A Letter To My One-Night Stand

“Tell me more about death,” John* replied — his third message to me via a dating app. His bio read “Must be open to the idea of rebirth,” so I started things off with a deep conversation, unabashedly. “I’ve understood death and rebirth to rationalize why I am so unafraid to burn bridges with people, quit things and start new chapters often, and think of short-term experiences as opportunities for growth and change.”

“Are you saying you’re going to come spend the night and then not speak to me again?” he said back.

A hard question — because that’s not usually my intent, though it came off that way. A psychiatrist once told me that I’m not the kind of girl who is “wired” in that way where I could have a one-night stand and not feel anything afterwards, and by anything I mean passion, obsession, fantasy, regret…

I seek companionship, preferably the one-on-one kind, but I haven’t been able to find anybody I’m as compatible with as the first and only long-term boyfriend I ever had. He was madly in love with me, and asked me to marry him after just-shy of four months of knowing each other. Our relationship was never the same after that, and he put me on a pedestal that I simply refused to step down from. Things ended on my terms: heartlessly. And I think I’m still paying for it.

The past several years I’ve spent hardly sleeping with the same person more than once or twice. Not to say that’s what I want — I don’t think anybody actually wants that. “How can you ever really have great sex if you only do it once and never see them again?” I asked my new internet friend. “I get needing to fuck a stranger once in a while, but I feel like generally both people know it’ll be a one-time thing going into it, and it’s okay that way.”
And when I let Sam sleep beside me in my quiet home this past October, I didn’t want it to be a one-time thing.

It’s been two months since I hand-wrote Sam, my one-night stand, a letter, and mailed it to his work address. I didn’t expect him to write back, since I hadn’t heard from him at all after our night together. But in the back of my mind, I was hoping that my letter would change his way of thinking. A straight girl who thinks she can change a rebellious man for the better — whimsical, right? I’ve been ghosted before, without being inclined to write someone a letter, but this situation was so unique and overwhelmingly hurtful — sprinkles atop a shit-pile sundae of disappointing, fleeting sexual encounters and non-committal relationships with men throughout the past several years of my life — that I simply couldn’t let it go. And the only way of telling him how I felt, since I didn’t have his phone number, would be to find his work address on the internet to send him a tangible piece of my heart that he’d already so crassly stepped all over by not contacting me later that day, when he said he would.

I started it like this (and I’ll continue to include snippets from the letter in italics):

It’s been a few years since I’ve written anyone a letter, let alone one by hand. I write letters to myself often, in my journals that could turn into books someday, but nobody reads those, rarely even me, because it just makes me depressed. The funny thing is that I’m not very private about my journals. I don’t hide them. I leave them laying around my one-bedroom apartment because I want people to be curious about me. Or maybe just someone. You were curious about me.

And that’s why I was so surprised that I didn’t hear from him after we fucked. I wrote the letter about a week after we’d met, which I know isn’t a very long time, but I tend to get spellbound by people in a matter of minutes and naturally, he was no exception. I thought he might have been like me, suffering from the same uncontrollable condition, otherwise he’d have gotten bored at the party we met at while keeping me company for hours, following me up and down multiple flights of stairs at the event hall, and waiting patiently against walls or in dark corners while I stepped in and out of stages and green rooms, taking care of the work I signed up to do. It’s not every day that I have a sidekick — an attractive one at that.

At first I found him strange and detached. He didn’t want to exchange names even after buying me a drink at the bar, and I was ready to walk away altogether. He’s too good-looking to be genuine, I thought to myself. And I was right — I usually am. I’m really tired of games, and I’m not good at them, because I’m impatient, and outspoken about my feelings. I made a decision toward the middle of last year that I was only going to sleep with people I had feelings for, because I wanted to start something real. But he caught me at a playful moment, to say the least. It was Halloween and I was dressed like a dominatrix, wearing a black patent catsuit and knee-high lace up boots, carrying a whip I’d ordered online days earlier.

I tried to leave him at the bar, then and there. “I have to work now, but I’ll see you around the party later, right?” I assured him as I backed away. “Wait. Can I…come with you?” he asked. I figured I could use an attractive distraction from the stress of the night, as well as an “ex” of sorts who was at the party, that I was worried about seeing, and was delighted to have found someone to potentially bring home later that night. I’d already categorized him in those five minutes of chatting as a one-nighter, and assumed he felt the same about me, so I made an exception to my “sex only with feelings” rule that night. “Sure,” I smiled.

I keep getting pushed around — not necessarily hurt — but just consistently, repetitively jerked around by the men in this city that it’s snowballed into an uncontrollable hopelessness about ever having a healthy, passionate relationship, in any capacity from casual to serious, with a man ever again. I’m no good at banter, and I’m no good at being treated as disposable. Somehow, you kept proving to me that I wasn’t disposable. With your eyes, and with the way you kissed my neck from behind on the dance floor.

A massive weight on my shoulders is that of steering clear of shady men, or at least, making an as-early-as-possible decision about whether or not the man will be a one-nighter or someone I’d like to see again. I really thought this guy was different. He put in work. This bastard stayed by my side the entire night. He bought me drinks, waited for me outside the restroom, met my friends, held my hand, slapped my ass, and kissed me in the stairwell against the mirrored, graffiti-laden walls of the event hall. He’d pull my hair a little, and I liked it. I introduced him to dozens of friends at the party as “my puppy” or as “Pop Tart,” considering both his lackluster costume attempt and his embarrassing decision to avoid giving me his name at the bar beforehand. He eventually introduced himself as Sam to one of my friends. My interpretation of Sam choosing to reveal his real name as being a step toward establishing a trusting relationship with me was my second mistake — the first being me letting him have my attention at all.

In the six consecutive hours following that moment, what started as a minor fetishization grew into a genuine interest and attraction. I’m not going to doubt my insight on that one, I wrote in my letter. I could tell when he didn’t flirt with any of my girlfriends, when he waved off the guys he came to the party with after running into them briefly on the staircase, choosing to follow me instead, and when he looked at me with such sad eyes around 5:00 AM, when I told him we should part ways and exchange phone numbers, and he didn’t want to split up. I told him I didn’t want a one-night stand…didn’t I?

I’m fucking angry. I’m angry at someone who would put so much work into initiating a hookup or a relationship, maintaining a power dynamic by staying so present and interested the entire time you’re with them, and then disappear with no explanation. It’s an inexcusable part of twenty-something culture that I can’t wrap my head around. This happens to my female peers who live in big cities every fucking day. It is impactful, and hurtful. I’m at the point where I fear getting emotionally manipulated by men just as much as I do rape. But how can I protect myself from this emotional violation without completely shutting off? I’m only human.

People even assumed Sam and I had known each other for a while, based on our easy repartee and visible passion. When I would take care of things for the artists backstage or check people in at the entrance, I’d return to find him right where I left him, time and time again. He was oddly happy to see me back, like a dog securely attached to its owner. But he’d hold my hands and dance with me. He reminded me of my obsessive ex — the look in his eye was similar, and I want to feel loved more than anything.

When I didn’t hear from you I was surprised. Could I have given him the wrong number, I thought…I was just left hanging, wondering who the sexually aggressive puppy dog that spent his Friday night apart from his friends and following me throughout a three-floor warehouse party really was. Maybe you lied about everything. Maybe you don’t really live in New York. Maybe you have a girlfriend. But none of that stopped me from typing what I remembered about your last name that I’d caught a glimpse of, for a split second up on your phone screen, into my search bar and almost immediately finding your work’s website and several of your seemingly-ignored social profiles.

At one point in the night, Sam was so drunk that he could barely walk. I thought he’d metaphorically left the building…but he was sweet, and I wanted to save him. I asked a generous friend for a bump of cocaine to sober him up. He became coherent again and went right back to pushing me up against walls, holding my neck a bit too tightly while he put his lips on mine.

Even if I did give you the wrong number, you’ve got my name and knew about my work, so I know you could have found me if you wanted to by now. And that’s how I know you aren’t interested in seeing me again. You’re clearly a persistent guy, and very outgoing, so I know you would make it happen if you really wanted it.
And I guess I’m fine with that — I expect it, even. I just wish you didn’t ask for my phone number, then, if you didn’t plan on using it. I wish you didn’t ask me to get whiskey with you later that night, because I was thinking about it all day. I bet you knew I would do that. I bet you got off on it. Who taught you this much about women?

My inhibitions dropped one by one with every kind-yet-commanding gesture he made. I tried to split from Sam when the party was ending, because I thought I wanted to get to know him better in another setting before sleeping with him, and asked to exchange phone numbers. I thought he might have potential. He insisted our time together wasn’t over yet, and wanted to keep hanging out. I couldn’t say no to him. I let myself reevaluate my original opinion of Sam, despite signs that I couldn’t trust him, because I wanted him to be something he wasn’t. But I didn’t know that he wasn’t, yet.

I wish you didn’t call me a cool person. I really wish you didn’t call me a beautiful mess.

We left the party to stop by my friends’ place at dawn. We watched my college friends snort ketamine while Sam’s hand rested on my leg, claiming me, and for some reason I felt safe. “Whenever you want to leave, let me know, and we’ll get out of here,” he whispered in my ear. It felt considerate, but at the same time, authoritative. We walked home, arm in arm, and he carried my bag. Things felt real…promising, even. I told him about my jobs in photography and writing, and he found it fascinating. He asked me so many questions, impressing a genuine interest upon me, that again, I did not ask for. But I fucking loved the attention.

And yet, I haven’t heard from you. I’ve tried to chalk things like this up to fate — it wouldn’t have worked out anyway — is something I say to myself a lot. Us New Yorkers barely make the time to take care of ourselves, so we don’t have time to see anyone apart from booty calls and serendipitously drunken one-night stands anyway, right? That’s what I’ve convinced myself is true. But if it is, then why did my memory come through for me this time, providing a mental picture of your full name that popped up on your phone when you coolly insisted I give you my phone number as you left my apartment the following afternoon? Was that before or after you threw me onto my sofa, trying to fuck again before you left, and I so vehemently denied your advances because I was sure I’d see you later that day?

My conversation with Sam was the most intimate one I’ve had in years. He asked me about my fetishes in bed, about my likes and dislikes. He wondered if I used the whip before or if it was just part of a costume. He truly appeared to care about pleasing me, and I learned some things about him, too. I know he likes a power dynamic in bed, and I know he lived with an ex in Europe for a while, and then they fell out of love. And I believed him, while I told him everything he wanted to know. I didn’t think I had anything to lose.

I think you thrive off varied sexual experiences and try not to get too close to anyone.

We stayed in bed until almost 2:00 PM the next day, learning about each other and listening to a playlist I have called “oof.” He asked if I wanted to grab a drink later that night, after I was done with my photo shoot. “You’re a really cool person, Sara,” he said to me as he leaned over the cushy pillows in my queen-sized bed, looking me directly in the eye. I felt hopeful about a guy for the first time in a long time.

I didn’t plan on writing you anything, but I figured a man of your depth and ability would appreciate feedback on the success of his manipulation tactics from weeks prior…[you somehow got] a girl you spent twelve inebriated hours with to pour her heart out in a four-page letter to you. Congratulations, you win.

One last thing I want you to know, is that I have a theory you don’t actually exist at all. I think you may have been a friendly ghost, gifted to me by the universe during an otherwise stressful time, in order to distract me from myself. You gave my night a lot more meaning, and maybe I really needed that, or else my night would have been a lot different. You distracted me from someone that I was nervous to see that night, and it was really for the best. I can’t thank you enough for that. You also made me feel very wanted, especially because you stuck with me the whole night, which I really didn’t expect from you. And those are the reasons why I think you may not really exist. And this is what I would say to you if I wrote you a letter to your work address that I found on the internet.

I’m completely broken, and have never felt so used in my life. Nothing about our experience together was casual, and I’m still in shock that someone so seemingly caring and eager could be so quick to disappear. Was this experience more positive, though, than the one with the man who told me he “wasn’t gonna be my boyfriend” mid-thrust, after a whole evening of PDA, when I never asked him to be? Or then the guy who told me as he was tying up his shoes on the way out the door, after two consecutive weekends of sleeping together, that he could only hook up moving forward if it was “serendipitous” because he was “sort of seeing someone” at the time? Or the guys who aggressively whine at me when I insist on using a condom and they don’t like the feeling of it? At least those guys were open and honest, albeit annoying or hurtful.

So fuck Sam, and fuck everybody like him. I deserve better. Women deserve better. We all deserve better — and I hope this story serves as an articulation of something that you’ve felt but couldn’t explain. I hope you send it to someone you love or someone you’re pissed at. I hope if you’re a Sam, that you’ve learned something from this. And yes, that’s his real fucking name.

John’s* name has been changed.

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