Intimacy can happen quickly these days, and people who hook up are finding that their biggest challenge becomes clearly defining their relationship.
Defining intimate relationships has become difficult in a society where casual sexual encounters have become acceptable and, for some, the normal routine. Many relationships get kick-started with physical intimacy, and this causes gray areas as far as what each partner means to the other.
It is easy to understand why many people might hesitate and procrastinate when it comes to defining a sexual partner as a girlfriend, boyfriend or lover. We are raised in a culture that displays an overwhelming population of divorced people; so many were brought up in environments of separation or dissolved unions. We learn from the mistakes of our parents and our past encounters that heartbreak feels like the worst kind of pain when it is upon us, so we protect ourselves by becoming emotionally unavailable. Many of us are so preoccupied by our careers that we think a serious, meaningful relationship might hold us back from reaching our goals. Others are so enthralled with the idea of having many lovers that they cannot settle down, but the majority of people who end up in undefined relationships are there because they are afraid to be vulnerable.
We can label this as a lack of communication, a fear of commitment or an inability to open up; but it boils down to a crippling fear of vulnerability. Having this fear does not make someone a bad person, and it does not necessarily mean we have to be celibate until we are completely ready for a long-term relationship; but we certainly need to recognize when it prevents us from having meaningful relationships. Our hesitation to be authentic and express our true feelings and weaknesses causes us to label one another in inconsiderate and unclear ways.
The “one night stand,” “friends with benefits” and “fling” labels are all very real but not unavoidable. Paul Hudson does a masterful job of illustrating 10 loosely defined stages of the modern relationship, but his most poignant observations come late on the list.
The ninth entry in his article is the Boyfriend/Girlfriend stage. As he defines it, it is the step when people finally become comfortable being who they truly are, expressing themselves, being romantic and letting themselves care about the other person in the relationship.
What if we made an effort to be this authentic all the time?
We could put some time in between meeting someone and sleeping with that person for the sake of getting to know each other. Maybe this sounds too old fashioned, but I’m not suggesting that you sleep sewn up in burlap potato sacks for the first month, just that you try an experiment in caring for and respecting someone before you have sex for the first time. If we open our ears and hearts a bit, that respect and care can occur quickly. Having a more than physical affinity for your partner always makes the sex better anyway.
We could also throw a little romance out there on a first date or even a first encounter. It doesn’t have to be flowers and poems, but expressing ourselves candidly, asking the other person about their life and paying attention to the answers, opening doors and offering subtle (non-pick-up-line) compliments can go a far way in breaking down defense mechanisms and revealing our genuine character.
Granted, these are suggestions that work best for people who are ready for a relationship and want to skip all the awkward silences and “what are we” conversations; but even if you are not ready for something lasting, you can hook up mindfully. Be honest with a person that you want to sleep with. There is a possibility that person is hoping for the same scenario that you are. If they are, it can mean having a relationship that is clearly defined and will only move to another clearly defined stage when you are both ready. If you are not on the same page, the other person will respect your honesty as long as you present it in an honorable way.
Authenticity, respect and a willingness to be a bit vulnerable at times can prevent you from falling into uncomfortable and ill-defined stages of modern relationship purgatory.
Read Paul Hudson’s depictions of all 10 gray areas of relationships in the hook up culture here.[image: via Eleazar, on flickr]