Act Casual
October 31, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm a twenty-something single guy in the city. I'm moderately fit and attractive; I am confident with women and get dates frequently. I'm having a hard time creating casual relationships.

I'm newly single. For many years I was in a series of monogamous relationships with very little time between them. I got deeply invested in relationships before I was really ready to commit. Then I spent a while in a polyamorous/open relationship and that was just a total shitshow. Since then, I've been focused on maintaining my singledom and the few months I've been doing this has been my longest without a partner since I started dating.

Throughout my singlehood, I've been going on dates. I'm not looking for another relationship, just something casual and I make that explicit to the women I'm meeting. I'm looking for very,very slow-moving dating or friends with benefits. I have read this question about booty call etiquette.

For the most part, I'm really enjoying it: I'm meeting all sorts of really interesting people and I'm having great sex. But a lot of cases have followed this pattern:

Date -> Sex -> Sleep over -> "That was cool, I'd like to hang out again" text or message -> wait a few days to cool down -> try to make plans to hang out again -> no response or blown off

I'm having sex with people that excite me. I'm not in love or anything ridiculous like that, but we've got chemistry and good conversation and I'd really like to spend more time with them. But fairly often I don't, and its heartbreaking to have an amazing night with someone who seems like they fit right into what you've been looking for -- someone you can give yourself over to entirely for the moment without losing yourself in the process -- only to realize you'll never see them again. Its funny, but I'm initiating these hookups yet I'm the one that ends up feeling a little used.

This tends to happen more often with the people who I'm most excited about, so I think I might be coming on too strong.

So there are two components to this question:
Easy part: How can I show someone that I'm into them in a casual way without coming off either too detached or too intense?
Hard part: How can I train myself to not FEEL too intensely about these people, so that the first part comes naturally and I don't get all mopey about not getting called back?

throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Set up something a few days away in advance, possibly even during the date. Note that you don't even have to follow through with the re-meeting, you can cancel later if you choose.

And, um, did she enjoy the sex?
posted by trevyn at 12:34 PM on October 31, 2011

Wait. Are you sure it's not the sex that's the problem?
posted by cairdeas at 12:34 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

My answer to the hard part of your question is: Don't sleep with them unless you're sure that either

a) You are okay with not seeing them ever again after that night.
b) They will stick around, for a bit, at least.
posted by moiraine at 12:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are wise to realize that changing your feelings is really, really hard. But maybe - it sounds kind of silly, but - start viewing these casual hookups the way you would sporting friendships. Pretend they're tennis partners, if you will. It's great to play a set with them, but you're unlikely to see them again, so maintain boundaries, be courteous and fun, but not BFFs.

To show people that you're into them in a casual way, keep the conversation physical. You like the way they look, make your body feel, move, etc. Monitor what you're saying and try to play it cool.
posted by ldthomps at 12:37 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also --

its heartbreaking to have an amazing night with someone who seems like they fit right into what you've been looking for ... only to realize you'll never see them again.

But what are THEY looking for? Do you know? You tell them right up front that you are only out for something casual and that is great. But they might not be out for the same thing even if they think it would be fun for one night. Or they might try it and find actually it's not so much for for them and makes them feel bad or they regret it. Or that there is someone who wants the same thing they do and they want to focus their energies there. Etc. etc.
posted by cairdeas at 12:40 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

"How can I train myself to not FEEL too intensely about these people, so that the first part comes naturally and I don't get all mopey about not getting called back?"

(clicked post before was done) I'm not sure why you want to be the type of person who doesn't feel intensely, as if feeling intensely about people whom you have slept with and had share an intimate moment is a BAD THING and should be suppressed. Don't pathologize your emotions, accept that you are the type of person who cares about other people and who will feel strongly about others. It is a good thing. Sure, it makes you more vulnerable to other people's callousness, but recognise that you are a wonderful loving person. Guard your gentle heart carefully, and take appropriate steps to make sure that no unkind person treats it badly.
posted by moiraine at 12:41 PM on October 31, 2011 [10 favorites]

Date -> Sex -> Sleep over -> "That was cool, I'd like to hang out again" text or message -> wait a few days to cool down -> try to make plans to hang out again -> no response or blown off

I'm ready to lay down $10 bucks that says your apartment is playing a not-insignificant role in this.

Ask a platonic female friend for an honest evaluation. Strange smell? Dirty socks? Glow-in-the-dark poster you thought was really cool five years ago?

The best thing about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was that most of the advice was actually 100 percent spot-on.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:52 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm not in love or anything ridiculous like that

Maybe that is what these partners of yours want, and it isn't so ridiculous to them.
posted by pinky at 12:56 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Last thing -- just to expand on what I suggested about the sex in a way that's constructive:

Lots of young women in their early 20s (not sure how old the women are that you're going for here, but assuming based on your age), are really, really hesitant to speak up about what they like and don't like in bed. Some are just shy, some think "GGG" means they have to do whatever you want even if they don't enjoy it, some have ideas that you should intuit what they want and if you don't, then you're just not a good match sexually, some are nervous and think they need to act like porn stars or you won't have a good time. And if they don't enjoy the experience they just get through it and don't want to repeat it. You'd be surprised how many girls think this way, it's not just inexperienced virgins.

If you think any version of this could possibly be going on here, then I would suggest waiting longer for the sex until the girl actually gets to know you a bit more and feels more comfortable with you. You can take things a little slower without being any less casual.
posted by cairdeas at 12:59 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

You want sex without a relationship. This is what that looks like. You can't force "friends with benefits"; most people don't pursue that kind of relationship with the zeal & energy they reserve for finding a monogamous, committed partner. I wouldn't want to spend much time with some guy who explicitly said he didn't want a relationship who then kept chasing me around for follow-up dates; I'd find that somewhat confusing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:05 PM on October 31, 2011 [27 favorites]

It's a catch-22 for both of you. If it's really good, there's the chance that feelings will develop, and since you've stated up front it's a casual thing, no one wants the heartbreak. So why see you again? If it's really bad, well why would you want to repeat the experience?
posted by desjardins at 1:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

In the game of booty call, sometimes you eat the bar...and sometimes well sometimes, the bar eats you.

aka "Hit it and quit it" isn't popular because it rhymes...its because people relate to it because they've all done it.

That's the nature of booty calls...if you want something else, you gotta go for long(er) term.

Good luck, I hope you find what you are looking for.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

You want someone to be a real friend and also have sex with you. Putting aside the fact that sex complicates relationships, real friends are hard to come by. It's rare for two strangers to have a connection that they really want to have again; I think that's what you're dealing with. Sex is relatively easy to get, as your hookups demonstrate, but socializing — especially in a new relationship — is difficult and time-consuming. So maybe they're Just Not That Into You as a person, and the sex isn't phenomenal enough for that to not make it a one-off. It doesn't mean you're bad in bed or a bad person, just that friends are hard to make.
posted by matthewmcvickar at 1:43 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Agree with PinkSuperhero and mathewvickar, this is what 'something casual' looks like. The nature of friendships and relationships are they are not casual and they are hard to make.

Girls in your age group have lots of options. I am not saying that all girls are looking for a LTR, but why would a girl invest time to keep seeing you if you want to keep it casual so you can end it whenever you feel like it? Part of being casual is that you do not have commitments to the other person.
posted by seesom at 1:59 PM on October 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

this is what 'something casual' looks like.

Yep. When I see a guy on, say, OKCupid who says he's looking for casual sex, I assume that he's looking for a one-night stand.

In many ways, what you are looking for (a no-strings-attached ongoing friends with benefits arrangement) is harder to find than a Real Relationship. Because you not only need to have good sex and enjoy the person's company, but both people have to be able to keep romantic feelings out of the equation. In my experience, these arrangements only work out when there's a really compelling reason the two people can't or don't want to be a romantic couple (ie, they live far away but see each other regularly, they're friends but just *know* they would be incompatible romantically, one or both is in an open relationship). Because otherwise, why wouldn't you just be in a relationship with this attractive person you have great sex with?

I'm not saying that FWB situations never work, but just that it's not effortless to find it.
posted by the essence of class and fanciness at 2:35 PM on October 31, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with those above who are suggesting that your expectations for casual sex may not be matching up with these women's expectations. I have a couple of (female) friends who are looking for booty and adamantly NOT looking for a relationship, and neither of them respond well to men who show signs of being interested in taking it further. From listening to them talk about their sex lives, I gather that said signs can be as small as the man wanting to go out to breakfast or brunch / hang out the morning afterward, or sending a text after leaving to express his enjoyment of the night, or pretty much anything that smacks of the assumption that one night of sex means they will be seeing each other again soon, or ever. They want one night stands. Anything more begins, of its own volition, to collect complications, a sense of personal obligation, etc.

I do wonder if you're going about this the wrong way -- maybe you should focus on making female friends who then might be willing to move into the bedroom with you. (On the other hand, the whole friends-with-benefits path is equally fraught with peril, since it's so easy for such an arrangement to lead to deeper feelings.)
posted by artemisia at 3:26 PM on October 31, 2011

You want to have your cake and eat it, too. This is unrealistic.

And now, a harsh, harsh truth: Young, attractive, intelligent women who want casual sex have a wide selection of guys to choose from. The ideal casual sex partner for a woman is going to be (most likely) experienced enough to be good in bed, handsome enough, warm and personable and woman-positive without being clingy or needy.

Here’s an open secret for you: Women know that men can get attached to them via sex. The truth is, most single guys want love and a relationship (okay, or at least regular sex) just like the “stereotypical” woman. Sex creates bonding for both genders. Any woman with any experience of guys will have an inkling of this or more. Think about it: It’s why a lot of women are attracted to married or otherwise unavailable men- They get the sex, the man can’t obsess over them or even stalk them without a huge loss to him.

Maybe you just don’t have it in you to be a lothario. That sounds harsh, but I mean it kindly. Your vision of an ideal casual relationship is clearly set up by negative experience- you’re afraid of a repeat of the pain, the confusion you went through, so you’re trying to engineer the perfect no-hurt relationship. It’s all over the way you wrote your question. Maybe you’re even trying to live up to an ideal a little bit. And everyone likes sex, sex is awesome! But true lothario types are usually not motivated by the same trying-to-engineer-perfection feeling. They’re more like, uh, “Sex is good, like cake, why not have some?” There’s no fear there, no…management. You know? It’s purely positive. It’s hard to explain. But it’s not what’s going on with you, pretty clearly. Or at least that’s how I saw it. Maybe I’m misreading. Anyway, something to think about.
posted by Nixy at 3:33 PM on October 31, 2011 [19 favorites]

Have you considered the fact that "something casual" may not in fact match with your personality and your relationship style? The thing is, not all men like casual sex, despite what pop culture says. It may be that you really do prefer having sex in the context of a relationship...what you describe sounds more like you want a relationship, just one that takes its time to grow and develop. And there are many other ways for relationships to be and grow than sudden and intense.

I might stop saying that you're definitely not looking for a relationship, and focus more on the type of relationship you want...casual, slow-moving and plenty of space. Also, consider not sleeping with women on the first date if you want something more ongoing?

It's good to get out and realize that you are a desirable and desired person - in or out of a relationship. It's even better to use that experience to learn more about *your* desires and use that knowledge to have the sort of encounters that will be most awesome and meaningful for you.
posted by psycheslamp at 3:46 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm along the same lines as Nixy and TPS- basically, the idea of friends with benefits is really just having your cake and eating it too. And although some women are for it, I personally and from experience think this sort of thing is a lot more beneficial to men than it is to women. Therefore, more men are looking for it than women. Because of that, women who are truly looking for a FWB arrangement can afford to be a lot pickier because they have so many more potential men to choose from than Your Average Guy.

Also, I agree with desjardins that basically- if a guy isn't interested in dating, and you decide you don't like him that much- well, of course you aren't going to hang out with him again. What's the point? On the other hand, if you do like him, it's still the same thing- what's the point? You develop feelings for someone just for it to go absolutely nowhere? I liked a guy who only wanted to be FWB, and decided to go along with it since I'd never really tried it before and I thought it sounded good on paper- he would take me on dates, but I could still date other people on the side. Awesome, right? Not really. Even though we had fun together and had a lot in common, I quickly grew annoyed by him and started to have a lot of negative feelings towards him- I couldn't help it. I was trying so hard not to *Like* him that before too long I didn't even, well, like him. My subconscious was always downplaying the things about him that I liked while focusing a lot on the things about him that bothered me and pretty soon the balance was tipped way against him. I couldn't help it. Why grow attached to someone that's got one foot out the door already?

I know by the mid-to-late twenties, everyone's had some terrible relationship experience or two or five that they never want to repeat again. But to me, doesn't mean no more relationships ever. It just means learn from your mistakes and do a better job of picking someone to be in a relationship with next time. (This includes ending it early on with people who aren't right for you, which I know can be difficult.) I think "casual dating" or FWB or whatever you want to call it is just sort of a fantasy that doesn't work out very well in practice for most people. I am certain that if it did work well, more people would be doing it, but as far as I can tell they're not.

That said, if you really want to pursue this dream and make it a success, then you just have to focus on the sex. You better be fucking awesome at it. (And "I've never had any complaints before from exes" does not mean you are awesome, it often just means they were polite.) All you have to offer them is sex, so make it good. It's not complicated- know what you're doing, and make it about her, not you. This isn't really between you and her- it's between you and all her other potential suitors. You have to be better than them at sex. If you insist on talking about stuff, talk about sex, or don't talk much at all, whatever. Don't try to impress your dates with details about your life and your personality. Don't talk about your classmates, your coworkers or your job. That's stuff for a girlfriend to deal with. These girls are not your girlfriend. And don't invite these girls on dates, either, btw. Go out for "drinks." Don't lead them on.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 4:30 PM on October 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

That cooling off period you're doing, followed by an attempt to make plans, totally reads (for the girl) as "doesn't give a shit about me because he rudely didn't respond, but still wants to sleep with me even though he's been a dick." So basically, that cooling off period feels like a blow off. And then calling them seems like using them. Instead, when they call or text, reply with something like "yeah that was fun!". You don't need to make plans right away, but you do need to respond. Don't be rude. If the conversation does flow in a way that forces you to make plans, you don't need to make them for the next day. Make plans that are about a week or week and a half away. It's enough time to say "yes, i want to see you because i'm securing a date, but i don't want to get into anything serious because i'm not in a rush to meet."
posted by Kololo at 5:17 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

This has already been said in other ways BUT since this has ''happened'' to me, I'll post my 2 cents anyway.

The other posters have already jumped all over the possibility that these ladies are either too shy to tell you what they like, or they think you suck in bed (hey, it happens). It might not be that at all....

I will say that it's probably what you're wanting. You didn't mention when you're talking about this during your 'dates'.... or if you're talking about it at all. With a lot of women, it seems to be pretty black or white. You either get together and try to be in a relationship, or you just have sex with the person.

Women are good at saying they don't want to have sex with someone who isn't looking for a relationship, especially when they're looking for a relationship. Is that what your date(s) have been looking for? Did they seem confused about what they wanted at all? I was really interested in a guy....until he told me that he'd been in a relationship for a long time and he had no interest in getting involved with someone above a FWB situation. Let's just say the "interest" I had fizzled quickly.

Last, if you think that open relationships are "bad".... or "total shitshow" as you say it.... how do you expect an FWB to work out??? Have you been in this kind of arrangement before? It can turn into a REALLY BAD shitshow...especially if you fall for your fbuddy.
posted by camylanded at 5:18 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

You ask about how to change your feelings, but it's easier to change your behavior than your feelings. So if you end up feeling crappy after these encounters, maybe you should try changing your behavior rather than trying to force your emotions into a box they don't want to go in.
posted by colfax at 5:34 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Meeting and boning "people that excite me" is kind of incompatible with the kind of friends with benefits or non-relationship relationship you're describing. So is immediately saying you want to do it again and then trying to contact in a couple days for another date. Sorry, bro.

I think you're coming on relationship-ey. Scaring off the casual girls that way. On top of that, scaring off the relationship girls by basically saying you want a one night stand.

You didn't ask this, but since you're not paying for my opinion, I also really think that you're feeling very much like you need a relationship, and you either need to make your peace with that or take some time off -- not just from serious relationships, but from dating at all.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:05 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not looking for another relationship, just something casual and I make that explicit to the women I'm meeting. I'm looking for very,very slow-moving dating or friends with benefits.

Maybe we have different definitions of "casual," but "very,very slow-moving dating" and "friends with benefits" both read to me as more than just casual fucking. The FWB people I know (as well as the times I've done it, long ago) were all friends first, fuckers second. And very slow moving dating is still, well, dating.

So my guess is that you are saying things about "casual" and "no strings attached" while acting like a guy looking for slow dating or friends with benefits situations, and the women you are seeing aren't into that dissonance. As the person above me says,

I think you're coming on relationship-ey. Scaring off the casual girls that way. On top of that, scaring off the relationship girls by basically saying you want a one night stand.

It's the worst of both worlds, in a way. I think most people develop a pretty good nose for people whose actions and words aren't matching up, and this is what is happening with these women.
posted by Forktine at 7:02 PM on October 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am going to suggest that instead of setting such limiting parameters at the outset of meeting someone new (I'm not looking for another relationship, just something casual) you actually try just doing it. Just dating casually, I mean. No one is saying that you have to jump into an insta-relationship, but I just can't take anyone seriously who is dictating what our encounter is going to mean to me from jump.

( And, I really don't see how you can be expecting to have "very,very slow-moving dating or friends with benefits" with the same pool of women.)

What you are getting is essentially the by-product of what you asked for, in my opinion. Please don't take that as judgement, because it's not. I just think that you are trying so hard to control the relationships that you are likely undermining them - no matter what form they take. There are very few people who are willing to date simply for the sake of dating.

I think it would help you to if you stopped having casual sex with people you don't actually feel that casually about. Which would probably at least mitigate some of the strength of feelings you have about not being called back.
posted by sm1tten at 7:10 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're more emotionally invested in these brief connections you've made than would be warranted or typical for someone looking for booty calls. This leads me to conclude that you might be in denial about what you really want.

It seems like it's more that you want to want casual sex more than you actually do. You sound like a relationship guy to me, trying to fit into a casual mode that's not a good fit for you.

The hard part of your question forms the basis for the easy part. You can't really fake it, at least not for long. If you get emotionally attached and have to work at not doing so, maybe casual sex isn't the right thing for you.

Have you considered taking a few months off of dating and sex to figure out what you want? That might actually help with the getting-too-attached issue. If you can be comfortable without a partner and without female attention it will go a long way toward helping you chill.

Now, a few words about showing someone you are into them "in a casual way." It's tricky. If you tell someone you're not ready for a relationship, they're going to think that you're rejecting them. Unfortunately, that's become some sort of code for politely turning someone down. Our culture no longer has a term or a place for a person who truly isn't ready for a relationship because of that. People who say that are always suspected of lying and sometimes it seems like no one gets any breathing room between relationships because no one believes in the "not ready" concept.

If you tell someone you want to be FWB or don't want anything serious, the person might end up feeling used for sex or some other sort of ego validation. And again, no one ever believes people who say that. They interpret it as a personal rejection and believe that if the "right person" came along, you'd change your tune in a hot minute.

If you do find someone to do this with, it's not going to last long. If you find it "heartbreaking" that no one calls back after one night, just think about how much worse it will be after a couple of months.

I know this probably isn't what you want to hear, but a few months of celibacy and lots of journaling might do you more good than trying to date right now.
posted by xenophile at 6:40 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are your current relationships with your exes like? By far the best and easiest FWB and FWB-potential relationships I've been in have resulted from having dated someone for a while, then I broke up with them for some reason, we got over the breakup, and stayed in contact.

This may not be the most emotionally healthy situation, but as others have mentioned, friends with benefits is always tricky emotional ground.
posted by trevyn at 11:01 AM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe try no sex on the first date? What happen to the "taking the girl home and kiss her good-bye"? I don't think people ever purposely take advantage of others in most cases, it's a lot of misunderstanding and try to know each other a little better will always help. I don't think changing yourself or avoid your emotion is the way.
posted by artofgiving at 11:35 PM on November 7, 2011

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