Friends with Benefits—Road to Romance or Heartbreak?

Two friends “hooking up” just to have sex is Hollywood’s favorite new theme. Popular young stars—Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake—star in a box office winner, Friends With Benefits. NBC has placed on its schedule a TV comedy with the same name at 8 p.m. on Friday. And No Strings Attached, a film that was panned by critics, starred two other popular stars, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. The message being delivered again and again: why bother with real emotional attachment? Just have sex.

Of course, all of these Hollywood creations come with Hollywood endings. And therein lies the problem. A young women may start out thinking she can handle a relationship that is just about sex. Inevitably, reality bites. She begins to feel she wants more out of the relationship, hoping for that Hollywood ending. When that fairytale fails to come true, she feels disappointed, hurt, and used.

It’s not surprising that young people, whether still in school or out in the workplace, have embraced a casual approach to dating. With the pressure to succeed beginning at younger and younger ages, why add the stress to find a Saturday night date? Far easier to stick with a group or hang with a guy friend.

What’s lost, however, is the opportunity to develop true romantic skills one-on-one. Ultimately, both boys and girls will think about marriage and family. Yet their early years do not prepare them with any sort of road map for arriving at that destination. And while most young men and women would argue that marriage is not and should not be their top priority early on, being able to maintain a relationship with another person probably is something they think about a lot and spend a lot of energy on.

When we researched our book, Boy Crazy!, we were surprised at the number of high school girls we met who had never been on an actual date. Sure, they would hang out with groups of friends and “hook up” with guy friends. Yet they had never actually experienced a “date,” when a boy would ask them out, come to pick them up, pay for the evening and bring them home. While the whole idea of a formal date seemed quaint, many of the girls told us they often fantasized about such an evening.

Parents shoulder part of the blame for the way young people attack the social scene. For moms and dads, allowing a daughter to go on a date is giving the green light to have sex. During interviews for our book, many parents (particularly dads), told us they encouraged their daughters to go on group dates believing those get togethers were safer. Many times, however, the guys and gals in those groups form couples and, well, you know the rest. What’s been lost? Parents never have the opportunity to meet a boy their daughter might be spending time with. And the daughter loses out on the opportunity to experience a one-on-one date.

Not all dads were anti-dating. One told us that he took his daughter on a date—made a restaurant reservation, helped her into the car, pulled her chair out at the table, and made sure she got home safely. Afterwards, he told her: “Never expect less from the guys you date.”

I can’t help but think that online dating sites are popular because services like and eHarmony are bringing back the ritual of dating. Whether a couple meets for coffee, drinks, or dinner, there’s a routine that helps to provide a structure for forming relationships.

Boy and girls can be friends, of course, and sometimes those relationships do develop into ones with serious romantic attachments. But for young women to settle for “friends with benefits” means settling for a relationship with no future benefit at all.

Charlene Giannetti, Woman Around Town’s editor, is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of eight books for parents of young adolescents including Boy Crazy! Keeping Your Daughter’s Feet on the Ground When Her Head Is in the Clouds.

Photos from Bigstock Images

About Charlene Giannetti (839 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 12 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.

2 Comments on Friends with Benefits—Road to Romance or Heartbreak?

  1. What a great piece, Charlene, and so true for all of us, young or “mature”. It seems that the dating rituals have been ebbing, and it’s time to return to them. Brava!

  2. I agree with Merry Sheils, Charlene. Great piece. I had forgotten the dating ritual because I have been in a long term relationship with one man for awhile now. But then he surprised me and took me on a date last year for my birthday. He picked the restaurant himself because it was one he thought I would like and he was right on, as they say. So romance still lives, we just forget sometimes how to fit it into our lives. He is living in LA right now (I live in San Francisco) for his job but he will be here in a few weeks and I plan to take him out for his surprise birthday dinner. Eventually we plan to live in the same place but in the meantime romantic interludes help a lot.

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