by Amy Alkon
Q: A year ago, a co-worker I had a crush on made moves on me after-hours at work, and we stopped just short of having sex. I saw him as a potential boyfriend, and I emphasized that I was not interested in casual sex. He told me at the time that he had broken up with his girlfriend, but two days later said they’d made up. Several times since, when his relationship has been on the rocks, he’s suggested that we have sex. I told him I want no physical contact with him ever again, and now he rarely speaks to me, despite seeing me daily at work. I considered him a friend, so I’m devastated he took advantage of me and was only interested in cheating. I’m finding it really hard to heal and move on.—Disturbed
A: If there’s a next logical step after late-night office sexytime, it probably isn’t, “Now that we’re done despoiling the conference table, let’s go meet each other’s parents!”
Remember dating? People who want relationships—especially female people who aren’t up for anything less—go on dates before they go on the conference table. This isn’t to say that women should never have after-hours fun with some guy at work; it’s just that if you want a relationship, having sex before he gets emotionally attached is a risky strategy—one that often leads to just sex. Or just sex whenever his relationship is on the rocks.
Sure, you “emphasized” that you don’t want casual sex—a statement that probably buzzed on papery little wings around the guy’s ear before getting squished by his sex drive. Women evolved to be the Missouri of human sexuality—Missouri’s nickname being “the Show-Me State.” Women protect themselves by being what evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss call “commitment skeptics”—holding off having sex while seeking evidence of a man’s willingness to invest (beyond an evening of semi-naked fun in a desk chair). As for men, research by psychologists Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield confirms what most of us have observed numerous times: As long as a woman has a moderate level of attractiveness, a man’s likely to want to have sex with her. In other words, while women are the sexual gatekeepers, for men, there is no gate. There isn’t even a fence.
Sure, it’s disappointing when a man you’re picturing in the “future boyfriend” slot just wants to have sex. But feeling insulted about that is like my feeling insulted that my 5-pound dog tries to have sex with my arm—apparently some sort of odd biological imperative that my arm and I don’t take personally.
To move on, turn this into a learning experience so you can protect yourself in the future. This starts with admitting that you got sucked in not because of something this guy did but because you let ego and emotion do the driving while reason was gagged, hogtied and left for dead in the trunk. Accept that it’s your responsibility to vet whether a situation would ultimately work for you instead of leaving the guardianship of your needs to others—others whose agenda may not match yours. Yes, I’m hinting that many men will tell a woman just about anything to get sex. (Just ask a man whose grandma has died suddenly and tragically … dozens of times.)
Q: After casual sex, why do some men spend all night spooning and cuddling? This just happened for the second time, and it really messes with my head. My nesting inclination kicks in, and I start fantasizing about engagement rings. And I’m not some needy little thing.—Confused
A: It’s like when the plane’s landing gear is malfunctioning and a person grabs the hand of the stranger seated next to them … not because that person means something to them but because it feels better than possibly dying alone in a fiery explosion.
Casual sex, like grain alcohol and ladies’ clingy knitwear, isn’t for everyone. In research by anthropologist John Marshall Townsend, many women who just wanted sex from a guy still woke up the morning after with worries like, “Does he care about me?” and “Is sex all he was after?” This is perhaps because of the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin—upon orgasm or from intense cuddling. (In men, testosterone goes all defensive lineman, tackling the oxytocin and blocking it from getting to its receptor.) Understanding this may lead you to rethink hooking up. At the very least, you should take precautions for safe sex—like asking, “Where’s the fire escape?” and telling a guy about the tender talk you need immediately afterward … such as, “You can let yourself out,” and “Don’t forget to leave the parking pass in my mailbox.”