An Ode To Emotional Groundwork

Previously published on Hellotittie in 2018

After a particularly irritating experience with a guy, I found myself on the phone with my best friend, philosophizing and trying to figure out what went wrong, or how I could’ve possibly read the signs wrong.

Boy meets girl in bar, girl doesn’t mind when he grabs her thighs and pulls her in for a kiss, boy takes her back to his apartment and she’s hooked. Their sex is abbreviated with real quality time and kisses on rooftops and falling asleep to nerdy documentaries that surely only she was interested in. Boy turns into ghost boy.

I forget who actually landed on the term during this conversation, but we decided to call it emotional groundwork - a tricky aspect of relationships (or situationships, whatever you wanna call them). While you’re free to interpret that any way you like, I like to think of it as the romantic demilitarized zone you arrive at after casually sleeping with someone that you’ve started to have real feelings for.

But what happens when we lay the emotional groundwork for a relationship that was doomed from the start?

Many people, myself included, have run into situations where both sides have started to lay that emotional groundwork. We’ve both made efforts to go on dates that don’t involve sex. We both tell each other about our days, meet each others friends, and open up about the less pretty parts of ourselves. And somewhere in between tender forehead kisses and vague plans about the future, one person pulls out. It’s a non-starter.

Whether it’s out of fear, a change of heart, or another person, it leaves the other party with nothing left but a bruised ego, and the tangible and intangible remnants of all that emotional groundwork - graveyard of what could’ve been, and the potential that was thrown away, for whatever reason.

The issue with this aspect of dating someone new - laying the emotional groundwork - is the fact that while they’re a pretty heavy, flashing neon sign of intentions, it leaves room to wiggle out without consequence. Without clear intentions, everyone is obligated to interpret signs anyway they please, and it almost guarantees to leave someone in the dust, wondering what went wrong and how they hadn’t seen it coming.

It’s something that I’ve noticed happens a lot, but isn’t really addressed by the people doling out that emotional labor (usually women, let’s be honest) because we’re left feeling we have no leg to stand on. After all, we never said we were in a relationship, right?

I wish I had some uplifting words or a surefire way to avoid this kind of heartache, but all I can leave you with is to enter any relationship with communication as a priority.

If you know what you want, say so. If you don’t know what you want, also say so. Don’t hand out love nuggets just because you feel obligated to. No one ends up feeling them in the end.