dear hilary: hormones and love

Dear Hilary,

First of all, what is the deal with our hormones? I feel like a hostage sometimes in this crazy pattern of attraction and sex drive and then I have other moments where I wonder what on earth is going on. And then I think, what’s the right way to do this, anyway? Is there one? A right way to be young and have hormones and be attracted and want others to be attracted back to me, all without going overboard?

Hormones + Love?

Dear Hormones + Love?,

First of all, the deal is that it is actually quite normal to have hormones. We’re supposed to have them. They do a bunch of things for us besides signal somewhere deep in our gut that the man or woman across the aisle in the airplane is oh-so-fine. They help our growth, our metabolism (giving us energy), reproduction, the sexual function, our mood… they are powerful chemical messengers, traveling through our bodies (released, I just learned, by major endocrine glands like the thyroid and the pituitary). All of this, aside from making me very, very interested in biology, tells me that your hormones are not alien invaders. They aren’t holding you hostage. They’re actually a part of you.

Maybe it’s our culture or our background or our religious beliefs or just our general fear of the body (powerful yet feeble thing that it is), but we must get past the idea that our bodies desiring other bodies is a strange plot twist. They’re designed that way, love. We experience powerful attraction to that oh-so-fine man/woman in seat 12E because we are sexual beings. We experience it instinctively. I think it might be that simple.

Like all feelings, realizing that you are wondering about sex and your sex drive and if you should or can or will or might someday want to have it is kind of terrifying. Some of this is fun – I look really hot in this dress! – and some of it is fearful – What if they don’t think so, or do I really want that to be what they are thinking about when we have a conversation about politics? – and all of it is new.

You don’t have to have answers. You don’t even have to write a letter to me asking for them. I think my advice in your situation, at the beginning of grappling with these questions is to begin to pay attention. Listen to yourself. What do you respond to? What worries you? Where do you feel a disconnect? Pay attention to your answers. Pay attention to how you understand your body, your sexuality, your heart and your mind. You are you, made up of all these things and more, and you stand closest to it all.

You ask me for a right way to do this, a right way to enjoy being young and yet not go overboard. I don’t know that there is any way to begin to know “the right way” except by listening. Really listen, though. Your letter tells me that you want more than just a quick answer. You don’t want to be told that it’s okay to make out, but not get undressed, or that you can kiss someone who you aren’t dating, but not more. You don’t want the highlighted rules, do you?

You want a framework. You want a way to make these decisions so that they echo you: authentic, beautiful, young, nervous you. Lists of rules aren’t helpful, in the end, because they don’t bring a bigger picture with them. They don’t help you see the purpose behind the decisions you make.

Give yourself some space to listen. Be brave and go first and ask your close friends about how they might answer the question – and listen to them. Begin to ask yourself, “What do these feelings mean? How do I want to express attraction? What do I want to do with my feelings? How do I want to live fully and well?”

That’s the best place I know to begin in almost everything in life. Including us and all those wonderful crazy hormones.



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