How do you avoid ‘catching feelings’?

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

A friend of mine recently asked, as I was telling her how lovely a particular guy was, how I went about trying to avoid ‘catching feelings’ for the men that I spend time with. There are two answers to this question: the cunty one and the nice one. Both are true.

First let’s talk about the phrase ‘catching feelings’. Why do we refer to ‘catching’ something positive (like love) in the same way we’d talk about ‘catching’ a common cold or Covid? Why are emotions framed as if they’re an illness? What’s more, the word ‘feelings’ encompasses any emotion the human heart could hold. Presumably, we aren’t talking about feelings like ‘lust’ or ‘happiness’ here… so which feelings are we trying to avoid becoming infected with, exactly?

I understand that the phrase ‘catching feelings’ isn’t usually meant literally, and it can be a useful shorthand, but I think it’s worth examining the way this issue is framed. Words matter, and they often reflect (or shape) the way we view the world.

What does ‘catching feelings’ mean? And why do we try to avoid it?

Let’s begin with what we mean by ‘catching feelings’ – we mean falling in love, don’t we? Let’s call out ‘feelings’ for the thinly-veiled euphemism it is: we’re talking about romantic love. Someone who’s trying to avoid catching feelings isn’t desperately swerving ‘hope’ or ‘excitement’ or ‘anxiety that they left their best pulling knickers in their lovers’ house and now they won’t have anything hot to wear when they meet their other lover next Thursday’: they’re trying not to fall in love. Attempting to keep a sexual relationship at emotional distance – settling in a place marked ‘casual’ or ‘fuckbuddy’, rather than accidentally boarding the train to LoveTown.

My gut instinct tells me that much of the aversion to these ‘feelings’ we’re meant to avoid ‘catching’ stems from the idea that once you’ve fallen in love you must do something about it. That these ‘feelings’ – this romantic love – can’t just be revelled in like joy or lust or excitement or hope, but must for some reason escalate. 

If you move in sex positive/sex critical circles, you’ll know that this isn’t the case. It’s more than possible to be romantically in love with someone but eschew things like monogamy, marriage, cohabiting, babies… any of the levels on the relationship escalator. So if your reasoning for not ‘catching feelings’ actually equates more to an aversion to commitment and the escalator, the good news is that as long as your partner understands the two don’t have to be linked, you can probably chill a bit. If you’re up front with the people you’re dating that commitment (or monogamy, or marriage, or cohabiting, or whatever specific thing it is that puts you off) isn’t for you, then affection and even – gasp – romantic love is no longer something you need to avoid at all costs.

If you’re trying to avoid ‘catching feelings’ because you’re shagging someone who has set out an explicit boundary that there should be no emotional connection between you then… hmm. That’s trickier. I don’t think it’s reasonable for someone else to set boundaries on what you should feel, but there are people who might try to keep a bit of distance because they’re worried they can’t live up to the higher expectations of someone who loves you, as opposed to someone you’re just shagging. This one is probably for you to work out on your own: can you ‘catch feelings’ without then feeling the urgent need to do something about them? Can you revel in the joy of your love for this person without putting pressure on them to reciprocate or escalate in turn? If so go wild, be my guest.

If you’re trying to avoid falling in love because love itself is ugly and horrible and it hurts? I have no argument against that – carry on, with my blessing. Romantic love is horrible and bad and painful and it sucks. If you want to avoid it for these reasons, I’ll no more try to push you into it than I’d nudge you into a nest of live vipers. Stay safe, my friend. Stay cold and hard and safe.

Here’s what brings me to the answer I gave my friend when she asked how I avoid ‘catching feelings’ for any man.

Avoid catching feelings: don’t cuddle

This answer – the cunty one – is the answer I gave my friend that night. Broadly, avoiding ‘catching feelings’ comes down to deliberately avoiding situations that might ramp up the intensity of your affection for someone. Situations where you’re snuggling together and letting your body brainwash infect nurture you with oxytocin, dopamine and other feel-good chemicals. Love is an addiction, and it’s partly a chemical one. If you do certain activities together – sex, cuddling, playful intimacy – you are more likely to become hooked on these chemicals, and more likely to see a certain person as the easiest (or sometimes only) route to your next fix. So avoid situations that might bring you too close together. No cuddles. No cute films on Netflix that you snuggle up to while stroking their hair. And pillow talk is right out as well: make them sleep on the sofa when you’re done with the fuck.

On top of this, and perhaps a far healthier suggestion (in fact, this advice is healthy in pretty much all situations): fill your life. Ensure that your life contains a good mix of other people who also provide you with closeness and joy (not just other shags, but friends and family too). Work on nurturing your friendships, and building closeness with people you aren’t fucking. Above all, carve out enough time and space for yourself that you remind yourself you can be – and arehappy on your own.

The second answer to the original question is far less cunty, but equally true. Whisper it, gang: I catch feelings for everyone.

Trying not to catch feelings is a fool’s errand

I have a lot of feelings to go round, my loves. A hell of a lot. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most of my porn is essentially wrapped in a love story. Not just the love story about my ex boyfriend (though that may be the best I’ll ever write and I’ll be VERY ANNOYED if that turns out to be the case), but love stories to my friends, to other partners, to one night stands, and even to those from long long ago who I’m not in love with any more. Except – wait! – I am still in love with them! There is always residual affection, passion, gratitude and love – even if things ended with them in ways that made me sad.

I like my love like I like my fucking: frequent and intense and excessive. I love hard and I love often. I love in ways that are often embarrassing to say out loud. Sometimes I get off the phone to a friend and find myself weeping with gratitude that I get to know a person so kind and good. Sometimes someone messages me to plan the next time that we’ll meet and I hug myself with the same kind of joy that I might if they’d asked me to get married. Or be their maid of honour. Or come on holiday with them to a cottage in the countryside with a hot tub and a harem of hot guys. Often I find myself staring at someone and thinking ‘holy shit, you’re so stunning and cool and fun that I can’t quite believe you have chosen to sit here with me, of all people!’ I love these moments. I love these people.

I love therefore I am.

Why are we scared of love?

WordPress tells me I originally drafted this post a long time ago, and every now and then I resurrect a draft with no earthly idea why I abandoned it in the first place. This one, though? I know exactly why I abandoned this one. I ditched it because there were people I was fucking back then who would have been alarmed to hear me use the ‘L’ word, lest I meant it about them. Others who’d have leapt to a conclusion that was very very far from the one in my heart. They’d have assumed that when I said ‘love’ I was angling for commitment or exclusivity.

I think fundamentally, the problem with ‘catching feelings’ – the phrase rather than the actual act of it – is that society tells us these ‘feelings’ (romantic love) aren’t just something you experience in your heart, they’re an instruction to do something.

You love this person? You have feelings for them? Well, then you have to escalate, quick! Take things to the next level! Move from friendship into a relationship! Move in together! Buy them something expensive for their birthday!

I find that odd. As someone who loves hard and often, it would be unmanageable for me to chase commitment with everyone I loved. Or buy them pricey birthday presents for that matter (I’m a professional writer, which means I am always broke: for your birthday you’re getting a handmade card with a cute limerick, plus a blow job if we’re close). At the same time, I think it would be weird if I were fucking you regularly and didn’t love you at least a little. If I’ve fucked you more than a few times I consider you a friend: who doesn’t love their mates?

Not everyone’s going to be as emotional as I am. Not everyone’s going to spend their time composing love letters to their friends or writing blog posts with a hyperfocus on one specific romantic or sexy moment with someone, but I’m GOTN! It’s what I fucking do.

Perhaps the reason why I have such intense feelings – All the time! Constantly! Excessively! Without respite! – is because it’s my job to navelgaze and stew upon them. Perhaps the feelings came first, and the job is merely a cunning way to give myself a full working week of doing what I love most. More likely it’s a little bit of both.

I gave my friend the cunty answer because in the moment I thought it was the wisest one. It broadly covers the things I’ll do if I’m trying to avoid ‘catching feelings’ (experiencing affection) for someone who would prefer to keep me at arm’s length. But she asked me the question because she knows me, and I’m pretty sure the cunty answer didn’t hold much weight. She was actually asking because she could tell from the way I was talking that I’d grown fond of a boy (or two, or maybe three), and she was offering me the opportunity to tell her in detail about how pretty their eyes were and how much I liked them.

Maybe ‘catch’ isn’t such a terrible word for feelings after all: perhaps these warm, affectionate infections are actually a bit like the Red Dwarf luck virus. The problem isn’t that we’re framing the ‘catching’ as something medical, but that we see the disease as something that needs to be cured, as opposed to something that’s… you know… nice. Warm, affectionate feelings are broadly lovely things. They’re byproducts of the experiences we have and the things we do together.

I can only avoid ‘catching feelings’ if I stop doing anything affectionate or sexy with men. And while it may be more practical to stay ‘cold and hard and safe’, where the fuck is the fun in that?



  • Jilly Horrorshow says:

    Weirdly, I only heard the phrase for the first time a few months ago, but I had the same reaction to it myself.

  • M. P. Cosgrove says:

    Hmm. Interesting commentary, but it might as easily have been couched in terms of passion. I have many passions. One of my greatest moments was when I showed a friend a roll of photos I’d taken in his garden, and he told me that he walked through that garden every day, but he didn’t see what I had. I also had a sizable bin for the bad ones in the days before digital cameras. I have a passion for riding motorcycles, because I was a radio operator on aircraft when I was in the forces. I tell people who ask why a man approaching 70 still rides that I need something that banks! I suspect they don’t get the joy I do from the scenery, either, but that just ties into my first example. Ah, and then there are the passions of which you spoke, which may be passing or more prolonged. Those have equally complex layers, but the point of my missive is that passions needn’t be gender specific or even related to another living creature. They are the things that teach me who and what I am. I am avid at any number of things, but I am also clumsy, so I may not be very good at them. The important thing is that I take pleasure in the journey.

  • Fajolan says:

    wowh, wowh wowh.
    There are articles here that get more hits so seem more popular.
    And there are articles that one chews over, and over and over again. Sends on to a friend, and another one. Brings ideas from it up in a conversation.

    Validating all feelings we have. Such a long path to walk, and such an important. To love someone, and enjoy it regardsless of reciprocity or next steps or escalating.

    Thank you. Gotta fwd that article to someone now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.