The Soho Sex Column: Is hooking up with someone you know is in a relationship ever OK?

Is hooking up with someone you know is in a relationship ever ok? | Soho House

This week, our resident sexpert, Olivia Petter, faces down a conundrum for one of our members. Plus, post-pandemic sex trends

Friday 24 June 2022    By Olivia Petter

There are short and long answers to this question. Let’s start with the short one. No, it is never OK to hook up with someone who you know is in a relationship. But you already knew that. Before you write me off as the mother of morality, read the long answer, which hopefully explains why all this is a little more nuanced than it seems.

There are many circumstances that could lead someone to this particular predicament. Perhaps this person is an ex with whom you’ve recently rekindled. Or someone you’ve always fancied that has strung you along for years. Or a friend you’ve had sex dreams about. Combine any of these with someone reared on problematic early-noughties TV shows – think The OC and One Tree Hill – and you’re in trouble.

When it comes to why we pine after people who aren’t available, popular culture has a lot to answer for. Film and TV is obsessed with will-they-won’t-they relationships – and they usually revolve around one person already being taken. Watching this on screen is obviously engaging. But the side-effect is that we romanticise these sorts of dynamics off screen, thinking that degree of volatility, drama and toxicity gives a relationship some sort of transcendental meaning. Anything else is, by comparison, boring.

To the reader who sent this in: deep down, you know your feelings are wrong. But my guess is they’re motivated by a misguided belief that when you finally get together with this person, everything else in your life will somehow magically fall into place, like it did for Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. And Lucas Scott and Peyton Sawyer. And so, you cling on. Hoping. Dreaming. Waiting.

Believe me, I get it. Watching these shows as a teenager has definitely played a part in my compulsion to chase after men who aren’t available, including those in relationships. 

For a long time, I thought there was something romantic about being ‘the other woman’. When I found myself in her uncomfortable shoes, I thought it didn’t matter because I was meant to end up with this man. The fact that our journey to get there was going to be complicated only made it a more worthwhile pursuit. So, I would hold onto every compliment this man gave me, finding some sort of sign in every conversation we had to bolster the narrative in my head. 

I’m aware how this makes me sound. But I want to be honest about it, because it took me a long time to step out of this warped teen-drama fantasy I’d created and accept the truth, which was that I had wasted years being infatuated with a man who didn’t want to be with me. Because, despite the flirty jibes and the fact that we did kiss twice, at the end of the day he was still with someone else. 

I’m not going to sit here and lecture you on what is and isn’t right, because you already know that. What I will say is that hooking up with someone in a relationship is almost always a loser’s game for both of you. Their partner deserves so much more – and guess what? So do you.


The quick-fire round

What’s your take on ghosting?
If people are still doing this, they deserve to be banned from dating apps and all forms of social media. It’s the highest form of cruelty and a sign of utter disregard for human kindness. Worst of all, it can make you feel completely worthless. You are so much better than that.

Has the pandemic altered people’s approach to sex? Are there any new kinks?
Despite what dating apps and so-called ‘experts’ will tell you, there is no such thing as a sex trend. Not really anyway, especially where kinks are concerned. Sexual proclivities are entirely personal and that hasn’t changed since the pandemic. That said, if coronavirus has encouraged people to embrace their kinkier side, all power to them. 

Got a question for Olivia? Please email All submissions will remain anonymous. 

Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate

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