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How Young Women Who Want Love Settle for Casual Sex Instead

Below is a recent correspondence I’ve had with a new reader. I think it’s a good illustration of what a lot of young women experience when they get to college and attempt to conform to the prevailing hookup culture there.

I want to clarify one thing. You will see from my response to her that I do not advocate chastity or refraining from sex. Neither do I promote hooking up. I am interested in supporting young people who want relationships, who must run the obstacle course that is hookup culture in order to get them. I do not concern myself with those who want casual sex, except to help my readers identify and filter them. In other words, no judgment.

Sometimes the process begins with breaking through the misconceptions and self-defeating strategies that so often lead to heartbreak.

F-buddy Expectations

F-buddy Expectations

April 29

Dear Susan, 

I’m at the end of my freshman year in college and I’ve reached a point in my life where I am highly considering starting a F-Buddy set-up. At first, I was opposed to this and considering I’m still a virgin, I thought I’d wait til I was in some form of a committed relationship. However, after this year of flirting and going on a few dates with guys and just having a lot of time for self introspection, I learned a lot more about myself.

For one: I’m actually more horny than I am lonely. Even though flirting is fun, I don’t have the drive or energy to be emotionally invested in anyone and I get really bored in set-ups where we text everyday and spend time together nearly all the time.

[Read more...]

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Friends With Penalties

Dear Susan,

I have been hooking up with a guy consistently for four months. It started out that we both wanted a friends-with-benefits situation, and we would basically hang out, do homework, etc., and of course hook up, but that was it. He made it very clear to me that he wasn’t into me further than a physical relationship and that he was on a break with his gf, so he still had feelings for her. I didn’t really have them for him either, though. I just thought he was attractive and fun, so perfect hookup material.

Throughout these four months, I helped him deal with his gf calling things quits and I have been tutoring him in school, and we have become overall closer friends. He even told me that I am his best girl friend and that he trusts me more than any other girl he knows.

Recently he has started acting really sweet to me and like he wants something more:

  • He gets really upset when I need to leave him and always finds excuses to spend more time with me. 
  • He also has started wanting to go out on what I would usually consider to be “dates”, and he pays for me. 
  • He has been calling me beautiful and gorgeous a lot and he gives me random unexpected compliments much more often. 
  • The other day I awoke from a nap we were taking and he was holding me in his arms and just watching me sleep. 
  • He even mentioned that his mom (yes, I met his parents, but in a “just-friends” situation) thinks I am really pretty and that I seem like quite a catch, and he regards his parent’s opinions very highly. 
  • He also always makes comments about how he could see us being married in the future, but he does it in a joking way of course. 
  • He even wants to do more couple-ish things together, like cook and learn more about each other’s lives. 

Basically, I feel like these are all signs of him falling for me as more than a FWB, but am I just fooling myself? Could he just be doing this because he is single and bored/lonely? Even though he pays for me now, he has never said anything about it being a “date”, and he has never tried to hold my hand or kiss me in public.

I just don’t get why he is trying to be so much more involved with me if he knows he could still hook up with me without putting in the time and monetary investment. So I am pretty much just confused about whether he actually is developing feelings for me or if I am just getting my hopes up for no reason.  

Thanks,

Hopeful But Confused

 

Dear Hopeful,

What jumps out at me immediately from your letter is the fact that you obviously have strong feelings for this guy and hope that the two of you can become a couple. I wonder why you ever thought that “attractive and fun” was perfect hookup material, rather than relationship material? You say that you just were looking for a FWB, but I don’t understand what the benefits of that arrangement were. If you really weren’t interested in a relationship, you wouldn’t have developed feelings for him, right? But it sounds like you fell for him anyway, which is what usually happens in FWB – someone catches feelings. Sometimes both people do, but it’s much more common for one person to get hurt. 

I agree with your perception that his recent actions appear to signal increased interest in spending time together, and a more emotionally intimate relationship. It may well be that he does like you and wants to make something work. There are several things I think you need to be concerned about:

  • Is he truly over his ex?
  • I share your worry that he is lonely and adrift right now, enjoying your company. Is he just biding his time with his great FWB until he falls for someone new, or is he trying to make this something more?
  • He has relied on you for support, both emotional and academic. Does he feel that he owes you in some way? Can it be that he has picked up on your feelings for him, and is responding in a way that pleases you? 

One of the most common mistakes women make is that they read too much into the time they spend with a guy. A guy can spend a whole weekend with you, cook meals together, laugh together, be passionate – do all the things that feel like being in love to a woman – and have absolutely zero emotional investment. If he is in a “no relationship” mindset, or views you as FWB material only, he can enjoy your company and the sex without any worries that you might get hurt, because these are the terms you both agreed to.

It’s time to stop guessing and ask him directly. You don’t need to make a big confrontation out of it, you could just say something like, “You’ve really been acting different lately, what’s up?” to get the conversation going. Because you like him, you need to find out asap whether the feeling is mutual. If not, you need to get out right away. 

There’s an article in The Atlantic today about a new study of FWB relationships, Romance Trumps Friends with Benefits. (H/T: Stuart Schneiderman). Researchers from Harvard, Syracuse and Purdue conducted an online survey of college females, half in FWB and half in traditional romantic relationships. Their findings:

  Friends with Benefits Traditional Romantic
Total # sexual partners 6.4 1.9
Frequency of sex Lower Higher
Non-sexual time spent Less More
Satisfaction with relationship Lower Higher
Comfort expressing needs and desires Lower  Higher 
Comfort setting relationship boundaries      Lower  Higher 
Discussion of other sexual partners Higher Lower
Condom use Higher  Lower 

 

I don’t find most of these findings surprising, but am particularly struck by the difference in sexual history between women in FWBs and women who are dating. This suggests, at least to me, that the casual, no-strings nature of a friends with benefits arrangement leads to faster dissolution of those relationships and increased likelihood of entering additional casual relationships, leading to partner counts for women more than triple the women in relationships.

If you were cut out for casual it wouldn’t matter, but you are not satisfied, you want a traditional, romantic relationship. So why don’t you get one? If not with this guy, with some other guy. As long as “attractive and fun” doesn’t mean “unavailable,” there are many other guys out there. 

Like so many women who try to do the FWB thing, you’ve found that it doesn’t really work. We are not meant to relate to other human beings in a strictly sexual way. We want emotional intimacy. I recommend that you not settle for anything less in future.

Hope this helps,

Susan

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The Real Reason Why Men and Women Can’t Be Friends

The Reason

Pure projection by both sexes. 

Guys want to have sex with their girl friends, and assume girls feel the same way. 

Girls do not want to have sex with their guy friends, and assume guys feel the same way. 

The Cause

It’s built-in, massive miscommunication and it rarely ends well. Another wacky consequence of the feminist denial of sex differences, and of the sexes’ different mating strategies

Men were…more likely than women to think that their opposite-sex friends were attracted to them—a clearly misguided belief. In fact, men’s estimates of how attractive they were to their female friends had virtually nothing to do with how these women actually felt, and almost everything to do with how the men themselves felt—basically, males assumed that any romantic attraction they experienced was mutual, and were blind to the actual level of romantic interest felt by their female friends.

Women, too, were blind to the mindset of their opposite-sex friends; because females generally were not attracted to their male friends, they assumed that this lack of attraction was mutual.

As a result, men consistently overestimated the level of attraction felt by their female friends and women consistently underestimated the level of attraction felt by their male friends.

Cross-sex friendships are a historically recent phenomenon, according to the study’s authors, and mating strategies get in the way.  

Humans’ evolved mating strategies motivate involvement in cross-sex friendships and also lead to attraction to friends, even when not consciously intended. 

There are good reasons for men and women to view friendships differently:

As facilitators of a short-term mating strategy, men desire a greater number of sex partners than women do, experience lower levels of sexual attraction to their partners after initial sexual access to them, over-infer the degree of sexual attraction portrayed in ambiguous signals from women, and fantasize more about sexual access to a variety of partners.

In other words, men are all about getting it in, while women are (or should be) all about being selective. It is not surprising, then, that men had the hots for their female friends regardless of whether they were in a relationship, while women were less likely to diverge from a long-term mating strategy when partnered.

The men reported moderate levels of attraction to (and desire to date) their friend regardless of their own current romantic involvement or their friend’s current romantic involvement.

We predicted this pattern of effects from evolutionary logic that young males possess strong short-term mating desires that are activated in the context of the opposite sex, regardless of their current relationship involvement.

Women, whose long-term mating orientation tends to dominate, reported less desire to date their friend when they were already in a committed relationship. 

The Rules

Just in case you’re thinking it’s all good if you have a boyfriend, men didn’t hesitate to assume romantic interest from “taken” women, aka the mate poaching strategy:

…Although men were equally as likely to desire “romantic dates” with “taken” friends as with single ones, women were sensitive to their male friends’ relationship status and uninterested in pursuing those who were already involved with someone else.

However, single women were more likely than women in a relationship to develop a romantic interest in a guy friend:

Single men across age groups reported relatively high levels of attraction to their cross-sex friend, and single women across age groups reported moderate levels of attraction to their cross-sex friend.

Romantic feelings towards friends of the opposite sex decreased the quality of the relationship with the existing partner:

Younger females and middle-aged participants who reported more attraction to a current cross-sex friend reported less satisfaction in their current romantic relationship.

First studied in the late 1980s, cross-sex friendships present several problems:

1. They incite jealousy in romantic partners.

2. They are viewed with suspicion by others in social situations, reflecting the frequent undercurrent of sexuality in the relationship.

3. Some people use platonic friendship as a mating strategy – parties are frequently at cross purposes in the friendship.

4. The media portrays ‘‘normal’’ relationships between men and women as sexual, and hence non-sexual relationships between men and women as strange and essentially impossible.

Moonlighting, Cheers, When Harry Met Sally, Friends, The Office, Scrubs, He’s Just Not That Into You – all…thrive on romantic tension and excitement portrayed between cross-sex ‘‘friends’’ who end up either in a romantic partnership or a temporary attempt at one.

They may also provide some benefits, however, including a boost to confidence and self-esteem depending on the relative status of the parties. Also, the discrepancy between men and women decreases as they age, perhaps reflecting a higher frequency of existing partnerships.

The most extreme example of cross-sex friendship mentioned by the authors is the Friend With Benefits arrangement. A cross-sex friendship of sexual activity without romantic involvement. The FWB is well adapted to male mating strategies. 

Finally, the authors note that we do not have a good understanding of causation in cross-sex friendships:

  • Perhaps men and women who are dissatisfied in their romantic relationships increasingly turn to their cross-sex friends or develop new cross-sex friendships. 
  • Perhaps attraction to a cross-sex friend leads to dissatisfaction with one’s romantic relationship. 
  • Perhaps men and women with certain dispositions, such as high levels of novelty seeking, are likely to both pursue cross-sex friends and grow dissatisfied with their long-term mateships.

Cross-sex friendships are messy and laden with drama. As humans, our mating strategies are at cross purposes, and this is nowhere more evident than in these friendships. 

The Strategy

 

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HBO’s Girls Exposes Pretty Lies

Not being one of the media darlings who got advance copies of HBO’s new show Girls, I had to wait for Sunday’s premiere before weighing in. I enjoyed the first episode very much, which surprised me – I wasn’t a fan of Tiny Furniture, the film that put Lena Dunham on the map and brought her an offer to collaborate from Judd Apatow.  I found Girls well written and funny – a sort of bizarre, young singles’ Curb Your Enthusiasm, coupled with a sad poignancy. Creator, writer, director and star Lena Dunham is telling the world just how effed up life is for Gen Y, with its anemic job market and crappy sex.

The first episode gives us a look at two very different couples, neither of which seems long for this world. They represent very well the contemporary diametric in sex and relationships, with its masculinized women and feminized men.  Still, either or both of these couples could limp along for ages in a very meh sort of way. This is courtship by inertia.

 

Marnie is dating Charlie, a boy so head over heels in love that he needs a constant “fix,” touching, stroking, grinning at his beloved. At one point, the morning after Marnie has avoided him by “accidentally” falling asleep in another room while watching Mary Tyler Moore, she  hands him her dirty mouthguard. He happily takes it and then signals his intent to kiss her good morning. 

Comin’ atcha… Here it comes…MWAH..that was my kiss blowing up on you.

We cringe with her, and we’re not surprised when she discusses her growing repulsion with Hannah shortly afterwards.

Hannah:  You literally slept in my bed to avoid him.

Marnie: I know. Hannah, I’ve turned a corner. His touch just feels like a weird uncle putting his hand on my knee at Thanksgiving. 

Hannah: (Sigh.) What does it even feel like to be loved that much?

Marnie: It makes me feel like such a bitch because I can feel him being so nice to me – and yet it makes me so angry!

Hannah: I think you need to admit something to yourself, which is that you’re sick of eating him out. ‘Cause he has a vagina.

That night, Charlie tries to get kinky by proposing a little role play, and Marnie suggests it might work if he pretends to be a stranger. “Like, someone who acts completely different from you.” Ouch. 

In the other corner, we find Hannah and Adam, f*ckbuddies except for the buddy part. They can’t have been at this for long, because Adam appears to observe the tattoos on Hannah’s body for the first time. Nevertheless, he’s indifferent enough to make it clear he’s already tired of her. He never texts her back, and when she stops by one day because she was “in his neighborhood” her affable eagerness provides a discomfiting contrast to his bored contempt. 

Hannah: I like you so much, I don’t understand why you disappear.

Adam:  What are you talking about? I’m right here.

   …You modern career woman, I know what you like, you think you can just come in here and talk all that noise?

   …Lie flat on your stomach, now reach back and grab your feet. Now stay in that position but take all that shit off.

Frank Bruni, writing The Bleaker Sex in the New York Times, describes the unfolding sex scene as he takes her from behind, looking bored:

“So I can just stay like this for a little while?” she asks. “Do you need me to move more?”

He needs her to intrude less. “Let’s play the quiet game,” he answers.

From the PC vantage point of a gay male who has no dog in this fight, Bruni asks, “You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of “Girls” engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?”

Meanwhile, in an eerie recollection of my recent description of the Goldilocks dilemma - women trying to find men worthy of both lust and attachment in just the right mix – writer Annie James channels Goldilocks in a post at The Frisky, identifying with the nice guy vs. asshole quandary.

Judging from my social media streams and a litany of text messages from friends, most of us watching “Girls” were struck by the dilemma of dating the asshole versus dating the nice guy and how neither is a viable option.

About six months ago I started seeing a sharp-mouthed, emotionally-damaged gentleman with his own serious commitment issues. He didn’t return emails or calls or make plans with me.

“What do you like about me?” I asked him. “You’re brunette and you have a vagina,” he replied.

When I asked what he expected to get out of our relationship, he told me to stop acting like a turkey. Then he shrugged.

“I don’t date girls longer than a fiscal quarter … and I don’t trust women. I’m easily bored.”

I was a little in love.

The meaner he was, the harder I fell. He once called me a retarded slut right after we had sex. On second thought, he might have still been inside me at the time. I was angry and disgusted. I stormed out of his house. I texted him some nasty expletive along with: “I should come up there and smack you.” He evenly replied: “You don’t have the code to get back in. Stop being a turkey.”

Wow, that is some tight Game right there. James (who’s in her 30s, by the way) sounds like she may have dated a certain prominent Game blogger who shall remain nameless. Predictably:

For the exact length of a fiscal quarter, he built barriers, I tried to tear them down and my cravings reached a fever pitch. At the close of four months, as promised, he informed me that we should no longer date over the post-modern Post-It note: GChat.

“It’s not like I owe you anything,” he typed, not even having the courtesy to include a sad face emoticon.

James decides to try the nice guy next:

He would meet me anywhere that was convenient for me. He texted. He emailed. He told me I was smart and pretty and that he thought every little thing that I did was awesome. He wanted to meet my friends. He wanted to meet my dog…He kissed me on the street outside of the bar [one] night. “I don’t want to play games. I really like you,” he said.

I hated him. Like another character in “Girls,” Allison Williams’ Marnie, who can’t stand her too-adoring, too perfect-seeming boyfriend, I was disgusted by his niceness. Similarly, there wasn’t an ounce of my loins that could quiver for this man. I even tried the age-old libido lubricant beer goggles in an attempt to spark some physical passion.

Five shots of Jameson later I couldn’t even fathom a cuddle. He made my skin crawl.

In an effort to understand her many failed relationships, James consulted Helen Fisher, an expert on the brain and attraction, and got a real answer:

When a person feels rejected, brain regions linked with craving, addiction and obsession become active. You can’t stop thinking about the person. You become obsessed. Someone is camping in your head and you can’t get them out. Anytime there is a real barrier in the relationship and you are not sure if you can win the relationship, it heightens the craving. The less you think you can win the person, the hotter the craving.

Of course, Fisher is describing the dopamine reward system here. I’d b willing to bet James is a DRD4 mutant. Acknowledging that she is likely to pull her hair out and become a madwoman if she keeps going for guys who call her a retarded slut, James holds out hope that the perfect man, the one who is “just right” will show up. 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7ZrBCY9ipI

I’m looking forward to the rest of the Girls season, as Lena Dunham continues to expose the reality of the schizophrenic demands women are making of men.

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Hooking Up With Public Radio

Thanks to Topher, a reader I haven’t “met,” but who recommended me to Susan Morris of public radio for her weekly show What Would Your Mother Say? at WRCT Pittsburgh. It’s a very good show, on every Tuesday at 9 pm, and it can be streamed live. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Susan Morris and the kids!

Here’s the podcast of my interview. Highlights include the remarks of Dan, a physics major, at 6:30 and again at 8:45. Also, the general feedback from the panel after I’d signed off, at 11:55. The panel of two female students and one male was a surprisingly accurate representation of the SMP as we often discuss it here.

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