Text: Maria Yagoda
Art: Joanna Sotelo Paez
Though it was, for a time, one of the only sex options for single people, the one-night stand has become increasingly less appealing. To start, one-off hook-ups are less sexually satisfying; chances are, a stranger can’t anticipate the ear thing you like or be as committed to your orgasm as an emotionally invested partner, and maybe you fake it in order to end the whole thing because you’re not comfortable enough with the person to say, “Hey. Could you leave so I can take a Klonopin, re-watch the Season-11 finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and tweet at Lorde?”
Another demographic for which one-night stands fall short? People who want regular intimacy. The flip side to the one-night stand is, I guess, a stable, long-term relationship, and you go to each other’s awful homes for Christmas. But what if you’re one of the apparently growing class of people who want regular intimacy without changing literally any facet of their lives, not even moving their toothbrushes one millimeter so another could fit on the sink? While one-night stands offer the benefit of toothbrush stability and no commitment, they do not, typically, offer routine morning sex or favorable oral odds.
Enter what my friend and I have dubbed “the several-night stand,” a casual and recurring hook-up situation that mimics a relationship but is definitely NOT a relationship because one party recently got out of something long-term or is not looking for anything serious right now or wants to keep doing this without a label? As its name suggests, the several-night stand is like a one-night stand, but takes place over several nights, often over a period of weeks or months. When you are together, you feel like you’re dating-dating. When you’re apart, the intimacy vanishes, save for the occasional post-2 AM Instagram-story remark or a “sorry your cat died” text. (That counts as intimacy, yeah?) The several-night stand arises because one person wants a girlfriend or boyfriend for a night, maybe a few times a week.
A female friend of mine who says she’s usually the stereotypical guy in this situation described the several-night stand like this: “You know the person well at this point, so there’s no real discovery, but you’re infatuated for just a few hours and then it goes away,” she says. “I flirt and initiate and don’t reach out unless it’s a drunk situation or whatever. I’m really busy, so I don’t have time to date unless that person just followed me around everywhere and happened to be interested in all the same things as me, or didn’t mind if we just didn’t see each other for days at a time, which is not usually the case.”
Much like communism, these arrangements might work in a fantasy, vacuum-type situation. The theory is sound—many people want the comforts, orgasms, and reliability of a regular hook-up without the inconvenience of having to check in from time to time or engage in hour-long phone calls. (The several-night stand is not to be confused with the weekend fling, which may also take on the romantic haze of the beginning of a relationship before it evaporates into thin air.) The problem is that the convergence of two people who want this same arrangement, and who can communicate enough to effectively establish it and allow it to exist but not develop into something lopsided, is rare. Often there’s an imbalance in feelings built on a lack of communication so deep that a year might pass before you realize what’s going on and that you hate it. The recent Reductress article “Are You Dating or Just Friends Who Have Sex and See Each Other 5 Times a Week?” captures the sentiment of the several-night stand so perfectly that I did a nervous Robert Durst burp when I saw the headline. For how terrified people are of the “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” label, they seem strangely comfortable with many of the roles that fall just slightly short of it.
Ana*, a straight female friend who is currently in the middle of a several-night-stand situation, tells me she believes there’s a disconnect between how men and women understand the idea of “getting serious.”
“For a lot of women I know, ‘getting serious’ means ‘please don’t stick your dick in anyone else and hang out with me sometimes,'” Ana says. “For men, it feels like they perceive ‘getting serious’ as: ‘Meet my mother! Text me every day! Only see me and not your friends! Spend every single weekend with me!’ Of course, it can mean different things to different people, and people have different needs in relationships, but most guys just seem so avoidant of a relationship because of some perceived loss of control.”
But they still want the nice parts of a relationship. “They tell women they’re not looking for anything serious to get off the hook, but when they see you, they want to kiss you, watch movies with you, touch your butt, go to museums, have great sex, etc.,” she continues. “Beyond that, and outside of physically seeing you, they don’t want to be obligated in any way, which doesn’t feel so great. Everyone just wants to feel special in a relationship—that the other person especially likes you and especially likes having sex with you.”
Last year, Ana was doing the “part-time-girlfriend, casual thing” with a guy, and they were having unprotected sex. (Irresponsible, she knows.) When she tried to broach the topic of using a condom—since they weren’t exclusive—he got spooked. Starting a conversation that was even tangential to the idea of exclusivity was terrifying to him, even though she was just looking out for her health. Because the subtext, to him, was: “If you want to keep fucking like this, we should be exclusive.”
“He was like, ‘Woah, woah, woah—things are getting more serious than I thought,'” she recalls. “It’s like we’re all using the same words but operating with different definitions.”
“There was a guy I met on the subway who I slept with for a month—and I even met his friends and everything—but he broke [it off with me] because he was scared of a relationship,” another friend tells me. “Then I cried and saw a homeless man shit himself.”
Because of the spike in dating apps and a general reluctance to commit romantically until later and later, the several-night stand has emerged as a viable option that allows you to continue swiping until you die, yet still get fucked on a schedule that works for you. But while it presents as being enlightened and progressive, it often leaves people feeling cold. As someone who can have casual sex with basically anyone at any time, I’m almost offended when people propose this setup, whether explicitly or implicitly through being alternately affectionate and evasive, as though I should be grateful for their brave offer to fuck me weekly with the generous bonus of spooning and having conversations sometimes. I have incredible friends who talk to me a lot, plus thousands of dollars worth of sex toys. If a regular romantic partner isn’t interested in offering emotional commitment—and there are lots of men and women like this—I’m not interested. Beyond Tinder, if I get horny, I can hit up any Williamsburg bar, use a vibrator, or literally just stand in the middle of my street saying “Anyone?” for three minutes until someone materializes.
n other words, offers of regular casual sex don’t wow me—maybe they were refreshing in the past, but today they’re just kind of depressing and confusing. Usually people don’t even make offers, which would, at least, be considerate. Mostly they try to get away with faux-relationships for as long as they can.
The burden, of course, falls on both people to be honest and vocal about what they want. Several-night stands can be a delight when both parties opt in. I’ve been in romantic-presenting sex arrangements where we both want to be the exact same amount of casual, which is why the experiences were net positives.
But this, I’ve found, is rare—there is usually an imbalance. Eventually the burden falls on the person who wants more to initiate the mortifying “what are we?” conversation, the beginning of which often inspires the fight-or-flight response. More meaningful discussions—from the very beginning—would off-set a lot of the collateral damage.