How to prevent attachment to a casual fling?
July 25, 2016 11:11 PM   Subscribe

For my first outside-of-my-first-relationship relationship (or whatever you would call it, there's no titles for anything anymore), I am very confused how to do this successfully and without getting hurt. Please help me understand how to navigate a casual relationship without hurting myself. Slight snowflakes inside.

I broke up with my long term boyfriend a few weeks ago. I was bound and determined to remain single so I could reflect and learn to love myself and yadda yadda. Well, without seeking it, I fell into it with a cute barista who I've had a crush on for a month. What started out as my first casual sex relationship has now quickly spiraled into this (quite fun at times) emotional death trap that I can't seem to escape.

He really gives me a lot of things that my ex did not--paid attention during sex and puts my needs first, very complimenting of my body and personality, very affectionate and honest. I honestly just feel so pleasantly surprised that someone I found so attractive finds me so wonderful! It's a little jarring from what I'm used to. It is refreshing and I thought, Hey, this isn't so bad. Maybe I could just try to have fun!

I leave this city in a month, which I told Barista, so we both know it would be a short term fling. We also are very much not each other's types (annoyingly, he likes to point this out, that I don't fit his certain "style") so realistically I guess a relationship (which I don't want right now) wouldn't work.

But my brain does not do flings. It is still in LTR mode. And although I consciously know I don't want to date the Barista, he really is so charming and so opposite of what I've received from my last relationship that I can't help but feel SO attached and...happy? It doesn't help that although the Barista has made it 100% clear that he is seeing other people, he treats me like a girlfriend and has told me multiple times that he likes me and would date me if I stayed in this city longer. This does not help my brain separate the casual aspect from the This Feels Like A Relationship aspect. According to my friends, casual flings are people you hang out with late at night every other week or so. But Barista insists that we go on dates, see each other multiple times a week, spend the night, etc. And I'm fine with this, except I'm afraid after experiencing the hurt of a breakup just a few weeks ago, I'm about to experience another breakup with this rebound fling in another month. And that's a lot of hurt for two months.

Am I just doing this whole casual sex relationship thing wrong? I really, truly enjoy hanging out and having sex with this person (such a new experience!) and receiving this "boyfriend experience" without the commitment. But I also am very scared that I am getting too attached and too jealous of the other girls he sees and that I will just be hurt all over again in a month. I am trying to distract myself with school and going on casual dates with other people, but Barista always makes it to the top of my list somehow, because of my darn infatuation with him.

How do I keep this short fling going, which I do enjoy, without becoming so attached or hurt? Is that even possible?? Also, is this a bad thing to do post-LTR breakup? A friend tells me that I'm just trying to "fill a hole" that my ex left behind, but I don't really feel that way. ...Should I? Maybe I should take more time to mourn for our relationship?
posted by socky bottoms to Human Relations (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

You can't keep this up, so there are two options. The first option is that you let go of any expectations and enjoy the attention and know that you're leaving in a few weeks. Whether or not you're his "type" (and I don't think that's really a thing... clearly you're one of his "types"), you are leaving and this is for a month and that's it. That's his expectation, and so it needs to be yours. This brings us to the second option, which if you are unwilling to embrace all of the criteria for the first option becomes your necessary course of action to avoid further heartbreak: say goodbye now, and deal with the hurt of a week-long relationship instead of a month-long one.
posted by papayaninja at 11:18 PM on July 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Eh, I believe in respecting your own nature. Let it flow, don't pre-plan, if it hurts later, just let it hurt. You'll get over it, it'll just take a brief amount of time. Flings don't cause irreparable harm. Don't get scared of getting hurt, because fear of pain and fear of getting hurt always stings more than the actual hurt. You'll be fine.
posted by discopolo at 11:24 PM on July 25, 2016 [19 favorites]

Best answer: You are basically saying, how do I make this thing which is wrong and hurtful for me not wrong and hurtful for me, and of course the answer is, no, you can't. It is NORMAL for sex to lead to attachment (and vice-versa), this is how nonsociopathic people are wired.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:04 AM on July 26, 2016 [39 favorites]

Best answer: But Barista insists that we go on dates, see each other multiple times a week, spend the night, etc.

Barista is not in charge of how you expend your time or your body. These are not his calls to make. He can invite you to do these things but he cannot insist on them unless you consent. So stop consenting. Learn to draw some boundaries and defend them.

I suspect what you need to do *if* you want to carry on with this is learn the art of the booty call.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:40 AM on July 26, 2016 [34 favorites]

Best answer: Even if the popular opinion is that casual relationships and flings are supposed to be fun, even if other people (on the Green and elsewhere) tell you to ride the wave and go along with it, if you do not find casual relationships fun, then that is a very valid feeling too. If you are getting hurt in a casual relationship, then that is not for you. You can stop this.

Don't do things that other people say are "fun" but are not fun for you.

(feel free to include in list, loud noisy clubs, drinking a weekend away, extended camping holidays)

Myself, I prefer to remain single than being in some casual relationship. Far more fun. I get to do things in my own time, in my space, and, I don't have to worry about someone else whom I am not even going to be in a LTR with,
posted by moiraine at 1:29 AM on July 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: You're always going to get attached, somewhat, but some people wired to be more attached than others. Also, understand the fact you feel he's so attractive and he points out you're not his usual type (would you ever say the same to him, even if its true?), actually imbalances things in a way to make you more attached to him. That, as well as the push-pull dynamic-- telling you intermittently that it's strictly casual and yet that he'd date you if you weren't leaving is a ridiculously addictive cocktail. It can be damaging to be stuck on someone in that way, and if that's the case for you then you should end it sooner rather than later, because you may wind up more entrenched and addicted later on.

But if you don't end it, you need to view it as a fling; that means you don't want a relationship with him. No 'I guess' it wouldn't work; you need to be certain that it isn't what you want. You do this by re-evaluating yourself and your self esteem. Improve your self esteem. You need to stop thinking you're not as much as a prize as him, because you are. You are just as hot. Just as awesome. Just as interesting and charming and dateable with as many options as he has. And then you need to re-frame him in a way that makes the idea of an actual relationship unattractive. Point out his flaws to yourself, the things that are dealbreakers. Don't make excuses for his flaws, don't push them aside. He's charming and attractive, but he's human and he can be annoying, and you don't really want him long term, because you know you won't be happy or suited. Your hormones are telling you otherwise, but you need to listen to your brain now. Establish your boundaries better, and most importantly, get busy--start meeting other people and making other plans, even if its just to get a feel of whats out there, not necessarily to get with. Remember, you control the situation, and you call the shots. As DarlingBri said, you don't have to give in to all his plans--defend your boundaries.

If you can't re-frame it that way, if you struggle internally with rejecting him as a relationship prospect, then you might not be cut out for flings and the only thing you should do is cut off the source of your addiction as soon as you can, as hard as that may be. If he's taking up a 70% your headspace, be wary. Unsuited push-pull relationships can haunt you for a long time after. The longer you stay on that rollercoaster, the worse it is, so be aware of that if it's happening.

Otherwise, you can have fun with him and make the most of it until you leave. It's always going to hurt somewhat when you leave-- there's no way to fix that. But you know it's for the best. This guy is a springboard to new and better things. You know now that there's hope out there, that your ex wasn't the end all be all, that handsome men who are into you exist, and they will treat you well. Believe me when I say there's way more out there where that came from too, people even better suited than this guy-- so don't get hung up too much.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 1:47 AM on July 26, 2016 [13 favorites]

I'm not cut out for flings. It took me quite a few years to suss that out and it sounds as though you instinctively already know that. Good for you! Whatever else you get from this guy, you got that knowledge.

As to what you do now-- I'm afraid it's going to be painful either way. Either ride it out until you leave or break it off now, but as far as I know there's no magic way to become unattached in this kind of situation. Will it be easier to recover in your new city or where you are now?
posted by frumiousb at 2:19 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you can get on the same page as each other and have the short term relationship that you both want it could be a pretty excellent way to get over a bad breakup. The end will be hard, but learning you can part from someone without bitterness, and even while still in love, is a lesson well worth learning.

If you are aiming at different things and the two of you can't reconcile those things then it's time to reconsider.
posted by deadwax at 3:00 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The short answer is: you don't, and you shouldn't have to.

I prescribe two shots of Alana Massey: Against Chill and The Dickonomics of Tinder.

Barista is not respecting your boundaries, and the timing isn't great for you. That's okay. Cut him loose. Feel the pain. Don't beat yourself up for failing to live up to (false) expectations of 'chill.'
posted by nerdfish at 3:35 AM on July 26, 2016 [25 favorites]

(Btw, I agree with Violet Hour--attachment is a normal and healthy thing. Be glad you can. People who can't attach cause a lot of harm in the world. Wanting connection, attempting connection--these are healthy things.)
posted by discopolo at 5:40 AM on July 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Those feelings of attachment, tempered by the knowledge of the upcoming split, is what brings a lot of the chemistry and energy to short term relationships like yours. I don't know that it is possible to deny it or wish it out of existence; it might be better to ride and enjoy the emotions while also being self-aware enough to know that the emotions are largely because this is temporary.

That said, I also agree with the commenters who have noted how his "push/pull" dynamic is ramping up those emotions for you, and he isn't really playing fair in doing so. Keeping someone a little bit off balance gives a person a lot of control (for an extreme example, think of an abusive relationship with an alternation of abuse and loving attention, say). Your feelings would likely be a lot more tempered if he wasn't doing this, and it's at least worth noticing that he is making some deliberate choices about how to treat you that are creating this dynamic.

It's up to you if you want to just ride it out and enjoy, or to retake more of the control of the dynamic, perhaps just to dial down some of the destabilization and intimacy, or even to cut things off if you decide it really isn't working for you.

Not everyone is wired for short term and casual relationships -- I am not, and it sounds like you might not be as well. That's not a failure at all, though it does mean that situations that might work for other people aren't going to be what necessarily works for you, and in the future you will know to make those choices early in the process before you get to the point where you are now with such strong emotions.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on July 26, 2016

And although I consciously know I don't want to date the Barista, he really is so charming and so opposite of what I've received from my last relationship that I can't help but feel SO attached and...happy?

That may be partly a biochemical thing that kicks in irrationally. Descriptions of limerence paint it as really dire and destructive, much more so than your experience, but it sounds like there is an element of that in what's happening to you. You are getting a kind of euphoria from being with this person and I agree with Dimes that the negative things he's doing paradoxically make him exert an even greater pull.

But I think having this experience can be really positive, in the end. You can understand that you don't have to stay with someone, or think they are right for you, just because of this early love affair magic. You can have that with a lot of different people-- even people who insist on telling you you are not their "type." (Seriously?)
posted by BibiRose at 6:08 AM on July 26, 2016

Of course you're falling for him like an avalanche, he's treating you like a new girlfriend. And yeah, I do think you don't sound like "fun casual fling" is your thing either. If both of you are 100% certain you'll never date again after you move, I'd honestly say to break it off now because both of you sound pretty attached, talk of "types" and dating others aside. If this was a fun casual fling you'd just be boning (probably more off and on than this) and not dating, and this sounds like a whole lot of dating. And if he's already super better than your ex, then no wonder this is going on.

"he treats me like a girlfriend and has told me multiple times that he likes me and would date me if I stayed in this city longer."

I think that's pretty telling.

I think you should ask him: how likely is it for you to want to do long-distance (possibly non-monogamous?) dating, given how this has been going? If he's definitely "Nope, out of sight, out of mind, I don't wanna once you're gone," I think you're going to need to break it off. I speak as a stage five clinger: an extra month of awesome sex and attention is probably only going to compound the problem of your wanting to be with him more.

But...all this other talk aside, he sounds pretty attached too. It might be worth a shot to ask him about continuing to date. I don't think you're going to de-escalate the hormones and feelings and actually be "casual" at this point, so it's probably gonna have to be an all (as in LDR dating) or nothing (as in cut off for good) situation.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:32 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

first outside-of-my-first-relationship relationship

Looking back over the question and all of the answers, I think it is also really pretty important that this be given a lot of weight. You are super emotional after your first breakup and every emotion is on high alert. I'm not trying to minimise the positive qualities of Barista but with a first breakup, you basically get thrown into an ocean and you do not have the experience to know how or even if you will survive. Compuound this with coming out of a relationship that was diminishing and It is totally possible you would have bonded with basically any rando floatsam in that state.

Take the self esteem boost, the body confidence and the bandaid of the affection and do with it what you will. You don't owe this man any more than the time you've already given him.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:36 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I remember your other questions and I'm going to give you some sideways advice which is not necessarily what you asked but I think it addresses the real issue.

What you really need to do is step up and take more ownership.

In previous questions you mentioned breaking up with your ex because maybe the people here planted that seed, and that you were flirting with this barista at the suggestion of someone here, and now you're with this guy without seeking it.

What I'm trying to say here is that you have tons of control here and you'd be doing yourself a great favor if you recognized that and enjoyed it.

So instead of fretting your current fling will make you sad because of runaway feelings of which you have no control, instead stand tall and tell yourself you're really enjoying this wonderful time which you know is going to end when you leave. Then go have more fun with this guy with one eye on the calendar, knowing you're going to go and have more fun soon.

Reframe it into you broke up and now you're having a great time with someone YOU chose to have fun with. Don't project future sadness. Have fun now, knowing that you're in charge of this situation.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:44 AM on July 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

I want to second the recommendation to read Alana Massey's essay Against Chill. I sent it to all of my girlfriends many months ago. It should be required reading for any single women.
posted by bologna on wry at 7:04 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

I came here to say pretty much exactly what 'Yes I said yes I will yes'* Said. You need to act with agency. You're life has to start being about you and your needs.

Life doesn't just happen to us. You are, whether you want to see it or not, choosing all of this.

What do you want? what choices can you make to be happy? Make those choices.

*Joyce FTW
posted by French Fry at 7:10 AM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

I tend to agree with your friends, it's much easier for some to enjoy this kind of thing by consciously limiting something about it (e.g., spreading it out, and capping the number of times you're with someone, 3 is a good max imo).

If you're finding you're developing something along the lines of serious feelings, I dunno, personally, I would try to pull back a little just to keep it in perspective, maybe limit seeing him.

he sounds pretty attached too.

He seems to be behaving along those lines, yes... One question: is the Barista an actor or musician, by chance? (Sometimes dudes who are sensitive, expressive, affection-seeking and very good at creating a sense of intimacy through creative play kind of let themselves run away with an idea or experience, and sort of let it say things without quite intending to. Or it's seemed that way to me. If it seems like this is a possibility, I would maybe enjoy it, but try to remind myself of that.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:33 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

One little thing--I was no good at casual and found that spending the night made me feel more attached. (I think the body naturally produces the comfort response then, which forms bonds.) That would be one hard line I would take to minimize my own future pain.
posted by Riverine at 7:37 AM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

The "fling" with Barista is getting in the way of your dates with other people who might actually be in your future, LDR or otherwise.

You don't have to like or do casual flings. (It depresses me how many women seem to feel that they have to do x or y "sexually liberated thing" when in fact the whole point is having the option, not a mandate!) Often you need to try them to figure out if they work for you. It sounds like, overall, this one is not, because you are getting too attached and you anticipate it hurting ever more when you break up. Fair enough. Now you know something more about yourself. You are allowed to pull the ripcord.
posted by praemunire at 8:05 AM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

It took me some time to realize I'm just not a casual-fling person. Sex is too intimate and it messes with my head, no matter how I wish it did not. This means I can't sleep around, plain and simple.

If you are similarly wired, there is nothing wrong with you. Trying to be different than your true nature can lead to lots of discomfort. Be very honest with yourself. It sounds like you have a good awareness of your motivations for seeing Barista, but this is a tricky area to navigate.

Even if you plan for short-term, breaking off any relationship where there was any degree of intimacy (emotional, physical or both) can be really difficult for some people.

Take care of yourself first. :-)
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:01 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

It sounds like two separate things are happening: 1, you're finding out that you're not a great candidate for casual flings, and 2, you happen to be in a super lucky situation right now where you don't need to break it off because the logistics are going to do that for you.

You can take (1) to heart, for the future, while still enjoying (2) right now. Decide to enjoy this time with this fellow and make sweet memories. This is a very lucky and rare situation you've found: a lovely connection with someone who isn't your long-term match, but that you can still enjoy wholeheartedly for its short duration, and will never need to be ruined with a breakup.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:50 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

A) Start a journal to deal with all your Feels.
B) If you actually leave in a month -- I.e. you do not make life altering plans due to The Feels -- it is fine to feel all the feels.
C) If you actually leave, the attachment will die a natural death and is nothing you need to "protect" against.
D) In your journal, explore the fact that the relationship would be fundamentally different if you were not just a hook up.

A lot of the positive feels you have are because this is explicitly "not a relationship." If you were looking for "a relationship" and he was dating other people, you would be calling that infidelity and this would be a totally different question. Also, there is no telling how he would behave differently, but he would. A lot of the positives might disappear if you were actually available, so do not be overly impressed with the man. If he really wanted an LTR, he would be giving all this good loving to a person not skipping town in a month. He's not. He is giving it to someone with a built in expiration date on the relationship, because that serves his agenda.

If you journal about it and analyze it, it will become more apparent what a cold hearted, manipulative, self serving bastard he is. For me, that goes a long way towards killing The Feels.
posted by Michele in California at 10:05 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with all the wise comments above. I also feel like this guy is kind of trying to monopolize all your time and attention. Maybe he's not cut out for "casual flings" either. But I also see he's kind of negging you. Exhibit A: letting you know he's seeing other people (when it appears he doesn't have time for that with all the time he spends with you so...?). Exhibit B: you're not his "type," whatever the hell that means. He might be doing this to distance himself before you go but I wouldn't put up with that for a short-term fling. I think you have the sense in your stomach that it's not going right. If I were you, I'd draw some real boundaries and maybe focus on the next thing.

And call him out on negging. If he subtly or not-so subtly wants to mess with your head about you not being "number 1," I'd say something: "Hey, we are having a casual fling, right? Let's keep things un-serious. I don't need to hear about your other relationships or what kind of types you like better than me. That's not cool and makes this less than fun."
posted by amanda at 6:19 PM on July 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Good luck, and since it's so casual, care if I call him your baristo?
posted by lometogo at 3:52 AM on July 27, 2016

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