Dear Lala, Im struggling to find a casual hook-up and its making me insecure

In Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems. With over 200k Instagram followers, Lala is the anonymous voice helping womankind through every bump in the road. An established sex, dating and relationship educator, she’s had her fair share of relationship drama and shares her wisdom on social media to a loyal army of followers.

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Dear Lala,

I’ve recently come out of a long-term relationship with someone who I absolutely loved, but I just didn’t feel sexually attracted to him for a long time. We finally split around Christmas time, and it was traumatic. It broke me a little because he was so lovely, but I just couldn’t pretend anymore, and I need to be with someone I want to have sex with. On reflection, I’ve realised I go into relationships with the wrong people. My self-esteem is so low that I just go for anyone who likes me.

Since the breakup, I’ve been speaking to guys on Hinge and Tinder etc – not because I want to dive into another relationship, I actually would love to just have some sex because I’ve not had enjoyable sex for years now. Even that seems to be impossible and leaves me feeling even worse about myself. I’ve made it so clear to some guys that all I want is a ‘hook up’, thinking that that must be music to most guy’s ears, right? Well, I’ve gotten as far as almost meeting up with guys for a hook up and then they’ve just unmatched me or stopped messaging me. It’s left me feeling so s**t, like I can’t even get a guy to have sex with me with no strings attached?

I’m obviously still hurting from my breakup and I know that right now I should just be focusing on myself and not even trying to speak to or meet men, but at the moment I feel like I need that validation – it’s something I’ve always needed. I want to get to a place where I’m confident in myself enough to not need attention from men to feel good about myself. I’ll hopefully then end up with someone who’s right for me rather than just some dickhead who’s shown me some attention.

Lala says…

Well done for stepping away from your last relationship. A lot of people would have stayed despite knowing it wasn’t right because that is the easier option. The fact that you ended it and faced the trauma because you knew that you would both be happier in the long run shows that you may have more confidence and self-worth than you give yourself credit for.

It takes pretty good self-esteem to make a decision like that. Our self-esteem exists on a spectrum and for many of us, the low times are our default position. You should feel reassured by the fact that, even though you’re going through a period of low self-esteem now – post break-up, you do have the capacity for it to rise. You have proved that with your actions in your last relationship.

Coming to the realisation that seeking male validation and having low self-worth has led you into making decisions that don’t serve you well is the first step in addressing it and making changes.

BACP Accredited Couples Therapist & Relationship Transformation Coach Catherine Topham Sly told me: “A lack of confidence, or a low sense of our own worth, is particularly common in women, which is no surprise given that our culture tells us right from the start that we are lesser. If you ever feel uncertain about yourself, lack confidence, doubt your abilities, or think negatively of yourself, you’re not alone.

"Most of us have moments – especially when we’re stressed or in a low mood when we think of ourselves as weak, stupid, flawed, inferior, useless, ugly, unlovable, a loser, a failure, or not enough. But if you get stuck thinking those thoughts long enough that you come to believe them, that’s low self-esteem.

"Most of our beliefs about ourselves are developed when we’re young. We learn about ourselves through things that happen to us, how people treat us, and things we’re exposed to, like what other people say and do, in real life and the media (including social media). Early experiences (in our family of origin, school, with peers, and in wider society) often have a massive impact, as our sense of self is still developing.

"Break-ups can be really painful and our brains are constantly working to make sense of everything that’s happening to us. So, when we’re feeling bad, we sometimes conclude that we are bad. It can help to remind yourself that you’re not bad, you’re having a tough time, and you deserve the same compassion you would give to a friend who was still recovering from a difficult experience.

"Sometimes it’s through the most painful experiences that we gain the most insight about what we really want and need. We’re all just trying to get our needs met the best we can. It’s so helpful to notice that your old ways aren’t working for you, because it frees you to create newer, healthier and more satisfying ways to get your needs met and feel good about yourself. The nourishment you really need comes from within. When you start to treat yourself like someone who has value and is acceptable and worthy of respect just as she is – even when you don’t feel like it – you’ll gradually start to believe it.

There’s lots you can do to address low-self-esteem and build more confidence. Here are a few things that can help:

  • When you think or expect the worst, challenge yourself to look for evidence that things might not be so bad.
  • Notice and replace negative self-talk/self-critical thoughts with a kinder inner voice (therapy can really help with this).
  • Limit time spent on your phone, especially social media.
  • Unfollow anyone who makes you feel crap about yourself.
  • Read books, listen to podcasts, follow therapists and other accounts that are all about building confidence and self-esteem.
  • Get to know yourself better – journaling and meditation can help with this.
  • Collect good things in a notebook e.g. compliments you receive, moments when you recognise a good characteristic or feel proud of yourself, strengths, talents, achievements and more – then reflect on it often.
  • Write down three things you’re grateful for each day.
  • Take good care of yourself – get enough sleep (or at least rest), eat well, move your body, spend time outside, do things that matter to you, spend time with people who make you feel good, do fun stuff.
  • See a therapist – this is one of the absolute best ways to shift your focus away from how other people might see you back onto what you want and need to feel good."

You will be so much better off if you put your focus into yourself before jumping fanny first on to the dating apps. You’ve been left feeling crap after people have unmatched you before hook-ups even happen, can you imagine how sh*t you would feel if they unmatched or blocked you after sex? Ten times worse, especially if you got left with a UTI, STI, or thrush. And considering that for cis women having casual sex with cis men, the chance of orgasm is only 18% according to The Sex Doctor TedxLondon 2022, it’s probably not even worth the risk. It doesn’t sound like your self-esteem could take that kind of rejection at this time.

To be clear, I don’t think that having casual sex is a bad thing, but I do think that the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits if the main reason you are seeking it is to feel validated. If you’re looking for casual sex purely for physical pleasure and you couldn’t care less what the man thinks of you, and you were completely unbothered by rejection, or by them not wanting you beyond one night, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But because your desire for casual sex seems to be rooted in a need to have your self-esteem boosted I think there is a lot of room for it to end in tears.

Catherine says, “Feeling down about yourself can become really painful, so it makes sense that we’ll feel drawn to things that offer us some temporary relief, like attention from potential hook-ups. The validation is like the sugar hit from a donut when you need the nutrition of a proper meal. When you’re really hungry it’s much harder to say no to junk food. And in the same way, when you’re feeling really low (like after a breakup) you’re much more likely to crave validation from men (or anything else outside of yourself, like social media likes).”

Dating can be brutal, so it is not a good hobby to take up when you’re in a fragile place. Dating in modern times sucks for most people, I can reassure you that it’s not just you. The fact that men are disappearing is not a reflection of your worth, or your hotness. It’s a reflection of the apps and the quality of men on them. There are a really depressing number of attached men on dating sites looking for ego boosts. Some meet up with women and physically cheat, others just string women along with no intention of meeting.

On top of that, post pandemic, a lot of people have become super insular and anti-social, sometimes people have the best intentions of meeting up or communicating more but then when it comes to it, they just can’t be bothered. Lots of women are experiencing similar things. Don’t take it personally.

I think it would be good for you to come off the apps for a bit. They’re currently making you feel worse. Get to a place of high self-confidence before you venture back on. Start practicing all the things Catherine recommends above. Look up some Law of Attraction YouTube videos. They always help me when my self-esteem is low. Jen Sincero's ‘You Are a Bad Ass’ is also a great book that will help you to feel better.

Wanting to be desired by another human, a man in your case, is not actually a bad thing. Needing to be in order for your self-esteem to be high is. Get your self-esteem up and seek your next lover from that place, not from a needy place. It is absolutely OK to be single, in fact it’s far preferable to be single than to be in a dead relationship.

You will probably find that when you start taking care of you and working on your inner healing, that opportunities to meet good people will naturally increase. Commit to working on you for a bit, learn to give yourself the validation you crave from men and then go forth and find yourself some serious sexual pleasure. (In the meantime, you should also practice having lots of sex with yourself).

Follow @Lalalaletmeexplain on Instagram for more advice on sex and relationships.

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