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    ‘An emotional stalemate’: cold intimacies in heterosexual young people’s dating practices

    Denby, Alicia and van Hooff, Jenny ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8735-8758 (2023) ‘An emotional stalemate’: cold intimacies in heterosexual young people’s dating practices. Emotions and Society. pp. 1-17. ISSN 2631-6897

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    Abstract

    In this paper we consider the ways in which heterosexual young people navigate emotionality in their early dating practices. We draw on the ‘cold intimacy’ thesis (Illouz, 2007, 2012, 2018; Hochschild, 1994) that posits that emotions have increasingly become things to be evaluated, measured, quantified, and categorized. Within the context of young people’s relationships, research suggests that while they are often open about the physical aspects of casual sex, they are reluctant to demonstrate emotional attachment, with vulnerability deemed shameful (Wade, 2017). We draw on in-depth interviews with dating app users aged 18-25 to explore these arguments. The accounts that the participants offer suggest that emotional attachment is rarely articulated, and is seen as a sign of weakness in the early stages of a relationship. In the arena of dating, emotions thus become bargaining chips, with the ‘winner’ being the party with the least to lose, the least invested and the least emotionally attached. While this is true for both the young men and women interviewed, our findings demonstrate the gendered imbalance of power in intimate relationships, as female participants fear emotional hurt, while male participants avoid potential rejection and humiliation. As a result, most connections remain in the limbo of what we identify as the ‘failed talking stage’. This is underpinned by the removal of channels of accountability, coupled with entrenched heteronormative sexual scripts dictating gender roles at this stage.

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