Recently, I was on the receiving end of a pretty familiar text message. In it, the man I’d been seeing for just over a month — who had verbally indicated on multiple occasions that he was looking for something long-term, and that I was someone he could see himself with in that capacity — told me that he wasn’t interested in anything serious. “But we should still hang out,” he typed, wink face included.
The subtext to that text? “I just wanna fuck.” And that was a direct contrast to what he’d told me before.
Apparently it’s extremely common that people in a short-term relationship break up like this. I’ve spoken to the men and women in my life about this, and pretty much they’ve all done it. They offer up plenty of justifications for why they wait until someone is comfortable before telling them they’re only interested in hooking up. “If we led with it, they would just stop talking to us,” said one friend. When I explained to him that manipulating a person into agreeing to a kind of relationship you never expect to follow through on is actually a dick move, it was like I’d told him they’d successfully colonized Mars.
“There is a right and a wrong way to tell someone you just want to hook up,” says sexologist Megan Stubbs, followed by the relationship advice that works in pretty much every scenario. “It’s all about open communication.”
What I wish I could have told the man who had just sent me the wink face emoji was that I may have been interested in a more casual relationship with him, had he just been honest about what he wanted. But by lying, and then flipping the script, he’d shown himself to be dishonest. So why would I trust him to respect my feelings in a casual relationship? Why would I want anything to do with him at all?
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Now I know what you’re thinking: how the hell are you supposed to bring up, early in a dating situation, that you aren’t interested in a relationship? According to Stubbs, you’re not, really. “You can’t just walk into a date and say ‘Hey, how are you, I’m only interested in hooking up, is that cool?’” she says. “But there are ways to mention the fact that a serious relationship just isn’t something you’re looking for at the moment.”
But know this: If a person states on her dating profile that she’s looking for a long-term partner, do both of you a favor and swipe left. “You’re wasting one another’s time,” Stubbs says. “You won’t be able to convince her to take her expectations down any more than she will be able to convince you to dial them up.”
If there are specific reasons for your not wanting a relationship, then they will likely come up in normal conversation on the first or second date. “Past relationships, jobs situations, or travel plans are all normal conversations to have on a first date,” Stubbs says. They’re also reasons why people may not want to commit. So if the person across from you asks about your work, you can fully tell them about how crazy your schedule is. “And then it’s easy to say ‘That’s why I’m interested in a more casual relationship at the moment,’ and then see what her response is,” Stubbs says.
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But if, for some reason, the opportunity doesn’t present itself in normal conversation, the right thing to do is nut up and just be straightforward. These conversations should happen when it feels natural, but Stubbs does say that it might be a good idea to get it out in the open before you have sex. “It’s just easier to do it before emotions get too heavy,” she says. Bring it up when you’re away from the bedroom, and don’t assume that she necessarily wants a long-term relationship when you do. A good approach? “I’m not sure what you’re looking for at the moment, but I just wanted to make my expectations clear before things go any further.” If they aren’t interested, then respect their decision. Don’t try to berate them into feeling less than they do. If one of you wants something the other can’t provide, it’s best to end things before they get more muddied.
And if they’re cool with casual? Then make sure you actually keep things casual. “So many of these situations get confused because expectations aren’t aligned,” Stubbs says. If casual means no sleepovers to you, then be clear about that and stick to it. If you only want to see him once a week, stick to that, too. But remember: You are only one person in this two-person relationship. If they have some guidelines that they’d like to abide by, you have to hear and respect those, too.
If one of you starts to catch feelings — because, of course, these things don’t always go to plan — Stubbs says it’s important to be open about that. “Communication is so necessary in a situation like this,” she says. “Things end badly when we think we know what the other person is thinking.”
So no, you aren’t a jerk for just wanting a casual relationship. You are a jerk, however, if you don’t let the people you’re seeing know that. Open communication will get you farther than withholding information ever will. And, for the love of god, never send a wink emoji.
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