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The lessons I learnt from a positive one-night stand

IMAGE VIA @NICOUNDERWEAR/INSTAGRAM
Words by Genevieve Phelan

It’s true, they exist.

Lately, I’ve been so off one-night stands, it’s not even funny. I had sworn myself to celibacy until someone worthwhile and dateable came around. But after scouring my Hinge radius in lockdown (again), I’ve come to the realisation that systemising the search for love probably won’t result in success anytime soon. Romantic nihilism and I are on again. I may as well just have some fun. 

The notion of a positive one-night stand might be oxymoronic to some, and I’m a huge skeptic when it comes to the benefits of seeing someone for ‘just one thing’. 


Want to explore your love life a little more deeply? Head to our Life section.


I struggle to do anything in life casually, especially sex. That was until a string of coincidences led me to a genuinely empowering one-night stand the other weekend, and I felt something of a revelation.

I was having dinner with a friend close to home. A bottle of one split between us turned our mutual commitment to ‘a quiet one’ into a few more pinots down the road, then some random run-ins with old acquaintances and naturally, a tray of tequila shots. Safe to say our plans for dinner and bed were derailed, but it was one of those fortuitous evenings that I’ll always look back on fondly. 

I’d gone to the bathroom and emerged ready to grace the dancefloor when I heard my name from a familiar-ish voice at the bar. It was a friend-of-a-friend that I’d known at the tail end of my high school days, and occasionally saw out and about. I’d always harboured a big fat crush, so this felt a bit like fate for my past pining 18-year-old self.

Eschewing bad energies from prior hang-ups on hopeless cases, this chance encounter was like a salve for my sad longing for familiarity. An isolated incident for sure. But why was it such a success? I haven’t really missed the people I used to sleep with (see here), but I’ve missed the natural course of getting to know each other’s bodies and feeling comfortable in their company.

While I’d never really hung out one-on-one with this person before, we discovered our places of residence were now only a few streets away. Some banter about Richmond ensued and we walked back to mine. To quote Donna’s diary in that ‘Honey Honey’ scene of Mamma Mia, what came next was ‘dot dot dot’. 

So what are some of the elements that make a one-night stand good, as opposed to diabolical? A lot comes down to chemistry and intimacy, and can obviously be influenced by alcohol, circumstance, deprivation of human touch, etc. But I’ve jotted down some completely personal prerequisites I think are conducive to a good hook-up. Do with this info what you will.

Spontaneity as the secret sauce

If you’re experiencing flirting atrophy from a few too many rounds of pandemic-induced lock-ins, I feel you. It can be daunting out there in the wild. But my unintentional encounter that night was completely spontaneous, wan, whimsical.

If I’d spent hours plotting this catch-up or considering who I was planning to see that evening, I know it wouldn’t have left me feeling the same adrenaline or confidence. I probably would’ve shied away and over-thought my every word. I didn’t have my nicest clothes on or my hair washed or a full face of makeup. I was just out living my life and having a great time. It was the last thing I expected, and I’ve noticed this is a running theme throughout my encounrters with some of the best people I’ve met and nights with an air of possibility. 

Dating apps can lack ‘the magic’

While the apps are the seemingly simplest way to scour your neighbourhood for a fleeting fling, many will argue that a lack of across-the-bar eye contact or an impromptu meeting will kill the excitement needed for a good one-nighter, or even something more meaningful.

I think I’ve realised that random sexual encounters are much better than those premeditated. At least you can see how someone walks, hear how they talk and analyse their mannerisms when you meet the ‘old fashioned way’, versus meeting someone from an app and feeling almost immediately disenchanted. (If the latter ensues, it is, of course, best to just leave or send them home). 

Carnal desire comes in handy

I must have a genuine attraction both physically and emotionally to my transitory bedfellow if I am to come away from the experience empowered and euphoric. When I woke up that Saturday morning, I felt such a foreign elation. What usually leaves me deflated and insecure had given me a real, tangible boost.

It might sound stupid and naive to some, but I genuinely felt great about my one-night stand for what it was. I didn’t expect anything else and I had a fun time. Sure, it’s trivial and we shouldn’t pin our self-esteem on those we randomly bonk. But this incident changed my perspective on casual sex when it’s done with a non-official ‘I want to rip your clothes off’ stamp of approval (thank you, Love Island).

The fundamental thing about mutual respect

A positive coital experience does rely heavily on the person you choose and their compatibility with you – even if it is just for a one-time sleepover. You need to be on the same page about expectations (i.e. this is just a hook-up, or potentially a series of future non-committal hook-ups).

It also might be really important to you that they stay the night, or invite you to stay the night, or offer you some water and coffee the next morning. I personally admire someone that can stay and have a conversation or a cuddle after the act itself, but that’s just me. It goes without saying that respect also encompasses listening actively to what the other person needs in the moment: be it a condom, lubricant, a break, to leave, a T-shirt to sleep in, a lift home, and so forth. This is what results in a feeling of ease and comfort, and what will ultimately determine the emotional outcome of the escapade.

A prior crush helps, too

You may have a proclivity for no-strings bed-rocking with strangers only, but I think there’s something comforting in having a predisposed crush for the person you one-night-stand with. This adds the *drama*, yes, but also the imperative magnetic pull and passion a lot of us require to really come away from the night with a sense of liberation. I think it’s also what makes for anecdotal brilliance for your friends (or just internal playback). The feeling it leaves you with days after will be the decider on whether this was a good thing for you, and perhaps if you should do it again. 

Of course, if you’re like me, and they don’t instigate a reconvention the next weekend, you can be left feeling the comedown of the crush-turned-one-night-stand.

I received a 2.15am message from the aforementioned boy soon after, actually. I read it long after it was sent, as my Saturday night ended prematurely under stay-at-home orders. In the unflattering daylight with sober eyes, the ‘you up?’ type of message didn’t rock my world the same way that singular encounter did. In conclusion, some hookups are best kept in the memory bank for what they are and nothing more: one night, and one night only.

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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