This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
I need help. I have a raging, unbearable crush on someone I’m casually seeing. We both want it to be casual. Super-casual. We’ve established that it’s casual. I texted my friends about it, and they said, “Yeah, but what do you both mean when you say ‘casual’?” And Papi, that’s what I’m not sure about.
I’m having so much fun in this phase of dating after basically ten years of serial monogamy, and I’m really enjoying being hot, single, slutty, and the truest version of myself for the first time in my life. But now I’ve met somebody who, let’s just say, I’m really excited about. And I finally feel like I’m not using a crush as an escape from anything else.
I’m literally giddy. It’s gross. And it seems like, in both words and actions, we’re equally excited about each other, which is rare and nice. I feel comfortable sharing and opening up to this friend-lover-cutie-crush. We have so much in common — senses of humor, hobbies, and the fact that we both got out of long-term relationships and aren’t really looking for anything serious at this point in our lives.
I’m having a blast and honestly wouldn’t change anything, but the lingering subtext of “this is temporary” has me so scared of the strong emotions I’m experiencing toward him and our fun FWB situation. Is it possible to catch feelings and keep a good thing going?
Hey there, NS!
For whatever reason, the repeated insistence of “this is casual” isn’t convincing to me. It’s kind of the opposite of casual. It’s a little like being invited to The Casual Party, where the theme is explicitly described as “casual.” Effort is implied.
Regardless, I think I get it. When you’ve got a nice thing going, you don’t want to rock the boat by messing with it too much. Overthinking it, trying to define it, or worrying over its potential end can feel like clanging pots and pans around a delicate soufflé. It’s just begging for collapse, ruining the soufflé for everybody.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a soufflé in my life, by the way. I remember that at one resort hotel in Mexico, a soufflé was on the menu, and I was so excited to finally try one, because all I know about them comes from cartoons, basically, but I was told they were out of soufflés and that making new ones would be too difficult. It was very upsetting.
The thing is, NS, every relationship is entirely unique. People come to us at different stages of our lives, when we want different things and when we have different vacancies in our hearts. Sometimes, we’re looking for someone to weather the storm with and we prize stability and consistency. Sometimes, we’re looking for someone to prance in the meadow with and we’re after spontaneity and whimsy.
The other person brings their own expectations to the dynamic as well, and even when it seems like two people are perfect for each other, it can be the case that they are only perfect for a while or perfect for the emotional season they’re in. Sometimes, one or both parties aren’t even sure what they want at all. It can get terribly confusing — especially in a world where we are encouraged to put neat and tidy definitions on our relationships. Not every romance will fit perfectly into one.
Life is a shifting, unpredictable thing. Not everyone we meet will be in it for the long haul, and honestly, that’s okay! But through the highs and lows, it’s important to develop the skill of figuring out what you want and having the courage to ask for it.
I think that for a lot of us who’ve been hurt before, we approach relationships with a “fear-first” mentality. We’re scared of rejection, scared of loss, scared of conflict, so we sacrifice agency in exchange for a sense of safety. We put fear in the driver’s seat, because we think fear would never steer us wrong or put us in any danger. It would be too afraid to do that, you see. It makes sense. Most prey animals are “fear-first,” and that’s how they avoid being eaten by tigers.
But I want you to put fear in the trunk for a bit and think more about where you want to go. If anxiety wasn’t a factor at all, what would you want? I get the sense that you want a bit more than you presently have. If you were at peace with it as it is, you probably wouldn’t write a letter to an advice columnist about it. I think you should figure out what that is, then communicate it.
Ultimately, I’m not saying you need to make this relationship something more serious or that you can’t enjoy it as a short-term fling. What I’m saying is you need to be honest with yourself. What do you want out of this dynamic, and are you getting it? If not, are you willing to ask for it? It could very well be the case that you two aren’t on the same page. But every relationship is a conversation, and it’s good to get in the habit of affirming yourself as an equal participant in it.
You might find, NS, that you do want some strings. No strings can be fun, and it’s how a lot of things start, but there’s nothing wrong with adding some when it makes sense for both of you. Strings aren’t necessary for every relationship, but once you catch feelings, you need strings to tie them to the car roof. Otherwise, they fly all over the place and get run over.
Strings aren’t so bad! For a wide variety of instruments, they’re how music gets made. And what’s a guitar without strings? Just a hole, I guess.
Con mucho amor,
Originally published on December 6, 2022.
This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase his book, Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.