This piece forms part of ‘the Art of the Hook-Up: a No-Bullsh*t Guide to One-Night Stands, FWBs and Other Modern Adventures’. You can read more at www.artofthehookup.com.
“I think you’re hot,” I said. ‘I’d love to get into your pants.”
It was only a hook-up date at a bar: a casual match on Tinder whom I’d never previously met. I was pleased with him. He was tall, witty and self-deprecating. He could talk about wine, music and gender politics in a way that left me hungry for his approval. When he asked me how the date was going, I didn’t hesitate.
But as soon as I said those words, his demeanour changed. Where before he had been relaxed and charming, now he was impatient. He swallowed his drink with more haste than was appropriate, given the price.
“Let’s get out of here.” he said.
We hadn’t even kissed yet. I had been looking forward to a few hours of conversation, or perhaps just the anticipation of landing a ‘good catch’. But my confession had set some process in motion for him. I couldn’t bring myself to say “let’s take this slowly”; we both knew that this was just about sex. So I acquiesced and took him home.
The sex was bad.
We began undressing each other as soon as we passed through the door of my apartment. He was confident and experienced. He gave careful consideration to consent, checking in with me to make sure I was okay with everything we did together. But even though he was looking directly at me, I felt as though he didn’t see me at all. The sex was fast and mechanical. As soon as he was done he put his clothes back on.
“Thanks,” he said. He seemed confused and resentful.
I was disappointed. I’d let him rush me, and the result was a sexual encounter that was completely devoid of connection.
Do you need connection with a casual hook-up?
The topic of connection is difficult to raise before indulging in casual sex. We assume that hook-ups shouldn’t involve feelings. Emotions are traditionally reserved for long-term, romantic relationships; casual sex is thought to be solely concerned with physical gratification. But sex (casual or otherwise) involves more than just the body – it also involves the mind. When we shut our emotions down we rob ourselves of a complete sexual experience.
My friend Allie understands. She and her husband are swingers: they use personals ads and dating sites to locate other couples for play sessions. She tells me that her biggest problem is finding people who are willing to spend time connecting.
“They just want to skip straight to the play. They can’t be bothered hanging out with us first,” she says.
Are her expectations excessive? Some may feel it’s unreasonable to want casual partners to invest time and emotional energy in us. After all, why get to know someone that you’re never going to see again?
I often struggle to convince my hook-up partners to engage emotionally. Sometimes this is due to their issues with vulnerability. Sometimes they are in too much of a hurry to get to the ‘good bits’. And most often they simply don’t see the value in emotional connection for an exchange that will only last the length of an evening. To them it seems ridiculous, when offered sex, to pause and say, “we need to talk first”. But that’s exactly what we should be doing. Taking the time to connect is essential.
What is ‘connection’?
Connection is the feeling two (or more) people share when they allow themselves to be intimate and vulnerable with each other. It’s that feeling of ‘seeing’ the other person for who they are, and also letting ourselves be seen. A good connection leads to better sex because we end up in sync: all those crucial subtleties such as touch, eye contact and body language happen in the right way at the right time so that physical contact seems natural and effortless.
Conversely, sex without connection is usually rote and uninspiring. We find it difficult to feel into the needs of our partners. We empathise with them less, which sometimes results in us treating them callously. And we feel lonely, even though we’re physically close.
I’ve had incredible hook-ups during which I felt valued in a way that was more satisfying than the actual physical act. I have shared intimate moments with people whom I have never seen again. I have also had bad sex, during which I felt I was being used, or struggled to enjoy myself. All my negative experiences shared a commonality: they lacked a sense of connection.
We often assume that good sex should happen of its own accord. We feel as though we should know what to do instinctively. Accordingly, we often don’t put much energy into making good sex happen, because we assume the outcome is outside our control. I meet a lot of folks who never even consider that cultivating deeper connection may improve their sex lives. ‘If it’s not working, shouldn’t we just give up?’ is the common attitude. The answer is yes and no. It’s true that not all people are designed to fit well together, as connection can’t be forced. But if the connection isn’t immediate, there’s still opportunity. It takes surprisingly little effort.
Here are my three simplest strategies for inviting connection during your next casual hook-up:
- Look your partner in the eye.
Whether incidental eye contact or negotiation eye-gazing, locking glances with someone is an irrevocable way of acknowledging their presence.
- Be present.
Slow down, breathe and become aware of the sensations in your body. Emotions often surface as physical feelings first: tension, the rate of your breath, or your temperature may all be clues as to how you feel about someone. And focusing on the bodily sensations of affection and arousal will amplify those feelings.
- Cultivate curiosity.
Who is this person? What are they thinking? What might they want in this situation? When we take a genuine interest in our dates, we experience empathy. Empathy leads to a stronger emotional bond.
Connection isn’t a huge undertaking, but it does take time and a willingness to be genuine. A series of meetings could be useful, perhaps a few hours getting to know each other over drinks, or an exchange of intimate personal stories and experiences. I like to begin with “Can I ask you a personal question?”. I use the time spent with my dates as an opportunity to invite genuine sharing. The more we trust each other with our hopes, passions, needs and insecurities, the closer we become.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This is what makes casual sex so exciting, as connection can’t be forced, only invited. But the effort is worthwhile. When connection does show up, even the briefest encounter becomes significant and satisfying.