DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: 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
DEAR 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 s
t 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 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 d
See? It seems easy to describe what I don’t want, but tricky to describe what I DO want. I suspect Captain 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
DEAR SWEAR TO GOD, NOT A CREEP: t’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 signaling 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.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org