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Exactly What to Say to a Hookup When You Want to Keep It Casual

We asked a therapist to give us a script.
Artur Debat / Getty

Sometimes you just want to get a little strange, no strings attached. And there’s no shame in that game. But what do you do when you roll over in the morning to find that your hookup from the night before is still in your bed? Or, worse, when your FWB has started texting you a few too many heart emojis?

The trick to keeping it casual—and sleeping blissfully alone—is to prevent confusion altogether, says Schekeva Hall, staff psychologist at St. John’s University in New York. Here's her script for being explicit about your feelings.


IF: They're showing signs of wanting something more than casual sex
THEN: Say, “I only want to have sex.” Yep, straight up. Or, if it applies, “I feel bad, because I only want to have sex.” Be honest.

We're decent humans. Why wouldn’t we tell our date that we really just feel like having sex and calling it a day? Among other things, it's often the fear of a fight. “A lot of people become conflict-avoidant because they might not do conflict right,” Hall says. “You might withhold information because you don’t want to get into a fight, but the biggest act of care you can do for yourself and another person is to communicate.”

In the end, withholding information just complicates things. “If you decide to keep things to yourself, it can feel initially like it’s benefitting you, but you’re actually doing yourself a disservice,” she says. How? Well, you’re basically setting yourself up for an awkward morning.

IF: It's the morning and they are still in your damn bed
THEN: Say, Hey, I’m getting ready to start my day; I enjoyed last night, but I’m needing to get started and right now you’re in my space, and it’s really hard for me to do that.’

“The objective is to take care of the other person but also make sure you don’t neglect yourself in that communication,” Hall says. “Don’t feel bad about the message, but think about the style of communication.” Appear very gentle and interested. Validate the person.


For any situation in which you have to communicate something that the other person might not like to hear, Hall recommends the DEAR MAN mnemonic device. It’s a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) tool that stands for: Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear Confident, Negotiate.

IF: They want to meet your parents
THEN: Say, “This sounds really important to you. When we started to hook up it seemed like you were okay with just that. I just wanna check in, are we still cool with this? Can we talk about what you’re thinking this might be, or what you need?’”

“Look at things with kind eyes and recognize everyone’s need for being connected,” Hall says.

IF: You've already explained your no-strings-attached wishes but your bone buddy appears to have forgotten
THEN: Issue an honest reminder. Of course, "being honest" can turn into "being an asshole" pretty easily if you're too open about, say, how you simply don't find your fuck buddy attractive/successful/smart enough to cuff them. There's a fine line, Hall says. "The point of this communication is to clearly state your objective and maintain your self-respect while taking care to not jeopardize your relationships."

Basically, there's a way to get your point across without being mean. You can always say that you don't feel you "share the same values" as opposed to asking if he or she has ever picked up a damn book. "There’s always a way to be honest and still balance care in even your most difficult conversations," she adds.

IF: You just want to skip the emotional labor and lie to get out of seeing them
THEN: Sorry, our psychologist is not here for that.

“A white lie will put you in hot water later. If you’re tempted to lie to get out that situation, I’d be interested in looking at what’s difficult about being honest in that moment,” she says. Don’t complicate your situation with avoidance, or give your partner reason to question your trustworthiness. We all know how that can potentially stick with us long-term. There’s no reason that having a bustling sex life sans relationships can’t be wild and free and infused with integrity. If you’re unsure how to start the conversation, Hall says, begin with your inner dialogue. “Check in and have that conversation with yourself, ask questions, be brave. It’s a great step to take when it comes to communication with others and that’s the way we learn about the world.” Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of Tonic delivered to your inbox weekly.