Who this is for
This article is intended for anyone who wants to be bolder about flirting and hooking up with people but isn't clear on the line between confidently approaching people and being creepy or pushy.
Since #MeToo, people have been sharing their experiences with sexual harassment and assault with unprecedented honesty. In the wake of numerous powerful men being called out for their behavior, many men reacted by proclaiming, “None of us will be able to flirt anymore!”
The idea that holding people accountable for their misconduct would have a chilling effect on men (or anyone) expressing their sexuality, that so many would react with this kind of concern, demonstrates how poorly we as a society understand the difference between flirting and harassment.
One basic distinction between flirting and harassment is whether the other person is into it.
One basic distinction between flirting and harassment is whether the other person is into it. If yes, it is flirting. If not, it is harassment. But if you don’t know whether they’re interested in you, where do you start and how do you form new relationships? Do you need to avoid ever expressing interest, for fear that they might not reciprocate? This article will give specifics of what is appropriate when you don’t know whether they’re interested (e.g. “where to start”) and how to read the person’s feedback accurately so you know when to stop if they show disinterest (or how to proceed if they show interest!).
Although this article was written on the assumption that straight, cis men are the ones who most urgently need education around this, we all need to work on our shit. It is my hope that there will be something of value here for people of all genders and sexual orientations.
Sex vs. Love
There’s a bias in our society that just hooking up without a romantic aspect is unethical — or less ethical than looking for someone you can settle down with.
This article is coming from the belief that hooking up is a totally fine goal in and of itself. Looking at it from a sex-positive lens, sex without love is completely ethical as long as it’s honest and consensual. Furthermore, there’s a moral obligation to be kind and respectful even if you’re only with someone for one night.
Do nice guys finish last?
I was a sexually frustrated nice person for many years of my life. It took a long time before I entered the world of sex and relationships — too long. I’m smart, funny, and decent looking (according to conventional beauty standards, which, to be clear, are bullshit) but I wasn’t having success in my dating and sex life. So what happened?
In my teens and early twenties, some of the straight boys around me seemed like such fine specimens of masculinity that they didn’t need to do much to get girls’ attention. The other guys who, like me, were being passed over, sometimes responded by being creepy, pushy, and usually ineffective anyway. It seemed like you either needed natural attractiveness or to learn how to be manipulative or aggressive. And there were times when I, in ignorance, acted in ways that made others uncomfortable and embarrassed myself. For the most part, however, I simply remained inert.
The idea that “nice guys finish last” implies that “assholes finish first.” I think that the reason this sometimes rings true is that assholes are self-centered enough to feel comfortable making themselves the center of attention and demanding what they want. So they get what they want more often than the meek and passive.
And our entire culture reinforces this by rewarding confident — and even pushy — behavior.
It’s possible to be assertive without being an asshole.
And so I saw myself and many young men around me caught between the horns of a false dilemma: either be an asshole or be single.
But it’s possible to be assertive without being an asshole, to be kind without being spineless or passive. It involves learning to effectively communicate your desires while at the same time respecting the autonomy of others.
And while society teaches us “nice guys” that communication and respect will cause us to “finish last,” the truth is that communication and respect are what allow us to cultivate healthy relationships through which we can find sex, love, or whatever we’re looking for. Furthermore, it’s been my experience that approaching the search for love/sex in this way is not only more wholesome but also more effective than playing out toxic social scripts based on exploitation and coercion.
During the period where I was transitioning from a socially awkward and sexually frustrated virgin to someone who has had many fulfilling romantic and sexual relationships, I did a lot of reading. I read many mainstream books and articles about sex, dating, and how to meet people. I also read lots of feminist books, articles, and zines about practicing good consent. I found that each of these two categories offer something different and each leaves something out.
The feminist-informed books and articles I read usually assumed that the reader already knew a lot about sex and relationships. They added even more rules and considerations without addressing the things that were already confusing for me.
On the other hand, more mainstream articles and books spoke to my experience of being lonely and sexually frustrated. They helped me to break down the seemingly impossible task of meeting and hooking up with someone into a series of manageable challenges.
However, the fatal flaw of so many of these types of publications is that they are very invested in the worldview that men and women are on opposite competing teams. In addition to reinforcing unhealthy dynamics in our society, this worldview is false, limiting, and ultimately counterproductive.
This article is my attempt to offer the best of both worlds: all the points that resonated with me from my readings, presented in a clear, concrete, accessible, usable way that also challenges the unhealthy aspects of the culture around dating and sex.
This article is divided into three interconnected sections:
Getting Your Shit Together, which covers internal work necessary before you enter the dating scene.
Attraction, which discusses the dynamics of dating and what you actually do.
Finally, Boundaries, which goes over how to be assertive while respecting others.
Get Your Shit Together
This section is about internal work to prepare oneself to enter the scene. It can be challenging but is essential. Having your shit together gives you self-confidence, and self confidence is one of the most important factors in successfully meeting someone.
This topic is frequently absent from a lot of mainstream discourse about sex and dating because people usually want to be told what they want to hear.
Self confidence is one of the most important factors in successfully meeting someone.
Many people come to this topic with the idea that simple changes in their appearance or behavior can fix the problem. Many self-help gurus exploit this desire, offering a quick fix.
It’s true; sometimes superficial changes are all that is needed — get some nicer clothes, smile more, go out more often, etc.
More often than not, however, the problem relates in some way to self-doubt. In my single years, I began to doubt whether anyone would find me attractive, and whether I was even worthy of love and sexual attention. This doubt turned into a vicious cycle where I was afraid to put myself out there, which led to more doubt, and so-on.
Overcoming self-doubt requires work on yourself. There are no shortcuts. The work is difficult, but the benefits are enormous. It will create a noticeable change for the better in your life and relationships. People can see self-confidence and are drawn to it. In other words, having your shit together makes you more attractive.
People that attract the interest of others are most often those that follow their dreams. However, self help manuals make a big mistake by assuming that we’re the only ones holding ourselves back. The truth of the matter is that the ability to follow your dreams is more often a privilege than it is a choice. Many people do not have the opportunity or resources to follow their dreams. The barriers are real, not just a function of their attitude.
That being said, I still think that it’s worthwhile to think about how you can be more you. Do this, and you might find opportunities appearing unexpectedly in your life. Ask yourself “Am I living the life I want to live, and if not, what’s holding me back?” or “What would I be doing if I were certain I could not fail?”
Even people who appear very self-confident may have a flimsy sense of self. It’s flimsy because it’s built upon externals: how much money we make, how many attractive people we hook up with, how many followers we have on Instagram, etc. This type of contingent self-confidence can often be a mask that covers up deep-seated doubts about one’s worth as a person. You can see this when people are pushy or clingy, or when they lash out when they’re rejected. Virtually everyone has this problem to one degree or another.
For self-confidence to fully blossom, it must be built upon self love. By that you have to believe in your heart of hearts that you deserve everything you want — love, sex, etc. And this love must be unconditional. You must love yourself just because you are you.
Learning to love yourself is not easy. Society does not teach us how to love ourselves. Our worth as people is constantly being valued based on our performance.
It takes practice and will never be perfect. The last thing you should do is beat yourself up for not being able to love yourself enough.
No one else can do it for you, but you can’t do it alone either. Love and affirmation from friends and later from romantic partners was what helped me break the cycle of loneliness and self-doubt.
In addition to giving you self confidence and enabling you to play on your strengths, knowing and loving yourself helps you handle the emotional complexities of love and sex in a responsible way.
The following skills flow from self-confidence and also add to self-confidence. They are valuable from a moral standpoint and will also improve your chances of finding someone.
I am not someone who ever imagined myself advocating the power of positive thinking.
However, I must acknowledge an important shift that took place in my attitude. I went from viewing the world of sex and dating a malthusian contest for the fittest mate (one that I was doomed to fail at), to viewing it as a place of abundance in which there is more than enough love to go around.
As I have come to see it, you can spend your time thinking about how many attractive people are dating assholes (when they should be dating you) or you can focus on the opportunities around you.
This did not happen right away for me. In the beginning I believed that I would never find someone because there would always be people cuter and more charming than me to compete with. It took numerous positive experiences to change my attitude. Now I understand that there are many many opportunities out there, and that no matter who you are you should be able to find at least a few people who are attracted to you somehow.
You can spend your time thinking about how many attractive people are dating assholes (when they should be dating you) or you can focus on the opportunities around you.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s a struggle sometimes. Especially if you are in a small town or you are queer, gender non-conforming, etc., there may be literally no one around that you’re compatible with. Even so, I found it helpful to keep this idea of abundance in my heart even when nothing about my circumstances reinforced it. It takes the edge off the desperation. When you’re less desperate, it’s easier to flirt. It also helps me walk away if I don’t like the way someone is treating me, knowing that there are other people out there who will be nicer.
Evaluate Your Standards
Many of the romantic problems people experience arise because they’re trying to get with highly desirable people. And many people have surprisingly strict standards. Once you have internalized the cultural standard for what is considered beautiful it can be very hard to change that standard and be open to other kinds of beauty.
Beauty is not an objective characteristic. Many things that are considered attractive in one culture are considered unattractive in others. But that doesn’t make standards of beauty any less real. People who are considered beautiful in a given society usually have more friends, better jobs, and more opportunities for love and sex.
People that conform to cultural standards of physical beauty and other markers of desirability usually have lots of people competing for their attention, and are therefore less available. Finding out how much wiggle room there is in your standards has the potential to increase the number of your romantic options.
Cultivating more realistic expectations can often be a fix for chronic singleness.
What standards do you judge potential romantic or sexual partners by?
Are they written in stone or could they be flexible?
Have you ever found yourself attracted to someone who challenged your ideas about what an attractive person is?
Are you chasing after an unrealistic ideal? Have you ever passed up an opportunity to be with someone because they didn’t fit this ideal?
Finding out how much wiggle room there is in your standards of attraction has the potential to increase your romantic options.
Know What You Want
Try to figure out what you’re looking for so that when you meet someone you at least have some idea about what you want from them and why. Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself before hitting the proverbial club is: “Am I looking for sex or a relationship?”
There is a great deal of confusion about this in our society — if you replace “love” with the “sex” you’ll find that lyrics to many songs make a lot more sense. This traces back to the cultural shame around sex. An unfortunate consequence of this is that ambivalent cultural attitudes toward sex can make it hard for individuals to distinguish between desire for sex and desire for love.
It’s not wrong to just want sex, as long as the other person understands and is okay with that. And if the other person just wants sex, you have to be okay with that too. If someone says that they just want sex and you think to yourself “maybe if I start having sex with them they will fall in love with me,” you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
If you check in with yourself and discover that you really like someone, that is, as more than just a sexual partner, you might consider waiting to sleep with them until you trust them a bit more and have reason to believe they feel the same way. I’ve found that knowing my own boundaries helps me better understand and respect the boundaries of others, and vice versa.
As things move along, keep asking yourself whether you are okay with how things are going. Circumstances are constantly changing and you will find that your answers to these questions change too.
Have No Expectations
Just because you know what you want and deserve, that doesn’t mean you’ll get it. It doesn’t mean you’re entitled to it, or that it is someone else’s responsibility to give it to you.
Ask yourself (1) if you have any expectations, and (2) whether they are realistic. The problem with expectations is that they might not match reality. Expectations can make you oblivious to feedback from the other person.
The way someone behaves toward you may make you think they want to sleep with you, but then you might find out later that they actually don’t. But that’s not their fault for “leading you on” — that’s a result of an assumption you made. There are no guarantees and people can always change their mind.
Don’t be the person who gets pushy or cranky when somebody doesn’t like you back. Be the one that accepts it with maturity, trusting that other opportunities will arise.
I used to think that getting rejected was a sign that nobody would ever want me. This was because I had low self-esteem. Now that I have higher self-esteem, I can handle it better. Being less afraid of failure makes trying easier.
Of course it feels shitty to be rejected, but we all have to learn to live with that. Show self-respect: Don’t blame the person for how you feel and don’t beg or try to change their mind. You can tell them that you are disappointed but that you respect their decision. Ultimately, learning to accept someone’s “no” makes getting a “yes!” even more satisfying.
Being less afraid of failure makes trying easier.
At the same time, understand that a person who says “no” today may say “yes” tomorrow. Sometimes people just need to take their time getting to know someone and it could be that your timing was off. It may be worth continuing to hang out with this person to see if they change their mind — just as long as you understand that they may not. If they still say “no,” don’t get mad at them for “friendzoning” you.
For some people, attraction is instantaneous. For others, it takes time. Some people need to get a sense of the person’s character, some assurance that they are a reasonably decent human being before sleeping with them (even if it’s casual). This is for the sake of safety and also because many people are as turned on by personality as they are physical appearance. Another consideration is that sometimes people don’t want to seem too “easy” in front of their friends and may show more interest in private than they do in public. They may still be figuring out what they want, or they may have things going on that you don’t even know about. Consequently, you may find yourself in a situation where you are 100% attracted to someone but they may still need time to warm up to you.
The best piece of advice I ever got about meeting people, though I don’t claim to fully understand it, was “Make them think it’s their idea.” (This came from a female friend, by the way.)
What does that actually mean, and is it weird or manipulative?
The way I interpret this is, don’t just walk up to someone and tell them you think they’re sexy. Although that may work sometimes, most people will be put off by it for the following reasons:
Therefore, don’t be too direct until you’re pretty sure that you’ve captured their interest. Find something to talk about other than the fact that they’re pretty. Some have said that “Hello, my name is…” is the best pick up line. However, my experience is that people respond better if you come to them with something interesting to talk about rather than merely introducing yourself.
If they’re in a group, talk to the other people in the group too. Focus on demonstrating to them that you are worthy of their attention by being put together, entertaining, and self-assured. (The “Get Your Shit Together” section will help immensely with self-assurance, in case you skipped it.)
Does any of this sound dishonest and manipulative? Fair enough. But in my opinion, it’s forgivable as long as it only lasts a few minutes. It should not take very long to establish yourself as someone who is worth hanging out with. Once you have done so, you can relax and be more genuine and direct.
Unfortunately, people in western culture are often very superficial.
Research shows that people tend to attract people who look similar to them. If you don’t look like a model, don’t try to date them. As previously discussed, many of us go for people who are way better looking than we are by society’s standards. Another issue is that it’s really hard to objectively evaluate your own looks and figure out whether someone is in your “league” or not. This is where it’s helpful to get the opinion of friends.
Without contesting that beauty is a type of unearned privilege and that people should be less concerned with appearances, I believe that most people would benefit by putting just a little more effort into their appearances. Spend a little time thinking about your wardrobe. Get some tips online and solicit feedback from friends. Think of it as finding ways to better express the wonderful person that is you. When you find the right look, hopefully it will make you feel good and add to your self-confidence.
Maybe you prefer not to focus on your clothes. Perfectly okay. I know several people who wear sweatpants and dirty, oversized t-shirts all the time and still have tons of charisma. Just be aware that the society we live in and the people who you’re pursuing (even people who might find you attractive in sweatpants once they get to know you) may make judgements about you when they first see you.
Even people who are not generally judgemental can make snap judgements of this sort about people they just met. It’s true that you can compensate for a lackluster appearance with a lustrous personality, but sadly in our society an ounce of looks is often worth a pound of charm. Especially on Tinder. (More on that in “Where to Meet People”).
How to determine if someone is interested
One of my biggest challenges was learning to recognize when someone was showing interest in me.
Here are some indications that someone might be interested in you (these may seem obvious to some people, but they weren’t to me):
The most important thing to remember about these indications is that they are indications, not invitations. All they mean is that someone might be attracted to you. You need to verify this, which we will talk about in the “Boundaries” section.
Where to Meet People
The easiest way to meet someone, in my opinion, is by using an online dating app such as Tinder or Hinge because most people are on there for sex and/or dating and because you get an insight to their personality from their profile, not their appearance alone. My brief advice specific to online dating is to have fun, be nice, don’t get mad if someone doesn’t message you back, and be prepared that people may not look exactly like their pics.
Meeting through a mutual friend or group activity works well too, but you’ll have to wait for the right person to come along. Trying to meet people in a bar or other hangout spot gives you the option of approaching as many people as you want, but you have to be good at approaching strangers, which can be daunting.
The most difficult way of meeting someone is by walking up to them anywhere that isn’t a bar or other designated flirtation zone. However, if you’re skilled at flirting, striking up conversations with people in random places can certainly work.
Flirting means acting a bit more friendly toward someone than is necessarily called for by the situation, but not so friendly that it would be considered inappropriate.
The essence of flirting is making others happy and its applications go far beyond the context of sex and romance.
Flirting means to go right to the edge of something and then pull back at the last minute. In the context of human interaction, flirting means acting a bit more friendly toward someone than is necessarily called for by the situation, but not so friendly that it would be considered weird or inappropriate.
For example, if you smile and make small talk with the teller at the bank, this is (in my definition) flirting. According to social conventions, all that’s expected of you at the bank is to be polite while taking care of whatever business you have. However, there’s no rule against being friendly and chatty. By doing so, you are making the interaction fun and the bank teller will probably like you more than if you were just polite. Because every situation is different, finding this sweet spot is an art form.
Flirting may include:
It’s a powerful tool for romance because it makes people think that you might be interested, which captures their attention, but it doesn’t send them a clear signal that you are interested — which might scare them off. Flirting injects some fun and mystery, which holds people’s attention.
Getting good at flirting requires practice and involves risk. There will be times where you make an ass of yourself or even make someone uncomfortable. If you end up making someone uncomfortable while trying to flirt, apologize sincerely and try to learn from it.
Teasing/making fun of someone can also be a form of flirting. In some cases, it’s because that’s the way some people show affection. In others, it can be a way of testing you to see if you are really as sound as you are presenting yourself. Or they may just want you to fuck off.
If someone makes fun of you yet continues to engage with you, it could be a sign of attraction. If so, there should be other indicators of attraction present. If this is what’s happening, just act like it doesn’t bother you and gently tease back until you get clearer signals one way or another. And, as with other types of flirting, if you accidentally take teasing too far and offend someone, acknowledge it and apologize. Don’t just tell them to lighten up. If it keeps happening, you might want to check in with yourself about where it’s coming from.
The Difference Between Being Flirty and Being Creepy
There is a very clear distinction between being flirty and being creepy that many people apparently do not understand.
Both flirting and being creepy involve pushing boundaries, this is true. However, flirting involves pushing the boundaries imposed by society so that a mutually enjoyable human interaction can flourish in spite of those boundaries.
Being creepy, on the other hand, means not respecting an individual person’s physical and/or psychological boundaries in order to satisfy your own desires.
If you text someone and they text back in a tone that invites further conversation, that’s a good sign that they want you to text with them some more. If you text them and they don’t text back, and you send them ten more texts, that’s creepy.
To avoid being creepy, pay attention to responses from the other person. And don’t be afraid to ask directly if you are making them uncomfortable. If they say yes, take their feelings seriously and don’t try to convince them to feel differently.
When to talk about whether it’s serious or casual
The current rule seems to be that it’s casual until named otherwise. Many people have the talk the morning after, or the third or forth morning after. I’d encourage you to find out that information as soon as possible. Even casual hookups can generate real emotions and if we want to be caring and responsible sex partners, we need to be prepared to deal with that.
Even casual hookups can generate real emotions and if we want to be caring and responsible sex partners, we need to be prepared to deal with that.
Before anything happens between two people, there’s always going to be a getting to know you period. It may be a few minutes, a few days, a few years. Most often it will be at least a few hours. Chances are, at some point during that time they will give you an indication of what they are looking for. Or you could intentionally probe that subject. You can do so obliquely, asking them what they are looking for in general, temporarily avoiding the higher stakes conversation of what they are looking for with you.
Breaking it Off
Finally, if for whatever reason you need to break it off, try to do so in a way that is respectful and makes the other person feel valued. Something like “I think you’re a great person, but this just isn’t working for me. I’m sorry.” Don’t just abruptly stop communicating with them, like many people do.
The way many people hook up is through a seamless escalation of physical contact without much conversation.
We’ve all seen it in the movies: sexual tension has been building between two people, but they just won’t acknowledge it to themselves or each other. Then all of a sudden, one of them kisses the other one. There is that fraction of a second when you wonder if the other person will be into it or not, but of course they always are.
Who could deny that this kind of pleasant surprise is hot and sexy? (Provided both people are into it, of course.)
But that’s the issue — what the movies don’t show is the fact that in real life, for every time someone has successfully “made a move” there are about a million times when someone tried to kiss someone without asking and it ended up being horribly awkward, even traumatic.
The bottom line is, if you kiss someone without asking and they’re not into it, that’s sexual assault. However, there are ways of negotiating this consensually without being awkward.
Touching someone is the most powerful way of flirting and generating attraction. People who are naturally “touchy-feely” tend to have an easier time hooking up with people. Dating books say that touch should escalate seamlessly. There should be no awkward moment at the end of the night where the couple decides whether to kiss or not.
However, powerful things must be used responsibly and touch can be hurtful as well. Many people strongly dislike being casually touched by someone they don’t know. Some find it traumatizing. This is especially true of autistic folks, people with sensory processing disorders, and/or people who have experienced sexual assault.
Awkwardness around touch can kill your game, and in this regard people with less respect for the boundaries of others may appear to have the advantage. There are plenty of people who would violate a hundred people’s personal space if they found one of them that was receptive to it. For those of us with a conscience, it feels terrible for even one person to react negatively to our touch. But there’s no need to risk feeling shitty. With a little finesse, touch can be negotiated consensually, without disrupting the flow of the flirtatious interaction.
For starters, you can simply wait for them to touch you. Or you could ask them before touching them. If this feels awkward, ask them to dance, ask them if they would like a palm reading. Dr. Nerdlove, a blogger and dating coach, suggests asking for a high five but spreading out your fingers. If the other person gives you the high five and wraps their fingers around yours and keeps their hand there, it’s an indication that they may be interested.
If asking someone to touch them feels awkward, ask them to dance, or if they would like a palm reading.
In practice, few people actually obey the rule of asking for verbal consent before touching someone. If you must touch someone without asking, do it only on the arms and do it from the front. Never touch someone you don’t know very well from outside their field of view because that is more likely to be jarring for them.
The Importance of Verbal Consent
While researching this article, I talked to someone who told me “If someone asked to kiss me, I would think that was really weird and wouldn’t know what to say.” People don’t like to ask because they’re afraid of being told “no.” And some people don’t like to be asked because they’re afraid that if they say “yes” they’ll be seen as a slut (which, to be clear, is a bullshit concept).
People complain that asking is awkward and kills the mood. I would like to answer this objection by making two bold claims:
First, it doesn’t have to be weird or awkward.
In my opinion, the only reason asking feels weird and awkward is that we’re not used to doing it. When the idea that people should have control over their bodies becomes part of your worldview, asking will seem completely appropriate and will flow naturally. And when asking feels natural to you, chances are it will feel natural to the person you are asking.
A good way to get into this mindset is to think about your own boundaries. When I first started learning about consent, I realized that I was really bad at saying “no” and that because of this, I ended up doing lots of stuff that I didn’t want to do just because I felt pressured by other people. Learning to say no made me feel more in control of my body and my life. It also made others respect me more and inspired me to respect others.
Second, once you learn how to ask, it's actually much easier than “making a move.”
Although asking is still not easy, it’s much easier than just going for it (not to mention the enormous bonus of avoiding a potential assault). If you feel comfortable asking people whether they want to kiss you or not, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of it, which I have always found to be the most confusing and stressful part of the whole thing. Of course it is not totally straightforward; there is still an art to it. Experimenting and getting comfortable with it is the first step to developing that art.
When asking for consent feels natural to you, chances are it will feel natural to the person you are asking.
Some people have told me that they’ve had “bad luck” asking for consent and that it “doesn’t work.” I suspect that what really happened was that the people they tried it on just weren’t that into them. My experience has been different. Here’s what some people have said when I asked:
“You didn’t need to ask.”
“How respectful of you!”
“You’re not supposed to say that!”
“No, not right now.”
People have different attitudes toward verbal consent, if/when they want to be asked, how often, at which critical junctures, etc. An extremely useful tactic to help figure out where people are at on this is to bring it up in conversation way before you ask the big question. You can be like “Hey, I just read this article about verbal consent, what do you think about that?” Few people can resist such a juicy topic, and talking about it is a great way to flirt while at the same time learning about what the person’s wants/needs are around consent. Of course, if it seems like they don’t want to talk about it, move on.
A big part of consent is learning to hear and accept someone’s “no.” Many times, people will not flat out say “no,” but will let you know that they’re not into it in other ways, either verbally or through their body language. Whether explicit or implied, a no is a no and must be respected.
Practicing is a great way to improve. I’ve done exercises in consent workshops where we practiced both saying no and being said no to. It was really shocking how difficult each of those things are. But practicing to the point that you’re comfortable with it is liberating. There may be a group that organizes consent workshops in your area.
It needs to be an enthusiastic “YES!”
One of the major things people get wrong about consent is that they look at it like a legal contract. Like “Well, I obtained verbal consent from this person, so if they later regret hooking up with me, that’s their problem.” But consent really only works if you actually care about the other person. When I say care, I don’t mean that you are beloved best friends necessarily. After all, you may have just met this person, and if it is a casual hook up, you may never see them again. But even in that kind of situation, there should be a base level of concern for the other person’s wellbeing and a desire not to hurt them.
So even when someone says yes, you should consider if they are in a position to make a good decision. Are they intoxicated? Do you both work at the same job? Are you at a party where you know everyone and they don’t? Are they enthusiastic, or do they just seem to be going along with things? The point is that no set of rules can dictate what the right thing is in every circumstance, so you have to actually feel empathy and respect.
Looking for an enthusiastic yes is about having respect for them, but it’s also about having respect for yourself — because you deserve to be with someone who appreciates and desires you back.
What if they play hard to get?
It’s true, some people do do that.
However, I don’t think playing hard to get is nearly as widespread as people think it is. I think that very few people will act like they don’t like someone when they secretly do. More frequently, I find that people want to keep you guessing. They will do something that makes you think they really like you, then act like they could care less.
The fact that some people may play hard to get doesn’t make it okay to constantly push people’s boundaries. If they tell you to stay away from them, that’s not playing hard to get — that’s setting a boundary that should be respected.
If someone doesn’t return your calls until days later, that’s more ambiguous.
The fact that some people may play hard to get doesn’t make it okay to constantly push people’s boundaries.
The best way to make sense of ambiguous behavior is to talk to them about it. This conversation may be awkward, but if someone really likes you, they’ll probably appreciate your desire to talk it out with them. If you think the person is just stringing you along, it’s easier and wiser to just move on rather than trying to make them like you more.
When someone consents to sleep with you, even for a night, they are trusting you. Be worthy of that trust by communicating, being genuine, and being kind — none of which is always simple or easy.
As a straight guy, it was especially useful for me to talk to women about their experiences. It helped break down my mental construct of women as unattainable objects of desire and view them as human beings just like me. Talking to female friends who I had no plans to hook up with made it easier to talk to people who I was interested in. These conversations gave me ideas about how to be charming (not to mention how helpful it was to have female friends who were willing to introduce me to their female friends). Also, hearing my women friends talk about shitty things guys had done to them made me really not want to be one of those guys.
No one is entitled to the attention of any particular person.
Everyone is entitled to education on how to effectively seek out fulfilling sex and relationships.
Teaching these skills can help change the toxic practices common in dating, and, in turn reduce sexual assault and relationship abuse — not to mention leading to more fulfilling romantic and sexual relationships.
Part of this involves challenging the norms in our social circles, and not being afraid to have uncomfortable conversations with our friends if we see them doing hurtful or unhealthy things.
I hope that this article has contributed in some small way to your liberation as well as the liberation of those around you.
This article was written by shyconoclast.
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