Ask Jono: Friends With Benefits, Or Friends With... Basically Dating
I recently discovered your advice column and I think you are absolutely hilarious as well as helpful. I’ve read a few of your articles but alas, I seem to have a rather specific problem. A bit ago I presented a hypothetical, fictional couple to my friend. Basically the situation was this—mostly just hanging out like friends but also going out on a few dates (movies, dinner, bowling, whatever) and did romantic things. Hypothetically speaking the relationship wasn’t top secret underground military bunker classified information but they weren’t really “Facebook official” or shouting it from the rooftops. My friend told me that this was basically friends with benefits. Now unhypothetically speaking I was in a relationship like this (now over). I was pretty sure this was not FWB but now I’m not. So based on my hypothetical situation would you say I was in a FWB relationship? If not then do you think that it would be a good or bad relationship for someone who is kind of shy about the whole relationships thing?
Sparkler, this is one of those questions that required me to hit up numerous literal girls for their secret relationship wisdom, and the consensus is that you were less "friends with benefits" than you were "dating with friendliness." The whole concept of FWB is that you do sexy things together without any particular commitment to each other, and often without any emotional bond. It necessarily means being allowed to mess around with other people, and if neither of you ever did, I wouldn't call it that. There's a reason that nobody bothered to make up a term for "Friends Who Go Out On Dates And Are Exclusive," which is that FWGOODAAE is the worst acronym. But there's a second reason, which is that this is pretty much just regular dating. The fact that you weren't shouting it from the rooftops is actually pretty admirable, because you evidently just enjoyed each other's company, and weren't doing it to so you could say you were ~officially dating~.
For the record, I'm not categorically against the whole idea of FWB relationships. I've met a lot of un-jealous hornballs (of either sex) who are fine with the idea of passing like ships in the night, ships that take off their pants and mess around and then sail in opposite directions. The problem is that, for a lot of people—even people who start out thinking they're immune to jealousy—the meaningless hookups add meaning, and the situation ends with a dude lying awake at night thinking "Arrrgh, I bet she's kissin' duuudes," when the entire point of the relationship was that she's allowed to kiss dudes. Someone invariably wants the relationship to be something more, while the other person doesn't, and finally they end up Enemies Without Benefits.
As to your last question—would it be a good or bad relationship for a shy person—I think it was a positive thing. After all, you had this relationship, despite being shy about relationships, because you two were friendly enough that the shyness wasn't a big deal. Frankly, I think more people should date this way, since you start off the relationship already knowing each other's quirks, and the other person rarely turns out to have been an Undercover Sleazeball all along. Besides, the whole reason high school dating is tough is that dudes are like "OH NO A GIRL" and girls are like "ACK, A DUDE" and everyone hides in a closet and nobody dates anybody. If you can ease into a relationship with a friend, and then ease your mouth in the general direction of that friend's face, and then wind up kissing that friend without getting hit with a brick, congratulations: you've gotten past one of the major hurdles that kids your age worry about. In that sense, it doesn't really matter if the relationship was healthy or stupid or a complete disaster; it was worth it because you got some experience without having to stress about it.
Ultimately, though, what the relationship was called is much less important than how it felt. These things don't always fit into neat, easy categories (which is probably why three different girls had three different answers to your question), but honestly, does it matter if you were Official Certified FWB or not? Relationship labels are only really important insofar as they show you're both on the same page (there might be a problem if you call a dude "my boyfriend," and he calls you "hey nerd," and shoves you frantically you behind a cactus when his friends show up). If neither of you really cared about what to call it while it was going on, then don't worry about it after the fact—assuming you enjoyed it, and nobody got hurt, then it was a good thing.