Having a friendship or work relationship suddenly turn romantic or sexual—whether you regret it or not—can be a confusing experience. It might be tempting to act quickly by trying to undo it all, pretending it never happened, or rethinking your whole relationship to try to turn it into a romance. But you must be mindful. Whether it was an ill-advised drunken encounter after the office party or a late-night kiss with a longtime best friend, here are seven things to consider when the sun rises and you are getting your head on straight.
(Note: We are discussing unambiguously consensual encounters here. If you do not feel that your experience was consensual, or you have experienced a sexual assault, please check out other resources, like https://www.rainn.org/.)
1. Don't be hasty. First, stop and take a deep breath. You'll need time to figure things out, and though for many of us the urge is to do something immediately, that's usually counterproductive. Whether it's deciding that this absolutely must have been a mistake, or assuming that you will now enter into a full-blown, long-term relationship, you need a little time to think this through before acting on your instincts. Being mindful in this way will prevent you from making a situation worse before you can think better of it.
2. Be respectful, and don't think you can read minds. Whether you love the person, hate the person, or something in between, if the hookup was consensual then they deserve to be treated with respect, no matter what you are feeling now. Lashing out at the person or saying something that might crush them is not what they deserve. Also: Don't assume you know how they feel, no matter how many crystal balls you possess.
3. Be careful who you tell. Your first instinct may be to get your five closest friends on a conference call. Or maybe you can't resist sharing this juicy experience with your cubemate. Whether it's humorous or closer to horrifying (or both), for now you need to resist the urge to share too much, especially with anyone you don't absolutely trust. It can come back to bite you, and is arguably unfair to the person you got involved with. (And yes, this means no cryptic Facebook status posts either!)
4. Be honest with yourself about your feelings. Maybe you are ignoring the fact that you've had feelings for this person for a long time. Or maybe it's the opposite—you hooked up with this person in the hopes that it would start a relationship that you think should happen, even though it's not coming naturally. Denying yourself the opportunity to process those feelings because you think they're not the right ones, or suppressing thoughts that don't seem to align with how you "should" feel, is only going to take you farther away from the path of doing what's best and truest to your feelings.
5. Look for bigger patterns. There's a chance that this experience is indicative of something larger. Can it tell you something about a behavior pattern you have with friendships, or with sex? Is there something about impulsive behavior that you need to pay attention to? Or if alcohol or drugs were involved, is this a symptom of a problem with substances? If this experience needs to serve as a wakeup call for you, take heed.
6. Address any health issues. Certainly, the ramifications of a sexual experience, especially one that was spontaneous, can be significant. If you have any concerns about a lack of contraception or protection, get yourself to a doctor to address them.
7. Make a plan for moving forward. Eventually, you'll need a plan, even if that plan is to just wish for the passage of time to take you farther and farther from what happened. Decide what you might say about it with that person, and whether you actually can visualize what you want out of your relationship, whether it be platonic, romantic, sexual, or something in between. How might you articulate that in the clearest but gentlest way? It's not just about what to say, but what you might want to ask—and what you need to hear and understand from them. Most important, let this experience teach you something about yourself that will help you in the future—a worthy goal for any hookup, no?
adapted from The Friendship Fix, by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and media commentator. She is the author of the upcoming book Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World, and The Friendship Fix, and Baggage Check, the longtime mental health column in the Washington Post Express. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University.
Photo Credit: Eleazar (Flickr Creative Commons)