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Ask Ainsley: I’m developing feelings for my casual hookup. What do I do?

Dear Ainsley,

I recently started hooking up with someone new. Everything has been going well so far and they’re super fun, but I can’t help but worry that I’m going to get attached, and from what I’ve heard, they’re not looking for anything serious at the moment. To be honest, I’m not sure what I want yet, either, but at the same time I find myself starting to actually like them. So, what do I do? Should I keep hooking up with them and see what happens, regardless of whether or not I get hurt in the end?


Conflicted About Casual Coitus (CACC)

Dear CACC, 

Before you make a definitive decision about whether to end or continue the relationship, I think it’s important for you to take some time to really consider why you’re afraid to get attached. If you get the sense that your feelings for them are not reciprocated, this could be the result of the social cues they are giving you. Does this person make you feel unwanted in any way? The fact that you are concerned about developing feelings for them is worth analyzing.
When you first start hooking up with someone, it’s easy to feel a strong connection. Do you find yourself actually enjoying this person’s company and having meaningful conversations? Or does your enjoyment merely come from mutual physical attraction? If the latter is true, you should avoid post-coital cuddling as the release of oxytocin that comes along with it may make your bond stronger and therefore harder to break. Sharing a bed with another person can sometimes be more intimate than sex and the closeness felt after spending a night together may heighten romantic feelings. If you’re really hesitant about developing feelings for this person, maybe you should reduce the amount of time you spend together. Hooking up every once in awhile isn’t a big deal, but if you find yourself going to their room every weekend night, you may want to reconsider your actions.

If you do realize that you have romantic feelings for them, this is completely understandable and natural. If you’re open to the possibility of a new relationship, tell them how you feel. The worst that can happen is that they tell you they don’t feel the same way. The best that can happen is that they feel similarly and are willing to develop the relationship into a deeper commitment. When moving your relationship into this new territory, it’s important to remember that, though the bond created by physical intimacy is unique and powerful, a basis of shared values and interests is essential in sustaining a serious relationship. 

If  you’re not in a place to enter into a relationship currently, you may want to break things off—if you do, it might be best to break them off completely. Explain to your partner that you feel the relationship has crossed a boundary and that you need space and separation, at least for a while. It’s hard to remove someone from your life when you have deep feelings for them, but you need to think about what’s best for you in the long-term. There’s nothing wrong with taking time to be alone and focus on yourself, because keeping contact may only prolong your pain. A lack of closure could lead you to relapse into hooking up with them again after a party. 

On paper, the whole “friends with benefits” thing sounds easy: You get to hook up with someone you’re physically attracted to without any strings attached. But, in practice, this only works through strong communication of your intentions with the other person. If both parties are clear about their boundaries at the outset and check in with each other frequently, then sustaining a ‘no-strings-attached’ relationship can work out. 

If you like the person enough to sleep with them and spend extended amounts of time with them, it’s likely that at least one of you is going to start caring for the other as more than just a friend. It can work out fine between the two of you in the end, as long as you keep a close watch on your feelings and communicate with the other person, but if you don’t feel like you’re both on the same page, or are not being treated well by the other person, it’s probably time to let them go. Self-care goes far beyond eating well and working out, it also means keeping people in your life who make you feel loved and valued. So if this person ever makes you feel “less than,” or isn’t clear with you about their intentions, I would suggest saying goodbye, and turning your focus back to caring for yourself. 



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