College relationships are complicated. No one knows what he or she is doing, everyone hooks up with everyone and a lot of the time you have absolutely no idea where you stand with a “romantic” partner. Arguably the most complicated of all, however, are hookups.
At the time of getting into a no-strings attached relationship, you probably thought that the idea sounded fun and easy. Once you realize that your life has not become a romantic comedy, though, you might change your mind. Since you’re not actually dating the person, it’s way scarier to say how you feel and thereby get what you want out of the relationship. Even asking when the last time the sheets were washed – something you seriously want to know – can seem intimidating. Here are a few things we want to have the courage to say – and should!
1. “Let’s define the relationship”
Before you get into any type of romantic or sexual relationship, it’s always important that both people know exactly what the terms are. If you’re thinking, “Well, duh,” you might be surprised to find out that experts say we are actually terrible at doing this.
Dr. Lisa Wade, associate professor and chair of the sociology department at Occidental College, says that college students in hookups are typically afraid to ask the other person to sit down with them and have “DTR” conversation. “When people are scared, they just don’t define the situation, which makes it really hard to redefine the situation if you ever want to,” Dr. Wade says. “There should always be an open door to talk about what the relationship is.”
As Dr. Wade explains, not defining the relationship can cause awkward issues later on. Mary Claire*, a junior at the University of Georgia, ran into trouble with her hookup buddy after the guy she thought was just a hookup asked her to meet his mom and dad while they were in town for Parents’ Weekend. “It was really awkward,” she says. “We had hooked up four or five times, and he had never shown any signs of liking me [romantically]. He asked me to come to brunch with his parents and I was so shocked, I didn’t even know what to say. I told him no, and then we stopped hooking up.”
Lesson learned: Sit down and have the talk. You’ll both feel more comfortable knowing the terms and it will be a lot easier to change them later on if need be.
2. “I want something more meaningful”
It’s common knowledge that if we’re not somewhat careful about the people we hook up with, we run the risk of hurting our self-esteem. Despite our best attempts at keeping emotions out of the way, the fact is that sex is intimate, and it can be harder than we think to not get attached.
Maybe you originally thought you wanted a carefree, no-strings-attached relationship. If or when that changes, though, you should to tell him or her you’re no longer getting what you want. Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets, encourages women to be honest with their sexual partner about why they want to move on.
“You should be able to tell your hookup buddy, ‘Hey, this arrangement has been great, but now I’m feeling a little empty after each time we have sex and I want something more meaningful with someone,’” Dr. Lieberman says. Opening up about your feelings may seem scary, but the only way to open yourself up to other potential romances is to end the relationship you’re currently unsatisfied in.
3. “Ask me what I like in bed”
While experts agree that friends with benefits are bad at communicating with each other about practically everything, there’s one topic that couples in all kinds of relationships tend to avoid. Ironically, it’s the one that we should probably talk the most about: pleasure.
According to Dr. Wade, hookup buddies are shy about telling their partners want they want in bed. She says that this is partially due to women wanting to seem laid-back, and we agree with her when she says that it’s a major problem. “Everybody’s trying to seem like they don’t really care,” she explains, “because that’s how [we’ve learned that] you don’t seem desperate; it leads to a downward spiral where nobody wins.”
Imagine what it would be like if we all stopped playing this repetitive game: Instead of pretending like you like when he kisses your ear or when she rubs her foot against yours, tell your hookup buddy what you’d rather him or her do. Find out what your cutie likes and clue him or her into what you want. It’ll open a whole new world of pleasure.
4. “Can I keep stuff at your place?”
No, you’re not dating. Yes, you would still like to not have to transport a bag of necessities every time you’re at your hookup’s place. If you’re regularly hooking up – and especially if you’re sleeping over – you have a right to ask to keep a few things around. You don’t have to have an entire drawer to yourself, but a few pairs of underwear and a toothbrush would definitely be nice.
Kristen*, a junior at The University of Texas, never left anything at her last hookup buddy’s place because neither of them talked about it. “I wish he had offered to let me leave a toothbrush and makeup remover over there,” she says. “I would have to wake up and sneak into his bathroom in the middle of the night to brush my teeth with my finger.”
No one wants to brush her teeth with her finger at 2 a.m. Just ask for a little space – and, if you’re the host, be willing to offer up some room as well.
5. “I’m falling for you”
This one is a kicker, and according to Dr. Lieberman, it’s all too common. That isn’t exactly rocket science; after all, in the movies, the couple always ends up together. While you definitely shouldn’t get into this kind of relationship with the intention of one day becoming a couple, it tends to happen accidentally with at least one person.
Unfortunately for those of us who like to sweep things under the rug, Dr. Lieberman says that the worst thing you can do is ignore it – even if it would make your life easier. “You don’t want to ignore signs of a growing attraction because you just want to keep it at the friends-with-benefits level,” she advises.
Out of all the things we wish we could say, this one is probably the scariest. You don’t want to come on too strong and make your partner feel pressured, but a little bit of opening up about how you think you might be into something more romantic could put you two on a path to becoming a couple. Who knows? Maybe he or she will feel the same way.
6. “I deserve to be respected”
The funny thing about this one is that it should be completely obvious. Everyone deserves to be respected, whether you’re in a committed relationship or just having sex for fun. The worst betrayal of a hookup buddy would be to look at the relationship – and you – in a degrading way.
Guys talk. Girls talk. Most likely, your relationship will not be a secret. Even more likely, it will draw a lot of questions from your social circles. The only thing that matters is that both you and your partner feel respected in whatever agreement you have worked out, our experts agree. If you know your cutie isn’t trash-talking you to other people, you’ll feel a lot more confident about what you two have.
7. “I met someone else… and I actually want to date them”
If your friend were to tell you she’s stressed about choosing between two guys, you might want to slap her in the face. However, being stuck in the middle of two love interests is actually a seriously stressful situation – especially if one of them is your current hookup buddy. Part of you may be saying to stick to the easy, emotionless sex. The other part of you, however, might want someone to cuddle with the next morning.
Deciding between the two of them is a personal choice, but experts say you should make up your mind sooner rather than later. In this situation, honesty is the best policy – and Dr. Lieberman says you definitely need to clue your hookup buddy in on what’s going on. She claims that women should be able to say without fear, “I’ve met someone who I’m attracted to, and he or she asked me out. I want to be honest with you about it.”
Being so upfront could be a little awkward, but it’s much better than your partner finding out from someone other than you.
Since there’s still no way to read minds, the only way for your partner to know any of this stuff is if you actually tell him or her (Dun dun duuuuun). If you’re thinking there’s no way you could ever be this honest, Dr. Lieberman assures you you’re not alone. “Hookup buddies avoid having conversations about how they really feel toward each other, what they really want from the arrangement and similar topics that get more awkward as the arrangement goes on,” she says.
Simply put, if you can deal with the little bit of awkwardness that it might take to get yourself to be honest, you’ll probably be happier in the long run. Remember: Your hookup is lucky to be with you. Don’t let him or her forget it!
*Names have been changed to protect identities.