I come to you seeking advice on my issue with casual sex. Currently I’m 27 and I’m starting to notice some issues when it comes to hooking up with girls I’m not romantically involved with. When I was younger (18-23) it was easier for me to dissociate feelings with sex. I would be perfectly okay with no communication or not seeing someone again after a one night stand. Now things aren’t as easy and I find myself becoming emotionally attached to the women I sleep with even though I know they’re not someone I’d be in a relationship with (and the same with them).
A little background info on me… I spent a year in Afghanistan from a deployment with the Army and I came back thinking everything was fine because I didn’t have any traumatic experiences. It turns out I was worse than I thought, I was anti-social and separated myself from friends and family. When I did hang out with people I was kind of empty inside. I believe now I’m passed those feelings but my issues with feelings after sex are worsening.
I recently hooked up with my friend from the army’s sister (Her and I are friends too but through him). It was not only a terrible night of sex because we were both really drunk but I found myself nearly depressed the next day. I felt feelings of rejection and projected a lot of feelings in my head that she never really even hinted at, she’s more of a free spirit so it was completely casual. It’s like I’m torn, I know that we would never date because she lives a ways away and I don’t think we would make a good couple, but I also feel like I should date her and almost feel guilty about the night we had. How do I dissociate these feelings? Why do I feel like we should be dating and also being content with being friends despite the massive contradiction? This isn’t the only time it’s happened, just the most recent.
I appreciate your time!
-Some Strings Attached
As with many people who write in, I think the problem you’re asking about isn’t the problem you’re having, SSA.
See, I think your problem’s pretty clear: you’re dying for a connection with someone… anyone. I mean, you say it yourself: you spent a lot of time separating yourself from your family and friends. However, you’re also craving connection and emotional intimacy and you’re probably feeling intensely lonely and you’ve got this part of you that’s reaching out for almost anyone who comes within your orbit. You’ve pushed away a lot of the people who you were close to and so now this part of you that’s craving a human connection is trying to build it up with the people you’re hooking up with.
Now keep in mind: Dr. NerdLove is not a real doctor and nothing I say should be taken as anything even vaguely like medical advice. However, the thing that leaps out at me is your social isolation and feeling empty… those tend to be pretty big warning signs and ones that correspond a lot with people dealing with emotional trauma and PTSD. You say you didn’t have any traumatic experiences, but that doesn’t mean your time over there didn’t affect you. Similarly, the fact that you’re not digging trenches in your back yard or having flashbacks doesn’t mean that you’re not having problems; a lot of people coming back have issues reconnecting with family and friends or feeling whole again. And to be quite frank: issues like that doesn’t just go away… especially on it’s own. You don’t talk about whether or not you talked with a therapist after your deployment, but the way you describe things makes me think you didn’t. It sounds to me – and I freely admit I could be wrong – that you tried to white-knuckle your way through things and waited to get better. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, but either way it really doesn’t seem like you’re past those issues.
That’s why I think that you’re looking in the wrong direction. I don’t think the problem is that you’re catching feelings from random hook-ups, I think the problem is that you’re having a hard time after an emotionally trying, possibly overwhelming experience. Trying to distance yourself from the people you’re sleeping with is a mistake because not only is that treating a symptom rather than the source, but it’s just reinforcing your isolation and disconnection.
Again: I’m not a doctor, I’m a loudmouth with a blog. However, a doctor or therapist is exactly who I think you should be talking to right now. The fact that you can’t point at any single thing that happened to you doesn’t mean that you on your deployment to cause a problem doesn’t invalidate how you’re feeling. You don’t need to have been in the middle of a giant explosion, crash or ambush to have gone through some shit and need to talk to somebody. ER nurses, first responders, social workers and other people who don’t go through combat or assault suffer from PTSD, after all. Similarly, asking for help or going to talk to somebody – even if it’s just about a vague sense of unease – isn’t something to be ashamed of, or something that makes you weak or unable to hack it. It makes you human, same as everyone else. And humans need help on occasion. It takes some real strength to admit that sometimes you can’t do it on your own.
The best thing you can do right now is to find a counselor to talk to about your self-isolation and the way you’re responding to sex would be a good start.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
Long time reader, first time writer. Recently my best friend in the whole world came out as a trans woman. I’ve known her for over 10 years and we spend most of our free time together. We’re you’re typical geek cloister: we live movies and comics and taking them way too seriously and having college-thesis level discussions on how media intersects with society, etc. I’m sure you know the type! I was so excited that she was finally leaning about herself and learning more about her true identity. I’m trying to be 110% supportive of her transition, but here’s the problem:
Now that’s she’s becoming a woman, I feel like I’m losing my BFF. Because the woman she’s becoming is this preening, pretty, make-up obsessed “girly girl” that I just can’t stand. Now, I don’t mean to shit on any other fellow females who are into that scene – but its NOT ME. I’m NOT a girly-girl… in fact I’m pretty staunchly one of those women who is very outspoken by how “traditional femininity” is toxic and harmful. I hate how women are expected to adhere to certain beauty standards and are expected to wear make-up and do their hair to be taken seriously in almost any social situation – including job opportunities. I’m not against make up and pretty clothes on principal – but I do have issues when you’re not taken seriously as a woman if you’re not “made up” or skinny enough or adhering to a certain beauty standard.
But it seems with my friend – let’s call her K – is transitioning that’s what she’s obsessing over. She’s made changes to her appearance for her “every day” look that makes her feel more comfortable (she wears earrings, got a new hairstyle, paints her nails, etc) but whenever we want to go ANYWHERE where other people may be, she wants to be “dressed up” – and I mean to the nines. She spends about 2-3 hours doing her hair, make up, jewelry, fully co-ordinated outfit…even if we’re just wanting to grab a quick bite to eat or go catch a movie. She says she doesn’t feel “right” unless the outside world is treating her/recognizing her a woman so she’s become increasingly obsessed with clothes, shopping, make up, voice-training – basically all the trappings of “femininity” that makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. And while I can understand how she wants to “feel like a real woman” and be treated a certain way in public – my issue is that it feels like she’s succumbing to every little thing about what women are “expected” to look like, sound like, and behave like that I find so disturbing.
If she doesn’t feel like a “real” woman unless she meets these mental standards of what femininity is in her mind – in my opinion she’s feeding straight into the toxic subculture I hate so much. And again, I don’t have a problem with girly-girls if that’s what they truly enjoy (women can look however they want to – as long as it’s what THEY want, and not because they are bending to some societal pressure imho), but what’s terrifying me is that I feel like I’m losing my best friend. I want to go back to being best friends who talk all day about Marvel and politics and space…. not bras, dresses, and make-up.
I know there’s a lot of stages to transitioning, and I’ve tried to talk to K a bit about this and she basically just says I’m being intolerant and that it’s not her fault that society treats women like they do (which is true, but I think by succumbing to their demands you’re feeding into it) and that she won’t ever feel like a real woman as long as other people see her a woman. I’ve tried to explain to K that she’s a woman regardless if she’s just in a t-shirt and jeans or all decked out for a night on the town.
Help? Am I being unreasonable by being so dodgy and uncomfortable about her new obsession over being a “pretty girl” or is she just becoming a new person that I may have to let go? The thought of losing my best friend is devastating, but I kind of feel like I already have.
Not A Girly Girl
OK, I’m going to qualify this with a disclaimer: I’m a cis straight man, so this is all coming strictly from my limited perspective. I will probably miss some angles here that will be glaringly obvious to someone who’s trans, genderfluid or enbe. So, everyone please take what I have to say with all appropriate amounts of salt and my sincere apologies if I step wrong.
That being said: welcome to a complicated intersection of gender performance, trans acceptance, passing, feminism, beauty standards and a whole host of other issues. This is one giant-ass knot that’s very nature is going to defy any easy unpicking. But let’s start with the most obvious. Your friend is transitioning and – quite understandably – is wanting to be accepted as her gender identity by the world around her. As I’m sure you already know, there’s a lot of pressure for trans men and women to pass or measure up to an “acceptable” level of masculinity or femininity. There are plenty of people who will take any example of a trans woman not being perfectly femme as proof that she’s not “really” a woman. This is a world where people still feel empowered to talk about “chicks with dicks” or making jokes about dudes throwing on dresses and calling themselves women in order to win the Olympics or sneak into bathrooms. That alone is going to put a lot of pressure on her to “be a woman” in a specific manner; it’s easier to “pass” and be accepted as a woman if you present a more traditionally feminine exterior.
On top of that, there’s the fact that while you grew up with the cultural ideas of “what is a woman”, K… didn’t. Not the same way you did or the way that I grew up with the cultural ideas of “what is a man”. For us, our gender expression is second nature, even if our personal values may or may not conflict with the culture around us. Your friend K is having to learn and adapt to these. Yeah, she’s always been a woman, but she grew up being taught how to be a man. She’s correcting the mistake now but it’s still going to be closer to learning a second language instead of using the one you grew up with. You’re fluent in “being a woman”; she’s still learning. There’s going to be a lot of adjustment there and it may be easier to veer to the very traditionally feminine until she feels more fluent.
(Incidentally, if you want to see a great example of this from the other direction, Jay Edidin is writing a fascinating series for MEL about having to learning how to perform masculinity as he transitions. Check it out.)
She could also be experimenting with just who she is and starting off at one extreme for a while and may decide she doesn’t want to be as girly later on down the line as she gets more settled into her life.
Or she may just be really femme and likes feeling pretty. Gender performance does fall on a spectrum after all. Some people just like coordinating their outfits and making sure their hair and make-up is perfect when they leave the house. For the first time in her life, she’s now in a position to get done up the way she’s always wanted to, so she’s indulging. It may be a permanent thing – the tiger’s finally off the leash – or it could be that it’s new and shiny and for right now it’s where her interest lies. It may well be like someone who’s suddenly gotten into a new TV show or a new diet or some other new part of their life that takes up 90% of their attention for a while.
Is it excessive? Maybe? Is it permanent? Dunno. It’s impossible to say.
For right now, I’d say give her some space and find herself. She may level out, she may veer in the other direction. It may help both of you if you introduce her to some people who are more into her style of femininity. This way, you’re not feeling like you’re getting dragooned into being her guide to a form of femininity you’re not crazy about and she’s got someone she can geek out about makeup and dresses with. That may take the pressure off and she’ll be ready to talk more about comics and politics with you again.
The thing to keep in mind is that this is probably the first time in her life she’s felt entirely her. This is an exciting and scary and possibly overwhelming time for her so she could really use her friends right now… even if you were wishing she wasn’t quite so girly.
Hi Doc, long-time listener, first-time caller. I’m having trouble coming up with a positive way to phrase what I’m looking for on my dating site/app profiles.
I’m a guy and I’m in my 30s, but I’m not looking for a long-term relationship. Instead I’d like to explore more of the casual sex/dating/fun side of things (which I’ve never really done, so I’m not 100% sure exactly what I *am* looking for).
I’m not looking to compulsively rack up notches on my bedpost — it’d be nice to have sex *and* make friends — but I want to make it clear I’m not angling to be a boyfriend, while also not coming across like a guy who’ll say “wassup babe u dtf??” and send a dick pic.
See? It seems easy to describe what I don’t want, but tricky to describe what I *do* want. I suspect Jack Harkness could say it with a wink, but I’ve got 500 characters to work with instead. Any ideas?
Swear To God, Not A Creep
It’s really not that difficult, STGNAC. Most of the time it’s about being honest about what you want and looking for people who’re on the same page as you. Keeping things casual is more about behavior and attitude than anything else. In an online dating profile, f’rex, there’re a number of things that give a more “looking for a relationship” vibe than a “looking for friends-with-benefits”. If your profile is filled with photos of you playing with your nieces and nephews or talking about more “domestic” activities like cooking and such, you’re going to be giving more of an impression that you’re looking to settle down. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the dudes who have nothing but pics of them with their bros or finding excuses to get their shirts off to show their abs and talking about their crazy weekends are pretty demonstrably looking to get laid.
In your case, it’s pretty clear that you want to strike the balance between the two while leaning a wee bit more to the “casual sex” side of things. One of the things I’d suggest is leaving “long term dating” off your profile. Same with mentions of whether you want kids and the like. You can also say that you’re not looking for anything serious or just wanting to meet cool people and have fun… both of these are going to read more as “not looking for commitment”.
The other thing I would suggest is being playfully flirty in your messages back and forth. Maybe not right off the bat, but a little teasing, a little innuendo… these go a long way towards signalling intent without necessarily going overboard.
I’d suggest splitting your time between OKCupid and Tinder. Tinder may be more hook-up oriented, but there are plenty of people looking for something casual on OKC as well. Playing around with both will let you functionally A/B test your approach; what works on one app may or may not work as well on the other and you can adjust your profile accordingly.
And don’t forget: my book When It Clicks is great for helping refine your online dating game, regardless of whether you want something casual or more serious.