Monday, November 25, 2019

Hook Up Regrets

"It's not what you are, it's what you don't become that hurts." - Oscar Levant
"Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets." - Arthur Miller

Hook up regret refers to the emotions consenting adults might feel when they are dissatisfied or unsettled after a sexual encounter. There are so many reasons people experience hook up regret after a tryst perhaps the encounter was awkward and or even unpleasant at times. Heartache may occur when expectations during or after hook up go unmet. Disappointment is understandable when personal standards were compromised, especially around preventing STDs. Experiencing anguish is common after feeling pressured or rushed, and not speaking up about it. Following one's own internal rule to “finish something you started,” when that something is no longer wanted may cause distress. Even when the rendezvous was satisfying, uncertainty about future contact or status may be uncomfortable for many.  Especially confusing is when an enjoyable sexual encounter with a casual acquaintance induces a deep sense of sadness and loss.   

Misunderstandings are more likely when hooking up with someone you just met or don’t know that well, though there are many reasons people choose to do so. We all have a natural desire for connection, closeness, and a sense of belonging. This normal drive can get skewed when intoxicated or feeling lonely. Sometimes we want others to like us, even when we don’t really like them. Sometimes we are turned on and want to satisfy the urge to be held and touched. Hooking up can also be a way to avoid other feelings or responsibilities.

Some of us have received messages from friends or media that sex and emotions should be completely separate. When emotions do emerge about a sexual encounter, our internal self- judgment can be a distraction prohibiting any lesson from surfacing. Denying you have feelings because you think it is wrong to “care” is an act of avoidance that blocks you from learning from the event. Shame is a powerful motivator, and many of us have been shamed about having feelings. For this reason, on some level, it makes sense that we see emotions as a sign of weakness or something we should try to get rid of. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Accepting that it is normal to have feelings about interpersonal connections allows you to face the reality of the situation you are in. Intimacy, by its very nature, creates vulnerability. Without clarity of connection, needs, or basic levels of trust, a person can be left feeling hollow, used, dissatisfied, frustrated, etc., after sharing oneself intimately.  When a person has experienced trauma and/or adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction emotional wounds may be compounded.

When we break our own boundaries around reviewing STD test results or insisting that condoms are used, the regret we feel is instructional.  It functions to help us make better decisions as we move forward in our lives. Taking care of one's health is important. 

Navigating areas of uncertainty, the gray zone, is something we can get better at by improving awareness of self and others. Self-reflection and a commitment to learning from our emotions will go a long way in preventing the same situation from repeating itself. Emotions like regret serve a function. When we feel bad about something, we are more likely to prevent the experience from happening again and will do things differently in the future.  Emotions like grief and loss are an opportunity to move towards healing when we can nurture and tend to our historical hurts.

One of the best ways to cope with regret is to see the experience as an opportunity to learn about your needs, motivations, and values. Ask yourself what about the encounter bothered you the most? Was it how you were treated? How you treated the other person? If you could do it again, what would you do differently and why? What might you say to your best friend in the same situation, to offer support? Use that compassionate wisdom to comfort yourself, and apply the knowledge you gained to make more satisfying choices in the future.