“Hookup culture” is a thing that is constantly derided—because damn it, everything Millennials do must be judged and found lacking! But I think that as long as all parties involved communicate openly about what they want (or in this case DON’T want—a relationship), hooking up is fantastic. If you’re young and single this is your chance to experiment and discover what you like and don’t like. Once you settle down, you’re in it until death (or divorce, which feels like death when you’re going through it.)

The biggest thing is to know what you want and fearlessly communicate it. If you’re looking for a relationship, state that up front. If you’re not, say so. After that, it’s all a matter of keeping your feelings in check. Because once you start hooking up with the same person, multiple times, things can get confusing, and people get hurt.

A while back I wrote down some very clear boundaries for myself in order to keep a hookup, a hookup, and over the years I have shared these with my friends, who have have helped tweak and shape them and make them stronger. Now I’m sharing them with you.

Standard hookup guidelines and procedures are outlined below. Any deviations from the standard should be taken as signs of a developing relationship. As long as you respect the sacred rules and learn to read the warning signs you should be able to keep your hookup a hookup, and out of your heart.

1. ALWAYS USE PROTECTION!!! If you don’t know why this is a rule go get tested for an STD right now. Or just take a moment to imagine your hookup as the parent of your child. If that thought keeps you awake at night, then use protection.
Warning: If you’re OK with having a kid with this person, the relationship has passed the point of hooking up and you don’t need to read the rest of this list.

2. Hookups are like vampires; they should never see the light of day. In fact, just to be safe, they should never be seen before 10:30 PM.
Warning: Anytime you put yourself in a position where you have to communicate with one another without having to scream over loud bar music, you are violating the sanctity of the hookup. Communication leads to emotions. Emotions have no place here.

3. Never arrive anywhere with your hookup. After 10:30 PM always meet them at the bar/party/social gathering. That is, if you have to see them in public at all. Ideally, you do not. Ideally, they are a phone call you make during the Uber ride home.
Warning: Arriving anywhere together, to everyone else, means you are together. This eliminates your options if there are better options around. You should never have to depend on your hookup for anything. They are notoriously flakey, unreliable and undependable.

4. Be flakey, unreliable and undependable. When you say that you will call or show up in 15 minutes, really do it in 45. Change your plans often. Be elusive about where you are. Disappear for a day or two.
Warning: A hookup is never a priority; they are not the main course. Rather, try to think of them as dessert. Sometimes you get it, and sometimes you don’t. It will keep them coming back, too. Part of the fun of having a hookup is the challenge of someone who is impossible to pin down. The chase should never die with a hookup.

5. Avoid doing any “boyfriend/girlfriend” activities. Boyfriends/girlfriends are required to do thoughtful, courteous things. Hookups are not. Boyfriends/girlfriends are required to put their own needs aside to accommodate someone else’s. Hookups are not.
Warning: This means no shopping, no help moving, no rides to or from the airport or any other thoughtful actions. Hanging out and not having sex is unacceptable. It could be as simple as watching a baseball game, golfing or going on a weekend ski trip. The minute you start hanging out you start getting to know each other. Getting to know each other leads to feelings for one another, and no one wants that.

6. No excessive amount of money should be spent on a hookup. In fact, you shouldn’t really be spending money at all. If you have to spend, it should be no more than the equivalent of three drinks and a slice of pizza after the night out. This means no more than $35—or $55 if you are in New York. However, spare no expense on Ubers to and fro.
Warning: Watch your spending habits. Like anything in life, the more you invest in it, the more it is worth to you.

7. Try not to meet too many of their friends, especially their oldest and best friends. Avoid meeting siblings like the plague. Under no circumstances meet the parents. This should be a no-brainer, but as you probably know, brains are not a requirement for a hookup.
Warning: All of the sudden you know all of their “BFFs.” You get an invite to a nephew’s birthday party, a family BBQ. Someone desperately needs a date to a cousin’s wedding. Politely decline all of these invitations. The more people close to your hook-up who know you, the longer the list of people who will forever think of you as a scumbag when you inevitably part ways.

8. Beware the relationship hunter disguised as a hookup. This shameless predator seeks to lure innocent booty callers down the rabbit hole of monogamy. They seduce their prey with luxuries and favors. Don’t get too comfortable. That’s when they pounce with their demands, accusations and needs.
Warning: It is easy to overlook these signs because of their subtlety. The other person is, in fact, doing something nice for you. But remember, with all bait, there is a string attached. She will do his laundry, cook him nice Italian meals and maybe even clean his place. He will take her out to dinner, buy her a dress and maybe even give her a back rub. That’s all fine and dandy, and it’s nice to be taken care of, but now you owe each other. You want to be Jimmy McElwain from “Heat,” not Val Kilmer from “Heat.”

9. Romance of any kind is strictly forbidden. A hookup should never spend the night, but if you are too drunk to drive home, avoid cuddling, cozy breakfast mornings and kissing on the lips. Watch the music you play during and after sex. NOTHING THAT WOULD SOUND APPROPRIATE IN A BLACK AND WHITE MOVIE.
Warning: Anything amorous is a warning: flowers, candlelight dinners, watching romantic comedies together. The Notebook is hookup kryptonite. Of course, the chief warning sign of romance is if either of you ever call “banging” by its Christian name “making love.” If this ever occurs…RUN.

10. A hookup should be ended at the first sign of any feelings, either yours or theirs. This is to avoid any serious drama or being ensnared unexpectedly in the trap of a relationship.
Warning: Drunken, teary-eyed confessions of love are not good. Pet names and pillow talk are out, unless it’s dirty. No toe-cuddling, and, unless there is penetration, no spooning either. Excessive text messages or phone calls are also bad news. But the big, flashing neon sign that your hookup is evolving into a relationship is when you start talking about where the relationship is headed. That’s your sign to shit or get off the pot. Get out or go all in. If suddenly you can’t imagine your life without your hookup, it’s time to reevaluate, but it’s not always bad news. Many a great relationship started as an epic fling.

Bridget Phetasy is a writer and comic in Los Angeles. Twitter: @BridgetPhetasy.

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