Am I Doomed To Catch Feelings In Casual Relationships?

ILLUSTRATION BY VESNA ASANOVIC
I wish I could be one of those ‘chill’ girls — those who never check a crush's 'active' status or can have a one-night stand without completely romanticising an objectively terrible sexual encounter. But alas, I am not. Part of me wonders if it’s me or whether hookup culture and casual dating just isn’t built for us soppy, romantic types.
Casual dating isn't a new concept, but it has become far easier to be non-committal in the current dating climate. Dating apps are more popular than ever, with 3.2 million Australians using them in 2021. A hookup is literally just a swipe away, which can make it more appealing than the dreaded alternative: commitment.  
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Sharon Draper, a psychologist at eharmony, says that casual dating is just dating without the goal of a committed, long-term relationship in mind. "This might include a friends-with-benefits situation," she Draper tells Refinery29 Australia, "or just someone who is not ready to settle down and wants to date different people.” 
“Hook-up culture often makes the taboo seem more acceptable (e.g. casual sex) and the non-taboo unacceptable (e.g. developing feelings for a lover),” she says. "This can make it harder for those who become attached to a hook up to air their feelings.”

For me, these empty promises and empty compliments stir up feelings I can’t ignore. 

So, if feelings are considered ‘bad’ in modern dating, is it possible to actually evade them altogether? When I asked my friends, I received mixed reviews. From tips on making it work to lamenting that it's impossible, everyone had their own take, but ultimately all of them agreed that you can evade feelings, but it takes work.
I also spoke to a full-service sex worker, whose job requires both intimacy and sex. The sex worker, who wishes to remain anonymous, is active on dating apps and says, “I’m 100% treated better by people who walk through the door at the brothel than the people I’ve met on dating apps. I think it’s because they know we won’t tolerate shit, because while dating I’ve tolerated a lot of shit — for free.”
There are plenty of people that are looking for a genuine connection on dating apps — but plenty of others that are only looking for sex. This can make things tricky because one person might only want sex but in order to get it, they might make promises of commitment that they have no intention of delivering on. 
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“Unfortunately, there will always be people who are not honest about their sexual motives, for fear of not getting what they want. This creates confusion — not to mention ghosting — in the dating pool,” Draper says. 
For me, these empty promises and compliments stir up feelings I can’t ignore. Here’s an example. A couple of years ago, I went on a date with a guy that I knew was likely to just be a one-night thing. However, the next morning he lent me an ill-fitting Giorgio Armani polo and as I was leaving, said something along the lines of, “I’ll see you next time.” Me, being the gullible goose that I am, took this to mean that he wanted to see me again and I immediately started fantasising about our second date.
He ghosted me.
This led me to a period of grieving a relationship that quite frankly, didn’t exist. I recently watched a TikTok that delves into this. In the video, Jamie Deline discusses her “infatuation” with guys she wasn’t in a relationship with and how she couldn’t let go of them, even if they didn’t like her back. 
“I learned that it’s the potential for something great that can be so hard to let go of,” Deline says. “When you date a guy and get to know him, you see all his flaws and things fizzle out naturally — you get to see firsthand why it didn’t work. But when things end before they’re even allowed to begin, you just get this idealised version of him in your head and an idealised version of a future you feel like you’re being denied. Even though it’s not based on reality, you’ll never know, which is why it’s so hard to let go.”
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If, like me, you have an anxious-attachment style (aka a fear of abandonment) being around avoidant people can provoke anxiety. That’s why a little introspection can be important. I've found that it's helpful to ask myself: Do I really have feelings for this person, or do I just like the fantasy version of our lives that I’ve created in my head? Do I have genuine feelings for someone I just met, or is it just my anxious-attachment style? Do I like them or am I really just craving emotional intimacy? 
Having feelings, of course, is totally normal, and being a person who feels and expresses their emotions intensely can make life more interesting. Romance is meant to be fun and while it can sometimes lead to heartbreak, the uncertainty can add to the excitement. And yes, some people might be able to turn their feelings off — but there's no shame in not being able to.
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