Romantic attachment is terrifying. It’s something we have little control over, something that can make one feel weak and pathetic when not reciprocated and something that many of us try very hard to avoid in college (and life in general). Nevertheless, we still want to have sex with people and usually end up just hoping we won’t like them for anything more than the orgasms. With attachment coming into play, though, it’s sometimes easier to either avoid this contact entirely, or find oneself stuck in painfully unstable interactions. Don’t get me wrong though, attachment and the formation of a deeper relationship with an individual are amazing. What’s painful is trying to remain detached, trying to persuade yourself that you care for nothing more than the physical aspect of an interaction with an individual. So, what is a way to understand feelings towards a person, to learn what is comfortable and to distinguish between the different kinds of relationships you can have with them?
I spoke to an amazing woman about how I struggled with the idea of wanting some kind of human connection and being confused when detached sex and friendship clashed. She told me about the four different ways she sees relationships: superficial relationship, companionship, friendship and love.
From the moment you introduce yourself to someone, add someone on Facebook, party with someone once, you’ve established a superficial relationship. You know who each other is, you’ll say hello, but you know nothing more and interact in no other way. This is also the equivalent of a one-night stand.
In a companionship, you continue to lack a deeper connection but you know a little more about the person. Maybe a more regular hookup or an individual in your friend -group. You might know basic facts about them, but nothing personal. The main point is that their presence or absence in activities does not make a difference; your focus is on activities that can be carried out with many different companions. Such an interaction can be sex. A fuckbuddy or FWB, someone you have no other relationship than a repeating sexual encounter.
In a friendship, your focus shifts to the individual. You want to spend time with that person, you want them in your life, you are yourself around them, they know more about you than someone you met recently or who has a work-based relationship with you. The complication here is that these are also people you can have sex with. Once you begining talking more with a FWB, knowing about their life, their friends, their interests, worries etc. they begin shifting into the friendship category and it becomes natural to care for them as a person. You want to spend more time with the person and begin not caring if you’re watching a movie with them or going grocery shopping. You want to be with that person. This is the usually “Hey let’s hang out” relationship you have with friends. But what if you’re having sex with them? And what if that sex has been agreed as a purely FWB interaction, no emotions, no strings attached? This is where it becomes difficult to not get emotionally invested in a relationship, albeit sexual, with someone. I, for one, have not been able to figure out how to control those feelings towards the individual, feelings that go beyond sex. I was lucky that this situation turned into a relationship for me the first time around and that I was able to allow myself to embrace the caring feelings. When it happened again though, I knew it wasn’t going to end the same way so I found myself in a lot of emotional pain. My solution was stepping away from the sex altogether, and distancing myself from him too. I lost a friend though, and I know that things went wrong when this was a person I cared about as an individual and added sex to the equation, hoping that I could keeping the non-sexual caring separate. As if a very different part of me would engage in the sex and different part in the friendship.
This of course doesn’t mean that all sex will go from just physical pleasure to caring about the individual. I have also had experiences with guys I have never been emotionally invested in, guys who never left the companionship stage. I know for me that the line between the companionships and friendship stage is very fine so I’m careful not to cross it unless I am confident I want to invest the time and emotional energy.
The sad thing is that because of this time and energy, I’ve seen girl after girl shy away from any kind of emotional involvement with a male during a sexual encounter simply to avoid this chaos. Or, alternatively, investing too much and getting hurt. Even though we are living in a school with a strong hookup culture, there is still the potential for a meaningful relationship and it’s not fair to deprive oneself of that opportunity. Simple knowledge of one’s own ability for emotional involvement and knowing that caring about someone as a person and also having sex with them can get very complicated can be enough to help establish a sort of ‘safe’ form of relationship — even if this is just sex, knowing that when you cross over to caring about someone it can get complicated can help protect the instability that is the reality of college life. Most importantly, knowing that caring about someone is not a weakness and is not pathetic. It is a normal human response in interactions. I found that sometimes it’s been better for me to step away that to try and crush those feelings. And I found that I can remain whole as a person and have the ability to engage in other emotional relationships.
The Duchess is a student at Cornell. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Between the Sheets appears periodically this semester.