Originally published (with more typos and clickbait) at Thought Catalog
I’ve never had a ‘real’ one-night-stand. Have I? I’ve had whirlwind sexual encounters with new women that lasted less than 24 hours and left us out of contact, but I’ve never met and bedded someone in the same night, never to speak again. That sounds incredibly unsatisfying. What made these encounters rewarding wasn’t sex – it was the brief snapshot of life I shared intimately with a total stranger.
They were rewarding in the way that real relationships are rewarding – shared experiences, emotions laid bare, and the insight of a perspective other than your own – a person to share all the ups and downs of life with. The only difference was that these relationships were compressed into the period of one night (okay, sometimes well into the next afternoon). These relationships burned brightly and then exploded, leaving powerful memories that color my perspective to this day. These women taught me invaluable truths about the nature of real relationships, no matter what you call whatever it is we had.
Here are three such truths, and how to use them in ‘real’ relationships.
Truth 1. The Power Of Shared Novelty
There’s not much to commiserate over in an alcohol-soaked nightclub evening, unless it’s the mutual distaste for creeps who can’t take a hint. Maybe that’s why one-night-stands born in such environments don’t last long, neither temporally nor in the emotions they leave behind. But when a one-night-stand becomes a shared adventures, filled with new and exciting experiences for both parties, it can strengthen even the most tenuous of connections into something more powerful.
I think back to the night spent exploring the colorful and otherworldly grounds of a desert music festival with a new female friend, and the experiences we shared. Dancing on stage, clambering on top of neon sculptures, and the beauty of a desert sunrise are all wondrous things on their own, but they gain new significance when viewed alongside a pair of attractive new eyes. Now I’ll remember the girl as vividly as the spectacle – they’ve merged together as one happy memory unit.
Just like your favorite shared song becomes bittersweet every time you hear it after the breakup, the memory of a new experience becomes stamped with the person you shared it with. Take the excitement of novelty, mix it with a special person, and stretch it out over a day of adventure, and you’ve just turned a lucky night into an exceptional one.
Learning: Never Stop Dating Your Spouse
There’s no reason why you can’t do the same with someone you see more often. As the saying goes “never stop dating your spouse”. Continue doing new things together, whether that’s trying out a new restaurant together or making time to go explore the world at large. It’s easy for a significant other to become an excuse to stay home and cuddle over movies. Comfortable and easy, yes, but also staid and expected, which means you’ll start to associate them with such feelings, or worse, take them for granted.
I hope I’ll remember magical nights like the above when I finally find a person I want to share the rest of my life with. It’ll be the spark needed to galvanize us to action after a long day of work. There won’t always be desert festivals to explore, but there will always be evening walks to roads not taken, exotic restaurants, or at the bare minimum an award-winning Netflix documentary. I can’t wait to associate novel memories with someone who can reminisce about them with me for years to come.
Truth 2. The Importance Of Clear Intentions
Most of my one-night-stands happened on the road, which means there’s an impending airline reservation looming over the interaction. Instead of being a buzzkill, I find this synthetic expiration date reinvigorates things. Both parties know that they don’t have to discuss the far future together, which lets them relax and let loose in the moment. It’s liberating.
When you meet someone new at home, questions are quickly raised. A first date has a lot more social pressure and expectations involved than a chance encounter. As my father says, “There’s always three questions at the end of a first date – Did we have a spark, Will we see each other again, and Who will follow up first?”
With a classic one-night-stand, such questions never get asked, likely because alcohol smothers the need to worry about the future. But with whatever I’ve had, all three are self evident: Of course there’s a spark, since we haven’t left each other’s company since the moment we met; Maybe, but only if we’re ever in the same town again; and Whoever swings by the other’s hometown first. Now that future worries are taken care of, the couple is free to focus on the present.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve have some of the best times of my life under these circumstances, regardless of what happened between the sheets. I felt real, strong, emotional connections to these women in the scant hours we had together, and I still harbor them good will. I hesitate to say it, but I might even regard them better than my ex-girlfriends, since we shared one short Up together rather than a roller coaster of Ups and Downs complete with a negotiated breakup. If my night partner had personality traits I didn’t like, it didn’t matter, because I knew there wasn’t anything serious coming soon.We knew where things stood.
Learning: Discussing Expectations Is Sexy
There’s no reason why you have to rely on impending flights to know where things stand with your partner. That’s something relationship counselors encourage all the time – to discuss and set clear expectations with your partners, balanced by mutual feedback. Sitting down to talk about deal breakers might fracture a casual relationship, but doing so with someone you care about is a clear indicator to them that you intend to keep this relationship healthy and intact. Sounds sexy to me!
Promise to get out of the way when she has friends over, or ask her to respect your Sunday basketball games with the bros, or whatever other annoyances you see as trivial but are actually important to them. En masse, such frivolities can kill a relationship if they are not addressed, but once discussed aloud, they are easily navigable and harmless. They tame the terror of a unknown shared future, warts and all, to a known future, where at least you can be sure they’ll be there to pick you up from the airport when you need it. One-night-stands do it by rendering the shared future moot, but you can do it through talking.
Truth 3. The Joy Of Sharing A Lifestyle
One of my favorite things about any relationship, platonic or otherwise, is the sneak peek into the life of another. My own perspective is great, but since it’s all I’ve ever known, it can become mundane. I hold the same morning routine every day, maintain my stances on theoretical issues, and generally reside comfortably in my own cozy niche of reality. It’s nice here – I know how things work.
Turns out everyone else alive has carved our their own reality niches as well, and they’re completely distinct from mine. Other people have their own routines, world outlooks, perspectives, and life experiences. All shaped from a life lived entirely outside the bounds of my own. I can get a taste of this alternate reality – by spending time with them!
I spend time with others every day – with best friends, acquaintances, and people from work or social events. But these people share commonalities with me by definition. We choose friends off shared interests, our work friends have the same job we do, and even social event people are at most a few degrees removed from our existing circles. Plus, it’s tough to dig deep into who they are and what they stand for when you’re caught up in the idle chit chat of where they work and where they’re from.
Compare that to an entire night and day spent with a complete stranger, lived in the closest of intimacies while learning everything about them in the process. Surely that is the cleanest window into another life as it possible! I hardly ever spend 12 hours uninterrupted with my closest friends. To do that with someone entirely new, whose only life commonality was attending the same bar I did on a certain night? There’s so much to learn.
I’ll never forget the mundane things these women did that set them irrevocably apart from my reality. One charming Mexicana kept a tiny bottle of hot sauce in her purse that she’d daintily sprinkle on every meal we ate, whether it was sandwich or chips. Another saucy New Yorker took me on a narrated journey through her Instagram feed in the morning, introducing me to East Coast cultural mainstays like ‘@thefatjewish’, and Queen of The Night dinner theater, which were things I may never have encountered in my San Francisco bubble.
Ever since, hot sauce and @thefatjewish bring back fleeting memories to happy nights spent in Mexico and NYC. But unlike the shared novelty, these mementos mean nothing to them – it’s a part of their daily life. That’s what makes them doubly tantalizing – now it’s more than our little shared memory – it’s all mine. Mine, and mine alone, but everything to do with her.
Any seasoned traveller eventually realizes that the endless parade of landmarks and exotic dishes isn’t the fun part. It’s the snatches of foreign lifestyle that you glimpse through cultural norms, eating traditions, and slang terms. Take that foreign lifestyle and make it intimate. Now you get a taste of the personal stuff nobody sees but them; where they live, how their bedroom is decorated, and the ways they start their days. It is the glimpses of this alternate lifestyle, completely alien from my own yet fulfilling the same daily goals, that endures for me far beyond the transitory pleasure of night in bed.
Learning: Keep The Honeymoon Alive
Newly minted couples’ excitement at a shared life is so well known that it has its own term. The ‘honeymoon period’ at the beginning of a marriage is when everything they wear, do, and think is new and fascinating. What starts as new and different quickly becomes normal and mundane, which leads people to seek out novelty in mid-life crises in the form of an affair, sports car, or exotic hobby.
David Sedaris hilariously relates the difficulty of this in his New Yorker essay Old Faithful.
(My partner and I are) “two people so familiar with one another they could scream. Sometimes, when I find it hard to sleep, I’ll think of when we first met, of the newness of each other’s body, and my impatience to know everything about this person. Looking back, I should have taken it more slowly, measured him out over the course of fifty years rather than cramming him in so quickly. By the end of our first month together, he’d been so thoroughly interrogated that all I had left was breaking news—what little had happened in the few hours since I’d last seen him. Were he a cop or an emergency-room doctor, there might have been a lot to catch up on, but, like me, Hugh works alone, so there was never much to report. “I ate some potato chips,” he might say, to which I’d reply, “What kind?” or “That’s funny, so did I!” More often than not we’d just breathe into our separate receivers.”
I’m not saying you should ration information about yourself to your partner as Dave wishes he did. But hopefully, you still have something exciting to show them. Maybe a hidden hobby, or a skill learned in childhood but since forgotten. It takes years to truly get to know someone, and even then, there must be corners of their mind you haven’t yet encountered.
For couples before marriage, offer up thoughts to your date. Muse aloud. Get them inside of your head. If they’re really somebody you want to spend time with, shouldn’t you bare your mind as well as your body? You never know which boring aspect of your reality they’ll find enchanting. What’s their ‘bottle of hot sauce’, destined to become a token of you in their memory?
What Makes A One-Night-Stand Exciting Is What Makes a Relationship Exciting
Do new things together, be clear about your intentions, and share your lifestyles freely. These look like great recipes for any healthy relationship, not just romantic ones. I bet we do all this with our friends without thinking twice. Funny how it takes unorthodox relationships like one-night-stands (or whatever it is I had) to make us notice the successful ingredients.