For many singles, an ongoing casual sex partner is an ideal arrangement. But what do you do when emotions get the better of you? Here are some ideas for having healthy relationships with your fuck buddies, booty calls and friends with benefits.
There’s a saying in business: “It’s easier to keep a regular customer than to find a new one.” When it comes to sex and dating, that premise certainly holds true. I’ve spent countless hours chatting online with strangers, and even more in person. When I find someone I like, I keep them around.
Casual arrangements such as a friend with benefits or a fuck buddy are popular with the single and open-minded. A long-term casual sex arrangement has all the advantages of a romance without any of the drawbacks; you can have fun, get laid, and make friends … all while avoiding the emotional demands of a romantic relationship.
It seems like the perfect solution.
But things don’t always work out. I remember one guy I picked up at my local punk club back in the nineties. We’d hook up after the pub closed, and we’d talked about avoiding any serious attachment. Then one night, he blurted “I love you,” on the dance floor. I ran for the door.
It goes the other way, too. I often call things off with casual partners because they refuse to treat me like a friend. Acting cold and selfish is one way to prove it’s not a romance, but a high-quality fuck buddy won’t put up with that kind of behaviour.
Ongoing hook-up arrangements can be great, but how do we avoid ruining everything?
I think it’s all about staying in your lane. Casual sex is an emotional balancing act; you need to connect with your partner, otherwise the sex is bad (and you run the risk of being an asshole). On the other hand, it’s also important to control those feelings a little, lest you drive the other person away. It’s all about tuning in to your feelings and making course corrections as you go, to avoid running yourself off the road.
Here are a few ideas for staying on track.
Get off the relationship escalator
The relationship escalator is the series of steps we feel pressured to follow when we get naked with someone. It usually goes something like: dating, sex, monogamy, marriage. Even when we DON’T want to end up married with three kids, we feel a lot of societal pressure to act as though we do.
The result: we often try to escalate a casual hook-up relationship without realising. Spending more and more time with someone, demanding assurances that the arrangement won’t end, asking for increasingly personal support and advice… these could be signs that you’re trying to manipulate the situation.
In order to have good casual sex, you need to let go of the idea that a successful relationship means a wedding ring; get off that escalator!
Admit your feelings
We often assume that ‘casual sex’ means ‘sex without feelings.’ I think this is bullshit. Emotions are a natural part of sex. Without them, it’s mechanical and boring.
What kind of feelings are appropriate for a casual partner, you may ask? It depends on what you’re both comfortable with. You might enjoy watching movies together, swap dating advice, meet each other’s friends … or just say ‘I appreciate you’ from time to time.
When we ignore our emotions, they sneak up on us. You might find yourself crying into your pillow after sex or having a meltdown when your buddy tells you they’re shagging someone else. Admit to your feelings and keep them in the open, where you can keep an eye on them. If it seems too difficult to deal with on your own, a good counsellor can help.
Avoid ‘dickful thinking’
Sex columnist Dan Savage describes ‘dickful thinking’ as the optimism we have when we’re really into someone and we become convinced that they feel the same way. It can happen to anyone of any gender, and it’s fatal to casual relationships.
Sure, you might want to start a romantic relationship with your fuck buddy. But until you ask if they want that too, you simply don’t know. Avoid grand romantic gestures (or relationship escalations, as above) until you’ve had an honest conversation first.
Set some boundaries
Boundaries are the rules we set around our own limits or behaviour – a line in the sand that tells other people what we need to stay safe and happy. If you want to keep things casual, it’s important to set some boundaries. What do you need, to keep things feeling casual?
I know some folks who have limits on how often they can hook up with their friends. Others deliberately avoid personal conversations or too much communication between encounters. Personally, I won’t sleep over if it’s a hook-up.
Everyone’s different. Decide what works for you, and make sure your hook-up friends know your rules.
Don’t be afraid to call it quits
All relationships, casual and romantic, have a shelf life. If things are becoming difficult, it might be time to call it off – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
We often feel as though every relationship ending is a failure, but I prefer to think of a good arrangement as temporary. When it’s good it’s great…and when it’s no longer good, you both need to be able to admit it. Here’s my best line: “I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you. But it’s not feeling right, and I think we should move on.”
We all have a right to say no. And at the end of the day, a good casual arrangement should make both of you happy. When it stops working out, it’s time to try something else.
Having a good hook-up buddy can be an incredible experience; but it takes effort and introspection. When emotions start to run high, it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself and ask, ‘am I staying in my lane?’ The right attitude keeps things running smoothly, so that your casual relationship can last the distance.