You’ve heard it in just about every song on the Top 50 list for most popular songs. You’ve seen it depicted in music videos, and especially in several trending TV shows and movies. Causal relationships come in a handful of varieties and are around every corner, whether we like it or not.
Being normalized in American media (especially in movies and shows targeted to college-aged adults) can lead to impressions on young adults that it’s a part of the full college experience. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being casual with another consenting adult, there are a few things to keep in mind.
While it’s not always the case, the pursuit of casual relationships usually stem from underlying motives. Emotional disparity, feeling overwhelmed with being away from home or being in a new environment, sadness or even loneliness can drive people to seek out instant gratification.
Instant gratification, keeping true to the term, does provide relief; but it’s short-lived. While chasing comfort from despair or unfamiliar feelings can take on a plethora of shapes, one of the most popular for students comes in the form of casual encounters.
Seeking instant relief for feeling that way is normal and to be expected. It’s not limited to young adults, either. So, what can we do to wean ourselves from that sort of behavior? While we’d all love a simple answer, it’s anything but: emotional awareness.
“Nature has given us a sophisticated guidance system in our feelings,” Hein explains through her model of emotional awareness. “Our negative feelings, for example, call our attention to things which are not healthy for us. They tell us when we are out of balance.”
Hein outlines the importance of not denying what our body tells us, but to embrace and work with it. Why are we feeling the way that we do? What is the source of this affliction and what is a long term fix? Long term fixes are rarely easy, thus the tendency to run from them, but the longstanding results should be just as feverishly sought after.
If a person who’s not emotionally aware of themselves uses casual affairs as means of quick fixes to strong feelings, it can do more harm than good.
“[Emotional uncertainty] in casual relationships is what’s most likely to put you in a negative headspace after everything is said and done,” claims Visko Matich from Life Uncivilized.
In his own words, he claims that casual relationships are “simply the early formation stage of a relationship, with all the fertile ground for the development of emotional attachment.” Even more so, Matich suggests, for those who are emotionally unsure.
If someone’s emotions are already in disarray, partaking in these sorts of physical relationships can further muddle things, making it that much harder to figure out the source of affliction that drove someone to make a decision of that nature in the first place.
If you’re unsure about your current mental and emotional state, the focus should turn to figuring that out and managing it before making an effort to try and cover them up with someone else.
Ask yourself: are you trying to use someone to mask pain, confusion or fear? Is the goal to ease stress or distract yourself from something? If so, seek answers and peace before indulging. It could save you a lot of torment in the future.
For some participants of causal relationships, emotional awareness isn’t part of the equation, which is good in the sense that those going into it don’t have as big of a risk for confusion or emotional disorientation.
Certainty and acknowledgement of one’s feelings and emotional state gives a person an advantage when choosing to decide in engaging in a casual relationship.
Being able to separate the mind from the physical and mental reactions to sexual encounters, is not only scientifically impossible, but can also be misleading.
“Oxytocin, the ‘love and trust’ hormone, is released before, during and after sexual encounters,” says Rita Watson MPH of Psychology Today. “And it effects males and females differently, but has the same primal affect: to generate an attachment, whether we want it or not.”
Which, in the grand scheme of things, goes against the basic principles of no strings attached relationship. Watson throughout her article explains that emotional attachment derived from sex is a primitive reaction designed to strengthen social groups. Such behavior, she adds, is seen throughout the animal kingdom.
With this in mind, though, it’s not to say that casual relationships are impossible – they’re just fundamentally difficult. There are some people who can genuinely handle the hormonal influences, but they’re far and few in between.
A lot of us will try to convince ourselves we are without truly knowing because of the strong appeal to quick fixes.
You will only know whether or not you’re emotionally capable of a casual relationship through careful and thorough introspection. With time and careful consideration, and sometimes brutal honesty, only then will you know.