“I recently hooked up with a girl who is really sweet, funny, and cute, but I don’t actually want a relationship with her. How do I get out of this situation without hurting her feelings? I’ve done this before, too. I never mean to hurt anyone on purpose, but I guess I do anyway. Does this mean I’m a bad guy? How do I prevent this from happening again?”

Sincerely, Guilty in T.D.”

Dear Guilty in T.D.:

In these situations, it is easy to think that it is the girl who has been taken advantage of. All too often, a girl’s unreasonable optimism about the boy’s intentions, coupled with the boy’s somewhat willful ignorance of her potential expectations, creates a situation in which she feels she was misled.

But just as often, this is too simple an answer. In my experience, both guys and girls tend to ignore the complexities of their own and each other’s motivations. What first appears to be a boy’s opportunism may, in reality, may be more of his optimism, while her optimism may be tinted with a bit of self-exoneration. The truth is, both guys and girls are ultimately looking for a companion, though both are more than willing to settle for a little less than that in the pursuit.

Boys are not really as hedonistic as we like to think. Most of my male friends who find themselves in your situation also complain of being lonely. This superficially nonsensical dilemma is explained by the simple fact that for each silly hookup that presents itself, boys can be mesmerized by the glittering hope of a real connection. Only in the subsequent light of day do they realize the insubstantiality of the allure. At this point, they must extricate themselves from a potentially hurtful situation, and wonder how they got themselves into such a pickle again.

Generally, boys seem to have a good deal of difficulty distinguishing between emotional and physical attraction, more so than do girls (though girls are also prone to such mistakes). This goes in both directions: in boy-girl friendships, boys are easily fooled into thinking that they are actually physically attracted to their friends (though if this scenario plays out, they find that friendship was really what they’d wanted), and when boys find themselves attracted to a girl, particularly if she is coming onto them, they often find themselves wondering if there is actually a deeper connection.

There are lots of sweet, smart, engaging and beautiful girls out there who are just not right for you. If you find you’ve hooked up with an awesome person but you just don’t want to commit, that’s OK. You probably hoped at one point or another that you could. She probably hoped the same thing. The best thing to do in this situation is just to be as honest, and generous, as possible. Tell her all the reasons you like her, all the reasons you’d thought it might work, but explain that the spark just isn’t there. Nobody can argue with that. And though her feelings will be hurt at first, it will be something she can eventually understand and probably forgive you for.

Nobody likes to feel deceived. But if someone has been giving you mixed messages, most likely they weren’t out to dupe you. Probably, they were simply confused themselves. The best thing to do in the future is to try to understand your motivations before you go ahead and hook up with someone.

If you don’t want a relationship, make your intentions clear. Let her know that you’re interested, tell her what it is you find attractive, but be sure to communicate the boundaries of your affection. If you want to try to start something more serious, just let her know you’re interested and leave it at that. Chances are, female optimism being what it is, she’ll assume or hope that something will develop unless you give her reason to think otherwise.

One more thing to be kept in mind: If you do your best to be honest with a girl and she still ends up wishing you dead, this may not be your fault. We all know that girls in our culture are terrified of being labeled a slut. Even worse, girls are romanticized for their vulnerability: a girl who has been hurt by an “evil man” appears innocent, sensitive, and in need of protection. This phenomenon produces a pernicious mental trap that a lot of girls fall into. Rather than admit that they were attracted to a guy and wanted to fool around a bit, it is easy for girls to tell themselves that they had actually hoped he would commit, but were horribly let down.

This isn’t to say that girls don’t actually get hurt.

They do. Often.

Way, way too often. But I suspect that the reason behind this is that as they find themselves attracted to a guy, they begin to convince themselves that they actually want a relationship or that one would even work. In her heart of hearts, she probably knows when this is true and when it isn’t. But she’ll stick by her story in her own imagination even after the whole fiasco has played out. I know that I have been guilty of this. And it doesn’t help that guys are culturally encouraged to take advantage of any opportunity for booty that they can get.

As cliche as it sounds, the best thing all around is for both parties to be as honest with themselves and with each other as possible. It is extremely hard to do, often embarrassing, and yes, may result in everyone getting a little less action than they might have otherwise. However, it will probably also result in a lot less guilt and drama in your life — and that’s a fair trade.

Chiara Scully would love to solve your problems — romantic, scholastic or otherwise. Contact her at: advicecolumnydn@gmail.com.