It all starts familiarly enough. You meet a cute new human; conversation sparks, it grows more effortless, topics dig deeper. With so much outside stimuli and forces of distraction writhing around our little globes, it’s amazing people ever connect—so naturally, you gotta feel stoked at this point. Then, one of three things usually happen: you become friends, lovers, or this weird in-between nebulous.
That hazy middle ground—where emotional vulnerability happens but sex does not—is where things get complicated.
It’s almost cute to recall the heyday of booty calls—the idea of hitting someone up when frisky feelings take hold. But with widespread access to a bevy of platforms, getting laid is no longer the problem. The new problem is finding someone who will listen to the nuances of your day or the untangling of a problem at work; someone who will respond with empathy to a verbal dissection of a complicated familial structure.
Hence, what we’re officially calling boohoo calls: non-mutually beneficial relationships that hinge on one party's ability or willingness to provide emotional satisfaction. Like traditional booty calls, but instead of seeking ass, these people make calls (or more likely, send texts) to find comfort.
For a long time, formal romantic partnerships were the go-to for both emotional and sexual satisfaction. Society’s gradual acceptance of female sexuality as well as widespread access to birth control changed that.
Sex researcher and writer Dr. Zhana Vrangalova elaborated on the phone: “As soon as more casual encounters became available—or acceptable, or more easy to make happen, thanks to online dating, thanks to hookup apps, thanks to whatever, just social norms becoming more open—I think people have gone out and tried to seek satisfaction of both of those needs in these more casual contexts.”
By seeking emotional satisfaction outside a romantic relationship, friendships, or therapists, we cobble together desirable traits from a number of different people.
“In today's society where just a click of a mouse, or a swipe of a thumb, you've got thousands and thousands of potential romantic interests, it's very hard for people to sort of settle on one decision,” relationship psychologist Dr. Wendy Walsh says. “A paradox of human choice is that the more choice a human has, the harder it is to make a choice. Who has one entrée at a Vegas buffet? What happens is we need relationships. We need them for our emotional health. We need them for our physical health. So what people are doing is taking an appetizer off the buffet, or taking a piece of one entrée off the buffet, because they can't make a decision to settle down.”
It’s depressing to liken romantic behavior to that of an unsophisticated gambler—but maybe apt. Killer cunnilingus from Nick, great comedy critique from Summer, on-point dinner construction and conversation from Mike—we’re essentially attempting to execute the exquisite corpse of an ideal partner. It’s compartmentalization taken to a personified level.
Not to be confused with a mutually beneficial, healthy friendship, boohoo calls and their developing arrangement hinge on one party’s emotional availability. In other words, you wouldn’t hit up a traditional booty call unless ready to throw down with sex stuff; you wouldn’t hit up a boohoo call unless real-life shit was going on and you needed comfort. Symbiosis isn’t necessarily part of the deal.
Boohoo call victims, or “emotional secure bases,” as Dr. Walsh says, may fall into patterns in hopes that the one-sided emotional openness could lead way to a romantic relationship, or at least sex. On the other hand, many who pride themselves on being “nice” use the opportunity to practice said characteristic.