How To Not Catch Feelings
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
Blog Post Written By: Jessie Sage
A couple of weeks ago I found myself at a swanky rooftop bar overlooking Time Square in NYC, enjoying a cocktail and finger foods with a client I had been courting on Twitter for some time. While we had previously had a few phone and texting sessions, it was the first time we met in person, and it was also the first time that he hired a companion. At some point, while we were looking out over the city—flirting and discussing books—he stopped and said, “This feels like a real date.”
Of course, the main difference between this and a “real date” is that he was paying me for my time. Other than this (arguably small) detail, we were, in fact, on a date. We were both dressed up, we were getting to know each other through long and sustained conversations about life and art, and we were flirting—building the tension for what would come after we left the bar.
Hours later, as we cuddled in my hotel bed, exhausted from the evening’s adventures, he turned to me and asked, “How do you handle the emotional part of this job? The romantic part?”
The question pulled us out of the fantasy that we had co-created, and pushed us to address the elephant in the room: this was not a date that would lead to anything other than, perhaps, another similar such date. While our time together was intimate and romantic, it wasn’t a means to an end; the date was the end itself. It couldn’t be more; it was bounded.
While a fun, intellectually stimulating, and sexually satisfying date is desirable on its own, we are not taught how to conceptualize these experiences outside of the cultural framework of romantic love, and romantic love is seen as aiming toward some end (in a heteronormative framework—toward marriage, or at least toward increased seriousness that often includes monogamy).
The root of my client’s question was, how do you have these experiences and not want more? Or in today’s parlance, how do you not catch feels?
Sex work is work, but it is also sex, and this is something that often gets lost in sex work discourse. While lackluster sex is easy to forget, what about the good sex? The intimate and connected sex that makes you feel seen and cared for?
If I do my job well, my clients leave feeling sexually satisfied, but also seen and cared for. In order for me to create this experience for them, I have to both see them and care for them. Ideally, sex work is care work; it requires being present enough to be in tune with another person—to know what they need. And often, giving someone this kind of sustained attention also means “catching feels,” precisely because you do see them in all their vulnerability.
Circling back to my client’s question, the way that I deal with the emotional part of this job is by allowing myself to feel those feelings within the boundaries of the session; it means not fighting them or pushing them away when they arise, but also not attaching to them or trying to turn them into something they aren’t (and in this case, what they aren’t are feelings that indicate that the relationship should evolve beyond the parameters of the transaction).
This is also the advice that I often give clients when they start to struggle with the boundaries of the provider/client relationship. These relationships can be really fulfilling, erotic, powerful, and beautiful, but their boundedness is a necessary condition for their possibility. In fact, part of the allure of these interactions is that they are confined to these shared moments in time—that they don’t spill out beyond them.
These boundaries, in other words, are part of the beauty of these relationships. They are the parameters within which a fruitful playspace can occur, where we can play with big feelings—in the moment—without having them threatening other parts of our lives. They are aesthetic creations, or re-creations, of pleasure and erotic love, and by their very nature, aesthetic creations are ephemeral, they are not meant to be otherwise.
To say that these experiences are ephemeral, or that they are bounded, isn’t to say that they aren’t real. This sort of intimacy—intimacy that occurs outside of one’s everyday life—fosters the conditions and the space to be able to honestly express and play with the emotions that we want to feel without having them negatively bleed into or impact our lives outside of them.
So how do I handle the emotional part of the job? I let myself feel whatever emotions come up, and I don’t shy away from my clients’ feelings (so long as those feelings feel safe). And then at the end of the session, I leave those feelings in the place that we created them, as a parting gift… until the next time.
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