A reliable hook-up buddy can be a wonderful, satisfying thing. But sometimes you find yourself unhappily stuck in the Hook-Up Zone with someone, when what you really want is a relationship. If this is happening to you again and again, you might want to tweak your dating strategy a little bit…

1) Make Sure to Go on Actual Dates
If this is someone you only see at parties or in big groups, then you’re clearly just a hook-up. What separates a casual physical relationship from a more serious, romantic one is how you spend your time together when you aren’t having sex. Instead of waiting for the next alcohol-fueled group activity to inevitably end up in bed together, invite him or her to do something just the two of you. It doesn’t have to be a big, awkward, romantic thing! It can be grabbing dinner, or seeing a movie, as long as it’s just the two of you. (Note: grabbing drinks is fine; meeting at a bar and sucking down drinks until you’re both drunk enough to have sex is not.)

Related:The 9 Types of Pre-Exclusive Relationships
2) Don’t Have Sex Right Away. Really, Don’t.
Look, we’re not a site that’s going to tell you to wait until the third date, or to only have sex in serious relationships. There are so many couples in long-term relationships who did have sex on the first date, and the idea that someone should take you less seriously because you choose to have sex is ridiculous and insulting.

That having been said, if you never lack for sex partners but seem unable to lock down a serious relationship, you might want to try a somewhat more restrained strategy.

Waiting to have sex sends the unequivocal message that you are interested in the potential of a real relationship, and not just a physical one. By not having sex, you’re setting a very clear expectation: yes, obviously sex is important, and hopefully you’ll get to a point where you’re having it with each other, but this is not going to become a casual hook-up thing. Sex will become a part of your relationship, but your relationship won’t be built around sex.

Related: “When Should I Have Sex?” A Real and Honest Answer

3) Once You Realize You Want Different Things, Stop Hooking Up
You want something more: the other person doesn’t. Stop hooking up with them. Yeah, it’s hard! Yeah, maybe you still like them. Maybe you figure that hooking up is better than nothing, but the truth is it’s absolutely not. Continuing on as hook-up buddies only cements your position as “For Sex Only,” while the other person gets to have the cake and eat it, too. (Cake=sex without commitment.)

Related: “I Like You, You’re Really Great, But…” The Danger of Wafflers
And here’s the other thing: sometimes ultimatums work. If you work up the courage and the gumption insist on an actual relationship, or you’ll walk away, there really is a chance that the other person realizes they’d rather have you in their life than not.

It’s not always going to work out in your favor: sometimes you really will have to walk away. But better to leave the perpetual hook-up purgatory to get a real relationship, than to find yourself waiting there forever.

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