One-night stands are commonly regarded as somewhat inconsequential. They are often anecdotal in nature, accompanied by gales of laughter amongst friends as they reminisce about inebriated indiscretions. The blossoming of a full-blown relationship from something so apparently trivial can therefore be unpalatable, even downright counter-intuitive, to those for whom sex is something one naturally waits for during courtship.
Never before in human history have we had access to such a vast pool of potential sexual partners. In the age of Tinder, promiscuity is illustrative of how wonderfully far we have come as a society; whilst we do not yet necessarily celebrate sexual liberty (this is not ’60s America), the fact that such an app exists shows how relatively lacking in stigma casual sexual relations are. There is no doubt whatsoever that a great many users of such apps do so solely for the purpose of casual sex – Tinder itself has become immensely connotative of hooking up with a stranger and never seeing them again.
However, a wealth of evidence suggests that one-night stands can, and indeed do, lead to relationships, and here it is important to differentiate between a one-night stand and a hook-up. Whilst commonly it is generally unimportant when the two are interchanged, a hook-up is often premeditated – such as through Tinder. A one-night stand, however, can happen completely spontaneously – your eyes meet across the bar and you go back to their place, such goes the classic example. The crucial difference, then, is that, whilst you may well have gone out that night hoping to fall into bed with someone, you had no prior inclination towards that specific individual.
An absolute stalwart of the dating industry and world-renowned biological anthropologist, Dr. Helen Fisher is chief scientific advisor to Match.com. She asserts that as many as 30% of relationships start as one-night stands. Furthermore, although cultural stereotypes depict men as likelier to pursue one-night stands, her research in conjunction with Match.com has shown that men are actually three times likelier than women to want a one-night stand to turn into a relationship.
Why might this be? At this point, we may well address the broader concept in play here of love at first sight. Whilst seemingly fairytale-esque, Fisher explains that, physiologically speaking, it is relatively easy to understand, because love works along chemical and neural pathways in the same manner as does any other psychological reaction to a stimulus.
A study headed by psychologist Arthur Aron concluded that the feeling of being legitimately lovestruck can occur in as little as ninety seconds. When we are attracted to someone, the neurotransmitter dopamine instigates the release of the sex hormone testosterone, which in turn leads to increased libido and sexual desire. Although this first stage constitutes not so much love as it does lust, it is a key precursor to the main event. From here, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol take over, wreaking biochemical havoc as they course through our veins, leading to the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and phenylethylamine intensifying our focus on the individual in question. Reduced activity in the frontal and prefrontal cortices, themselves ordinarily associated with executive decision-making functions such as analysis and judgement, leads to the classic sense of besotted infatuation. Combine all of the abovementioned biology of love with the inhibitions inherent in inebriation, as is often the case in a one-night stand, and you have a bubbling concoction of raging, potent emotions, ready to cause that spark and lead the two of you to bed (after a brief make-out session in the Uber, of course).
Whether you have gone to bed by way of hook-up or one-night stand, expectations are generally low. This state of reduced assumptions about the significance of the event are actually key to how feelings can then grow. Lying naked in bed with a stranger constitutes a considerable breakdown of a barrier; in a sense, you now know each other relatively well. It is during this time that the tendrils of love can begin to take grip without either of you realising it. After sex, people are free from their urges to speak more normally; there is less pretence, such is the total removal of the situation from the everyday. The magical hormone oxytocin, alternatively the ‘cuddle hormone’, is especially receptive to skin-on-skin tactility. Combined with getting to know the person in the non-judgemental context of postcoital pillow talk, oxytocin can cause attachment to grow – often subconsciously.
If you find yourself not able to get your pants on quickly enough before dashing out the door, it probably is really only about the sex. However, hanging out afterwards and having a genuinely good time with the person may well be indicative of something deeper, perhaps worth exploring. After all, it makes sense that people seeking casual sex still base their partner choice on the decisions they would make regarding a longer-term mate. According to Grant Langston, CEO of eHarmony,
The best way to understand if the person is a good partner for you is to see them under many different circumstances. You want to see this person after a bad day as well as after a good. You want to see them when they are bored, or sad, or after they have had too much to drink.
Whilst the development of a relationship is down to a myriad other factors, such as personality compatibility, timing and general serendipity, there is much to say about the strength of strong sexual chemistry. When this chemistry is realised early on – through a one-night stand, say – then the basis for a strong relationship can be seen by both parties to exist, whether or not they choose to act upon it. This is where it is so important to be open about feelings right from the off: if one person realises the connection whilst the other realises it but is only in it for the sex, the potential hurt must be reduced where possible.
Embrace your ‘meet-cute’
Every couple has their own unique ‘how we met’ story – and, chances are, not many involve a few too many drinks and a casual chat-up at the bar. Even if that is actually what happened, the majority of people still feel that the stigma attached to one-night stands might invalidate the authenticity of their relationship in the eyes of their peers, and thus instead invent a Hollywood-esque meet-cute, the confusing details of which their friends dare not query.
This sanitisation can have consequences, however. The assumption that one-night stands are inherently unromantic can percolate into our ideas regarding romance, imbuing society with misconceptions about how we should want to meet a partner. Biology, though, has no time for cultural zeitgeists. Establishing cultural norms based on pervasive notions of false romance can affect the cultural norms established on these bases, and even lead to people automatically writing off those with whom they have slept, despite the clear romantic connection. Sex is something of perennial beauty; underestimating its manifestation in a one-night stand is to misunderstand that a long-term relationship may just as likely arise from a spontaneous session in the bed sheets with a stranger as it might from a drawn-out, abstinent courtship.
At Maclynn (formerly Vida), we understand that when it comes to relationships and love, there is no set rule book. However, what we can say with conviction is that, with matchmaking, the primary aim (for the vast majority), is to match people who are searching for the same thing – long-term partnerships. Matchmaking remains the only pairing system that allows a full personal profile, accurate matchmaking and puts you solely in control of the people you meet. If you’re single and looking for love, someone truly special who shares your outlook on life, your hopes and dreams, your sense of humour, look no further than Maclynn (formerly Vida). Get in touch today – fall in love tomorrow.