No-Strings Sex: What I Learned From Hooking Up with a Guy I Didn’t Like

You don’t have to be in a formal relationship to have sex. After all, it may be a while til you find someone you want to be in a formal relationship with, and chances are you’ll want to have sex sooner than that. Sex is a vitally important part of living–and it’s crazy to think you have to wait around for some Perfect Person to have it.

I’ve enjoyed lots of safe, consensual sex with very cool people I wouldn’t call boyfriends, but we liked each other and we both knew what was up. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and what you like. And if you’re really smart, you’ll also learn to recognize when you’re saying one thing but feeling another.

It wasn’t until my 30s that I let myself off the leash a bit to explore no-strings sexual intimacy. A lot of it was fun; some of it wasn’t. But it revealed something about my own intentions that I’d done a good job of hiding: In some cases I wanted more, and was settling for far less.

For instance: A few years back, I engaged in a brief fling with a man I met online–a handsome, together dude whom I thought could make a solid hook-up buddy. He was in the throws of a breakup, and though I admit it was a sketchy situation, I was “ok” with it because in my mind, I just wanted sex, nothing more. The first time he left my apartment after having untamed sex on my sofa, I felt a rush of excitement, and then a little while later, I felt meh. The experience, while fun for that moment, didn’t have any real staying power.

I’ll try anything twice. So we hooked up another time—and at this point he was single, having officially called things off with his girlfriend. And then he mentioned he’d been on a few dates with someone else. I was shocked by my own response: I felt surprised. Hurt. Because I realized right then that he had no intention of taking me out to dinner–and not because he “couldn’t” but because either it didn’t cross his mind or it did and he passed.

Hooking up, in this case, was a closed loop. This was what I asked for, wasn’t it? No-strings sex? I was making a jump in logic that lots of girls do–that hooking up was a short-cut to having someone like you, when this wasn’t at all what was happening. I figured he would come around. Nope. (Read more about why hook-ups will leave you hungry.)

Then I realized the most important thing of all: I didn’t even really like the guy! He was good-looking, sure, but he wasn’t all that nice or caring or interesting–and not all that interested in me personally. I was so concerned with what I thought I wanted, and what he thought of me, that I forgot to ask, Geez, do I even want this guy in my life? And the answer was so clear when I finally listened: No.

So what was I doing here, exactly? Exactly.

I never saw him again, and there was nothing to miss. But what I learned here was invaluable: I saw a chink in my tough-girl façade. And I see yours, too. The pseudo-feminist affect you use when you say you just want to get it on and then get on with your life without getting “too attached” isn’t believable. It runs counter to your wiring. It’s pretending you don’t care so that you ward off the risk of getting hurt. Show me someone who’s too busy to be loved, and I’ll show you someone who’s afraid of not being lovable.

(Read more on how feminism f’d up my dating life.)

Now, I don’t think everyone needs to be or should be married, and committed relationships can be negotiated in many ways. You may go through many phases: Perhaps a few good years of monogamy, followed by a few years of unattached fun—as well you should. But avoiding real intimacy and connection as a Life Strategy, and choosing people whom you’re not crazy about, on purpose, to share that with? That’s not a plan for getting ahead. That’s a strategy for avoiding the greatest fear of all—fear of loss.

There’s this misguided feminist idea that to be truly free/strong, you have to be able to treat men the way men sometimes treat women–like used toilet paper. Misguided being the operative word.

You want to call yourself a feminist? Conduct your life from a place of power. And that means being in control of your choices, but also being open to the risk that comes with being emotionally vulnerable. Recognize that wanting to love someone doesn’t make you deficient or weak, but it does mean being brave in the face of potential loss. Because no one can promise eternal love, or guarantee that you won’t get hurt. A mature adult knows this full well and loves anyway. Avoiding any attachments to self-preserve is to operate from a place of fear—the opposite of power.

You don’t learn what you don’t do. So if you want a relationship, now or ultimately, you have to practice really connecting with people, and that may mean having sex, but that also means sharing a meal, exploring other stuff together.

Anyone can keep herself busy with something disposable. It takes an empowered, confident woman to engage in something that’s worth her time, and to put herself in the riskiest position of all—to have something she can’t bear to lose, even if, at some point, she must.

Parts of this essay appeared on yourtango.

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