Dear Em & Lo: He Says He Just Wants to Hook Up But Doesn't Act That Way

romance_ocean_couplephoto by jeroen_bennink

Dear Em & Lo,

I met this guy who is really sweet and nice.  He is 20 and I am 21.  We’ve hung out a few times and I am starting to like him.  Then, I saw him at a fraternity party the other night (although he does not go to my college) and he barely said hi.  I was walking with one of my guy friends when I ran into him. He told my friend he was too “sweaty and gross” and had to go.

Then the next morning he texted my best friend (the one that kind of set us up) and asked her if she had fun the night before.  She said yes and asked him if he did and he said he “found a cute girl and stuck with her all night.”  My best friend texted him back and said “oh so no more cam?”  And he said “i am still interested and i still like her, she is really cool…i just don’t want a girlfriend right now, is she down with that?”  My friend said that he should talk to me about that and he said we should all hang out soon.  This is so out of the blue…he definitely does not act like he just wants a hook up, but now I am unsure of what to do…

— Hopeless in Seattle

Dear H.i.S.,

Hmmm, let’s see: What makes you think that “he definitely does not act like he just wants a hook up”? Does he like to cuddle? Is he fascinated by your thoughts on neoclassical architecture? Does he like to tell you about his day or whine about his Mom? Does he want to take you to brunch the next morning? And yet he tells your best friend — 100% sure that she will pass the info onto you — that he just doesn’t want a girlfriend right now. What we have here is a classic case of intimacy lite, also sometimes known as casual intimacy.

If you’ve ever spooned your booty call or held hands with your one-night stand, you’re familiar with intimacy lite. If both parties are fully onboard with the lite nature of the intimacy, it’s perfectly natural — everyone needs a cuddle sometimes, and even the most ardent commitment-phobe among us misses snuggling and nuzzling and — eww, okay, we’ll stop (like dirty talk, all that stuff should be kept in the bedroom; talking about it out of context makes our assholes contract).

Anyway, commitment-phobes (i.e. 99.9% of male college students) are especially prone to indulging in intimacy lite, and this often sends a mixed message, because if his mouth is saying one thing and his body is saying another, then you’re probably going to listen to whichever message you like best. Sure, he might tell you that that the sex doesn’t mean anything, but does brunch invalidate that sort of agreement? Not in our book — but plenty of tenderhearted young things out there might think so. All crushed up, you refuse to believe that sometimes, someone simply needs help finishing the crossword, or wants company at brunch because all their good friends are brunching with their significant others

To make a sweeping generalization (Who, us? Never!), men are most often the culprits in cases of misinterpreted intimacy lite, perhaps because they dominate the ranks of the commitment-phobic. It’s not just getting free milk — it’s having Bessie listen to you ramble on about your problems at work, too: a mini-me relationship on tap, whenever you need a top-up.

If someone regularly engages in intimacy lite, we like to refer to them as a “sampler,” i.e. a man — or, yes, sometimes a woman — who subsists on a diet of sex and relationship “samplers.” You know how some supermarkets offer tastings of new products in every aisle? If you’re a cheapskate (and not a germaphobe), you can make a meal of it — melon squares in aisle 1, cheese and ham at the deli counter, brownies over in aisle 7. Keep doing laps, avoid making too much eye contract with the product rep, and sample away. In the world of hooking up, samplers ensure a balanced diet by relying heavily on light intimacy from multiple product reps.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, if intimacy lite sounds like a fun way to pass the Spring semester to you, then go ahead and keep taking his calls. But if you really want to be his girlfriend, then we recommend moving on and not letting him sample any more of your, ahem, melon squares.

Lunch ladies,

Em & Lo


  1. Earlier this week, I had been daydreaming about the freedom of my 20s. Now, I am reminded that with such freedom comes incredible immaturity! This pseudo-romantic college drama is far too juvenile upon which to waste “texting minutes”. (Another reminder to self: so happy that my college experience was void of cell phones & the internet, or even voicemail … when I guy left a message on the machine, the whole apartment heard it, too.) Although most of these commitment-inept, intimacy-challenged, post-pubescent males claim to “hate mind games” they continue to play them, don’t they? So, totally let this guy go, mentally. Considering the predictability of his behaviour thus far, I feel quite sure that the moment you abandon ANY attachment to him, he will pursue you like the last salmon upstream

  2. We came up with the term intimacy lite, though we’re sure we’re not the only ones to have noticed this phenomenon. But do let us know if you find any other writing on the topic, we’d love to check it out!

  3. Lame that he passed you the “intimacy lite” message through your friend instead of directly, but we can chalk that up to age – the younger the luvva (male or female), the less the tact.

    Yeah, I agree with Em & Lo though. Speaking as a sampler myself, you can go along for the ride, or you can bail out, but you can’t corner him into being your boyfriend. You’ll blow it that way. He’ll bolt.

  4. This “intimacy lite” is not something I have ever thought of before, but it seems like what I might be going through at the moment, too. Em and Lo, is the concept an original idea? If not, is there anywhere I could find alternate perspectives on it?

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