I think I speak for the majority of Durham students – at least the ones I know – when I say that University is place where casual relationships thrive the most. You’re away from home, away from parental judgements, in a place with a whole variety of new people, at an age where you want some sort of relationship, but don’t really want to be tied down. Of course a casual relationship is going to appeal. As Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake put it in Friends With Benefits, “no relationship, no emotions, just sex. Whatever happens, we stay friends”. But is this utopian idea of a perfect relationship worth it, and can it last?
Let’s begin with a practical reason for not wanting things to go any further than the bedroom – it’s less time-consuming. It may sound heartless to some people, but think about it. Most of us have upwards of 10 hours a week of lectures and tutorials, plus the time we’re supposed to spend in the library (but nobody actually does), plus the time we spend with our friends. Then there are sports, societies, meal times, and sleeping. Even the most organised of people may find it difficult to see their other half, especially during exam time. This is why many people prefer to have casual sex with someone, where once the job is done, you can get on with your life and not have to worry about having breakfast together. A simple text every now and then will suffice. Plus, having that opportunity for stress release, perhaps in the middle of a stressful day can work wonders on a person’s mood!
Another reason why casual relationships work so much better in the University environment is simply because it is more acceptable to be in one. I want you to think back to college, and even high school (if you were anything like me, a painfully awkward time). When I think back now, I recall talking every day about who people were going out with, who people had slept with, who people had a crush on. The people in my town knew everything about everyone, and so much fuss was made over the tiniest of events. If you got off with someone behind the bike sheds, the whole school knew by first break. True, there is an element of that here still. Word travels like wildfire through the tight-knit corridors of college, and it’s a lot easier to see who’s going to bed with whom if you’re all in the same formal, or all at breakfast the next morning. Of course, the main difference between college and university is that no one really cares. So what if so-and-so slept with them. It’s interesting for perhaps a few hours, longer if there’s some scandal involved of course, but everyone accepts it as the norm. Especially since everything pales in comparison to the amount of bed-hopping everyone witnessed in Fresher’s Week! It’s incredibly refreshing to be in an environment where people accept that you have vices, and believe there’s no shame in satisfying them.
Finally, and most importantly, it’s fun! Sex is fun, no matter what form it takes. Part of University life is to be open to new experiences, and if that includes having a casual relationship, then why not? If everyone consents and everyone is safe, then there’s nothing wrong with having a sexual relationship with someone for no other reason than enjoyment. You don’t need to be tied down to someone in this situation. They’re just there for emotional or physical support. There’s something really deliciously egotistical and self-serving to have that one person to call upon for a quick rendezvous. For people who can easily separate the emotion of love from the physical act of sex, it’s much more conducive to ‘get yours and go’, as it were. A casual relationship is not only possible in university, there’s a strong argument in support of it. However, there are some downsides preventing it from being the advised route to go down.
Firstly, someone could get hurt. Everyone’s heard the warnings time and time again, and in most cases it tends to play out the same way. In these situations, someone, be it a boy or a girl, gets too attached. For a great deal of people, being intimate with someone for a long period of time and getting to know their personality better can result in them wanting more than just friends with benefits. If the other person doesn’t want this, that is where the problems can start, and it can be very difficult to go back to a casual relationship afterwards. I believe it’s for this reason that most casual relationships tend to fizzle out.
Now, picture the scene. It’s late, you’re at a club, you haven’t pulled, and that mate of yours that you’ve known for a term or two starts to look more and more gorgeous with every quaddie you knock back. Oftentimes, you make it home alright, waking up in the morning with the thought ‘Thank Christ I didn’t do anything’. But sometimes the alternative happens. Many may say that this is how the majority of long-term relationships start; you start as friends and it develops into something more. The difference here is that you’re trying to jump from emotions and no sex, to sex and no emotions. A casual relationship can be a right laugh with someone you know really well, but chances are if they’re your good friend that you see them on a regular basis, maybe even live on the same floor. In my experience, it ends just as quickly as it began, and the friendship is never really the same.
Possibly the most compelling deterrent to a casual relationship is the possibility of one party bragging to their friends, and the repercussions that has on the other. I’m aware of many cases of Fresher girls entering no-strings relationships with older boys. The younger girl can develop a reputation within the older population, the most common being as a slut, or easy. I have witnessed older boys promising girls they will go steady and settle down, but that they’re just taking it slow at the moment, or sleeping around and then going back to that one girl, because they know she’s a ‘sure thing’. Having casual sex is fine, but when one person is being manipulated, talked about disparagingly or disrespected, they may need to rethink the situation they are in. Unfortunately, this happens all too often at university, and the best we can all do is judge whether or not we really want to share a bed with someone who treats their partners in this way. Even casual sex needs to come with mutual respect. In conclusion, are casual relationships a good idea? Sure. If you want to experience this kind of relationship, and just want to have fun, you should, and no one can tell you that it’s wrong. As I said before, it’s consensual, it’s safe, and it’s definitely enjoyable. But we need to judge it for what it is; it is NOT a long-term solution. A small percentage of couples will stay together throughout university, get married, have kids and live happily ever after. The rest may fizzle out amicably, but fizzle out nonetheless. And others are faced with difficulties as penance for the good times they’ve had.
Keep in mind that things may eventually end, in happiness or in hurt, but there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the ride whilst you’re on it.