GMP’s Babble of the Sexes Team takes on catching feelings, mulligans and deciphering the differences inherit in the male vs. female brain.
On social media people sometimes say they “caught the feels” or are “catching feelings” for their FWB (friend with benefits). In other words, they are beginning to have feelings for the person that they are having sex with. They often lament the only rule both parties were supposed to uphold was that there would be no feelings or emotions involved. Now, they are worried their FWB will be upset.
What I find most interesting is the idea that sex and emotions as completely disconnected entities still persists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a moral judgement. I’m not someone that believes you shouldn’t have sex without an emotional connection. If someone wants to simply have physical sex, more power to them.
Yet, while emotions and the physical act of sex are two different things, they are also connected.
Confused? Think about it like this—happiness is an emotion and smiling is a physical act. You can be happy and not smile. You can also smile and not be happy. Each can happen independently…and yet they are connected.
Our brains are complex. While we can be happy and not smile, when our brains sense we are happy we almost always have a desire to smile. In fact sometimes we can hardly stop it.
Start dumping all the happy chemicals into my brain
What’s really cool is that it also works in reverse. Even when we aren’t happy if we start smiling, and do it long enough, our brains will think Oh, I’m smiling, I must be happy. Start dumping all the happy chemicals into my brain. That in turn makes us feel happy.
Sex and connection work in very much the same way. When we feel an emotional connection with someone we also often feel a sexual attraction. There may be factors that interfere, of course, but it often happens that way. I’d be surprised if most people haven’t become more emotionally connected to someone, even with platonic intentions, then suddenly realized they were starting to feel sexual attraction for them.
And then we come to catching feelings. We can fully intend to only have physical sex with someone. It may be fine the first time…and the second…and maybe more. But after enough times our brains may just think, Huh, I’m having sex with this person a lot. I must like them. So smiling for 30 seconds doesn’t convince your brain that it is happy, but doing it for extended periods might.
Sexual feeling, or sexual healing?
Physical touch, and especially sex, causes our brains to release a variety of hormones including oxytocin which is often referred to as the “love hormone.” That’s right, one of its roles is to encourage emotional connection. Having sex once or twice might not be enough to have an impact, but after enough times your brain may very well start feeling connected to the person responsible for that chemical release.
Research suggests Oxytocin has a greater impact on women, which might mean women are more likely to develop emotional connections this way than men. Either way, don’t be surprised if a repeated physical relationship ends up with someone “catching feelings.” Just like we sometimes can’t hide a big grin when we are happy, we also can’t help but feel emotional connection with a sex partner…it’s the way we are wired.
I’ve never actually heard the expression “catching feelings” before, but here is my take… In a casual situation, sex is a recreational activity engaged in by consenting people for the sake of enjoyment. Pause. Replace sex with golf, bowling, or any other recreational activity. Would you ever join a bowling league and say “I don’t plan to fall in love with anyone on my team”? Why would you be any less likely to “catch feelings” from someone you have sex with than you would from someone you golf or bowl with? Even if you divorce feelings from the act of intimacy, putting it on the same playing field as some random leisure activity, you may develop an attachment purely by virtue of repeated exposure and a bevvy of shared experiences and interests.
The “warm and fuzzy” delivery person
If the casual situation is going well, those shared experiences are probably happy or you wouldn’t keep being involved in it. It’s easy to feel all “warm and fuzzy” about someone you do something you enjoy with. For example, I LOVE my FedEX guy. He never lets me down. He brings me shiny things I’ve ordered on the Internet. I really love that guy. I look forward to his visits with much eagerness. I have come to associate the FedEX guy with happy feelings of excitement and anticipation, usually about discounted yoga pants coming by parcel. It arrives quickly, just when I expect it and it’s pretty much always exactly what I was hoping for. We both get what we are looking for out of the situation—he gets a signature saying he did his job and I get pants that make my butt look FANTASTIC. If I can associate the joy of online shopping with the bringer-of-yoga-pants, why would I not expect to feel something towards a bringer-of-happy-feelings-out-of-yoga-pants?
In contrast, I will never form a deep emotional attachment to my dental hygienist because it’s never a happy thing when we hang out. There is limited bonding potential. I feel like neither of us want to be in that situation and definitely not regularly or voluntarily. Ugh…WORST. It’s all getting to know you in the worst possible way.
In a casual situation, there’s a lot of getting to know you. It’s natural to bond with people who know you well, who know your secrets and your stories (and even played a part in them). How many times have you sat with your best friend and been like, “Remember that time when we…” and a rush of feelings overwhelm you as you relive that moment together? With your casual-see-you-when-I-see-you person, this reinforces further the “happy-out-of-yoga-pants” feelings.
Love in your circle
It can be hard to avoid “catching feelings” in a casual situation. My take is not as clinical and scientific as Jay’s and it has a lot of online shopping-related imagery, but the bottom line is that it’s pretty normal and it happens to everyone every once and a while. It can happen when you do stuff you enjoy with a person you obviously don’t mind having in your space or in your circle. What it comes down to that can make it a positive or negative occurrence is how you deal with it, how openly you communicate or how graciously and tactfully you handle it if someone’s caught feelings for you. Because unlike golf, when it comes to someone else’s feelings, it can be hard to take a mulligan.
Well said Alison. There’s a reason for the cliche that we find love when we aren’t looking for it. When we aren’t paying attention to feelings, whether it is with an FWB or the delivery guy, we tend to drop our guard and become more vulnerable. When we then share fun, enjoyable experiences, we’ve created the perfect environment for attachment to grow. No surprise at all.
Photo credit: Getty Images