyamory and friends with benefits.

Polyamory seems to involve a bit more regard for your partners than what’s described in various “rules” for Friends With Benefits, which seem to focus on the avoidance of any kind of “amory” (love) feelings. For someone new to poly, what sorts of questions would you suggest asking yourself and your counterpart in a new relationship or poly situation to know the lay of the land?

So maybe a simpler question is, how is polyamory different from friends with benefits, and how is it the same?

That question is both simple and complicated.

At its heart, polyamory is about having multiple loving relationships. Obviously the core difference between a second partner and a friend with benefits is the partner part. A partner is a committed romantic relationship, while a friend with benefits is a friend you have sex with.

Now, in the practiced world of poly, these things can get muddled. Would you say you love your friends? I certainly would. And would I consider my most committed partner a friend? For sure. As someone who is doing solo poly, for me the distinction is not so clear. But for otherwise committed or married partners, maybe it’s easier to see the difference between partner and friend.

So to answer your question more directly, from my experience and (small) knowledge, polyamory is different from friends with benefits in that:

  • Poly partners can be committed in different ways (married/long-term relationship, co-living and parenting, etc.)
  • Polyamory involves multiple romantic relationships
  • Polyamory allows for “loving” (as in romantic) feelings towards all your partners

Now, polyamory is similar from friends with benefits in that:

  • It is based on mutual understanding of everyone’s needs and interests
  • It requires negotiation and communication
  • It tries to do away with jealousy (or at least attempts to minimize its effect in our lives)

Polyamory and fluidity

Now, I’ve written about this a little in the past, and here’s something I’d like to bring up: maybe there’s no need to differentiate so… harshly… between polyamory and friends with benefits. If you want to and if it keeps your relationships clearer, then do so. But I think you should be open to just letting relationships develop on their own terms.

I think you need to ask yourself why you want to make that distinction. Is it to reduce the jealousy of a committed partner? Is it to minimize your level of involvement with your FWB? Or is it truly because that person is a real FWB—you won’t fall in love with them, but you like having sex with them?

It also depends on how you feel about sex in general. Are you the type of person who can have sex with someone you don’t have romantic feelings towards? For example, I don’t need love to have sex, but I need a certain level of intimacy and complicity. So I can’t have purely hookup-type sex. That makes me more likely to have friends with benefits—but then I have few friends, and I care deeply about them.

Now here’s a question to ponder: how is friendship different from romantic love? For me, the lines have become more blurred since I left M. A deep friendship is what is maintaining my relationship with E. C. is my friend and lover, but I wouldn’t say I have romantic feelings towards him. How does it look like for you?

I encourage you to examine your own perceptions and maybe open up to the idea that maybe you don’t need to have such definite boundaries. A friend with benefits may or may not develop into a committed relationship… but deciding in advance what a relationship can or cannot be seems to me counterproductive.

What are your thoughts, readers?

Good advice? Helpful information? Thank me with a coffee!