“It’s not you, it’s me.” The final phase of your latest fling rolls off his tongue, officially closing a chapter of wasted nights, overthinking text messages, and hookups that never seemed equally satisfying. (He was usually satisfied.) How did it end up here? Everything was so good until it wasn’t, his profile said he was into the same things, and on paper, it seemed like the threads between the two of you could lead in a positive direction. And yet now here you are, feeling stupid, crazy, and overemotional for having such an adverse reaction to the reality of casual dating in college. It is the talking phase, the parts in between the first date and the first night away together. The classic modern predicament of “The Situationship”. You were never together, maybe not even close, but it felt like something. No label, maybe other people still taking the walk of shame home as you are seeing this new fling. Yet you cannot seem to shake the sense of disappointment you feel when this one, in particular, does not lead to breakfast in bed and walks in the park. It usually comes with my favorite side, just a hint of gaslighting. If they are really good, they will get you thinking that you are crazy for being so into them, they will make it seem like they did not lead you on but rather attempted to lead you to some sense of sanity. It is a total opposite, this picture that they paint, of you getting your hopes up, and them innocently twiddling their thumbs as those same hopes burn you. However, as much as this dating lifestyle can be confusing and sad at times, it can also bring you power, independence, and the strength to push past every stupid obstacle with your future partner in mind.
First of all, before you go making a Tinder or Bumble profile, you have to ask yourself if casual, or even online, dating is something you truly want and feel comfortable with. It is okay to not be into just hookups, or friends with benefits or a label-less situation with someone. It is okay to still believe in the idea of meeting your partner in person, unexpectedly, when the universe brings you two together. It is okay to be single, to not focus much or any energy on dating and to focus solely on your own journey until someone damn good enough can convince you otherwise. There is an intense pressure to be a willing participant in hookup culture or the body positivity movement as if it is no longer acceptable to treat your body and needs in a way that is more traditional. It is okay to not wear the crop top if you feel more comfortable in a tee-shirt, and it is okay not to get on Tinder if you are waiting for your meet-cute. That is the beauty of the intention behind both movements. It is up to you. It is better to know that now than realize just how many people online are willing to say what they need to say and check the boxes they need to check just to get you in bed. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to Michael from the coffee shop. Beware, he looks warm in his photos like the cappuccinos he makes, but the space he leaves in your bed will be freezing.
Additionally, once you have decided you are ready to get online or get laid tonight, you have to be able to separate yourself from the sex, or whatever it is you are having to happen. Sex cannot always be magical, mystifying and deep when you are only planning on doing it once, or when you only want to see this person as a friend. Sex can still be good, even great, without a spiritual connection, it just means emphasizing the importance of what you and your body are capable of, and sharing that skill with someone who is hopefully equally able to perform. Of course, you should always use protection, and talk to whoever you plan to be intimate with beforehand about any concerns you have or even requests. It is always better to be direct. This is where the power and confidence can come in. You make the rules. You set the time. You can say yes or no, and you don’t have to see them when you do not feel like it. Your time is still yours. You get to figure out how to direct someone in bed and even be directed without the hurt feelings of your significant other thinking they are not doing a good job. When it is casual, no one is entitled or owed. It is a business deal and a very fun one at that. By the time you are ready to settle down, maybe with Michael, you will have had the help of Matt, Andrew, and Elizabeth to help you learn what you like and what you do not. Thanks, guys!
Lastly, avoid red flags. Look out for gaslighting, a term used to describe the way another individual can incite feelings in you that are not accurate, or sane. They project their own guilt and blame onto you in the form of manipulation. Often when it comes to hookup culture or situationships, it will look like someone trying to shake you off their back. They hurt you, they led you on, maybe they did not use protection when you asked or did not inform you of their desire to keep things strictly casual, and suddenly you are insane. Somehow, you are the clingy, stupid, and oversensitive one who misread a very clear situation. Wrong. It’s not me, it’s YOU. It is hard to not feel like you need to rip your hair out or scream into a pillow when they start ghosting you. It is hard to fall asleep and wonder what you did wrong because that is clearly how they need you to feel to sleep themselves. Try to focus on your world, and not get caught up in the false one they have started to spin for you. Go for a run, cook some pasta, read a book and get off your phone. Do not engage when you are feeling upset and confused. Do not send a three-paragraph MLA formatted text to them about your concerns. If they want to talk and try to understand, they will. You will not have to beg or put every anxiety you have about things in their inbox. It is not worth it. Trust me. Take the hint, take your dignity, and get out before they are able to con you into believing anything else about yourself that is not true. You are smart, strong, and capable of walking away when interests are not aligned, or when true colors are shown.
It is okay to mourn things, even when they are short-lived and should not mean much. You are a human being. We all have potholes and little cracks down our spines. We all need to be loved and cared for, and sometimes we look in the wrong places, or people put on masks. We are young, and people can be insensitive and inconsiderate as they are maturing into adults. People can also be intentionally manipulative, and not the way they seem. Trust your gut, your mind, and your heart. Trust your ability to read things as they are and trust when it no longer feels right. The world is so big and beautiful, filled with so many people that carry things in them that we cannot help but be into. It is also dark, scary, and hard to trust who you ire handing yourself off to. Protect the muscle in your chest. It is working hard to help you thrive, and you deserve only the best, whether that is love, or maybe just a really good third base.