When the phrase “I just got my negative test back” is the new “you up?” text, it’s clear that the vast landscape of hook up etiquette has changed. During a global health crisis, suddenly even casual sex isn’t so casual. The parameters of choosing intimate partners has shifted, at least momentarily, and it’s got us thinking that we may have been holding our friends to a higher standard than our hookups.
Can friends with benefits really work?
When quarantine first hit, pressure was at an all time high and we were all seeking the same key factor — comfort. Where could we find it within an inherently uncomfortable period of confinement? The fall out was critical in two distinct directions. Some couples broke up and others doubled down on commitment while our social lives, with all their distractions and stress relief valves, were damn near obliterated. In the aftermath of that first wave, many of us have been increasingly drawn, if not involuntarily surrendered via situational convenience, to pre-existing connections or friends of friends. During COVID, intimacy between us and our known circle is increasing. Our relationships are deepening while we figure out how to date and have fun within dramatically different conditions.
Let’s say you’re ready to break your pandemic dry spell. Alright, bet. You download a dating app that you deleted a few weeks ago (no judgement here). You trade messages with a stranger, then reconsider (again) and pull out that handy excuse — we can’t meet up because Miss ‘Rona is still visiting, but thank you for easing my boredom and exercising my thumbs. If we’re being real with ourselves, we know that comfort or satisfaction from a random hook up is a rare shot in the dark. These days, it’s likely not worth the health risks.
Alternatively, let’s consider the fact that you’ve spent the last few months enjoying quality time with your closest friends and family. Maybe you moved home and reconnected with a few childhood pals, or your quarantine crew has been locked in to weekly game nights. Some of these people have known you since you were a kid. They witnessed your brace face and middle school acne, and you laughed ’til you cried when you were completely wasted together for the first time. The list of adolescent stories that the two of you have swapped over the years is significant. Point is, these friends have been around for a while.
“It’s a real foundation you can rely on to be there for you.”
Pre-COVID, a friend of mine recalled, “There was a time when I had a date with a different person every day of the week.” Now, she’s been forming a long distance relationship with a guy she met before lockdown, who sees her on FaceTime “wearing the same hoodie 3 days in a row and he’s not even focused on that.” So while we’re kickin’ it comfy and cozy with no need to perform or prove ourselves, it’s no surprise if, seemingly all of a sudden, our perspective on the prospective dating pool has us seeing possibilities for intimacy with the people most near and dear to us that were previously unexplored. Was it ever so easy that you took the relationship for granted? Give me a second to refocus my eyes.
How do you navigate an evolving relationship as it oscillates between friends and lovers?
A shifting dynamic comes with new considerations and a need for more transparency. The thing is, each of us will choose to receive and give love and affection in different ways, but we’ve got to be on the same page. As your intimacy needs are clarified, you’ll know what to ask for and what you can offer in return. Intimacy comes in many forms. Perhaps you’re craving physical affection, platonic cuddles or long hugs. Deep conversations and even sharing music are gratifying ways to feel more bonded to the hearts of our loved ones. And of course, there’s the full buffet of sexual activity, from sweet kisses to “doing the deed.”
Intimacy comes in many forms. Clarify your needs.
Some who have been “chasing the quarantine nut” find themselves at a liberated end of the spectrum, proclaiming, “Friends are super ideal to fuck!” And why not? Along with the long arc of shared history, it is primarily the feeling of safety that holds us together. One friend said, “I get way more attracted to someone the more I know them and their personality.” But if you want the rewards of an infamously precarious friends-with-benefits arrangement, be prepared to come correct with clear communication and all the emotional intelligence you can muster. This isn’t the place for unexpressed fantasies to fester beneath the surface so operate based on face value. During COVID, there’s also the potential question of mutual exclusivity, which may feel rushed if your feelings “aren’t that deep” but putting your household at risk is out of the question, so listen closely and make agreements that you can stick to. Another friend reflected, “Right now, it’s nice to have the comfort of being with someone who really knows you, gets you and appreciates you without having to reestablish that over and over again. It feels stable.” She added, “We’ve known each other for so long and if you’re still down for the person that I am through all phases, that speaks volumes.”
Only time will tell if these current considerations lead to new choices in a post-pandemic (if that’s even a thing) world. At the very least, I predict we’ll value friendship much higher as the nonnegotiable basis for all of our relationships. We’ve been learning hard truths about ourselves, along with the teetering balance between commitment fears, instant gratification and our undeniable need for lasting relationships. We might as well see what longevity is really made of. For all intensive purposes, familiarity is stacking wins.