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Did I Just Have A Friendship One-Night Stand?

What the hell happened last night?

Did I Just Have A Friendship One-Night Stand?

Last week, I got happy hour drinks with three friends at a café in Los Feliz. Technically, only two of us got drinks, as the other two were still violently hung over from the night before. In typical LA fashion, they’d attended the birthday party of a college friend where half the crowd was nouveau-celeb scene kids, and the other half were non-blue-check alums. “We had fun–that actress from [popular HBO show] came alone, and I could tell she didn’t know who to talk to, so I invited her into our conversation, and we hung out with her the whole night.” They parted ways after rounds of drinks, gossip, and drunken heart-to-hearts. “Did y’all keep in touch?” my friend prompted. “It wasn’t that kind of vibe,” she answered. “Oh!” I chimed in, “You had a friendship one-night stand.” Her eyes lit up, “Exactly! Wait…is that a thing?”

Well, technically, it’s jargon invented by my friend Miller, but we’ve been using the term for years. So what is a “friendship one night stand?” It’s exactly what it sounds like. Similar to the regular one-night stand, it’s a union forged in the fiery passion of camaraderie that burns bright for one night and is left in the rearview mirror as a fond memory. Your bar friend from that layover in Vancouver, your cousin’s plus one at a destination wedding, that girl in the bathroom that invites you to crash an afterparty—we’ve all had one. There’s mystery, intrigue, and a sense of abandon you wouldn’t otherwise have on a typical night out with friends. Face-to-face with a stranger, unmoored by your personal history, there is an electrifying sense of possibility that gives way to adventure.

To illuminate the pros, cons, and potential red flags of a “friendship one-night stand,” I consulted the father of the term itself–New York resident, scholar, and accredited friend–Miller:

As the person who coined the term, what are the key ingredients that make a great friendship one-night stand?

“Like a regular one-night stand, they usually involve the same things: nighttime, alcohol, and no strings attached. I’d say the best ones involve a spontaneous Uber ride to a second location.”

There’s also some strange element of passion or magnetism that takes it from being just a person you got caught talking to at a party to a full-blown one-night stand.

“Yes, of course. This might be someone you’ve never met, a friend of a friend, or maybe someone you knew tangentially, but the connection just feels serendipitous or spontaneous. I’ve moved around quite a bit since I was 18. With friend groups in different cities, you are constantly moving in these concentric circles of very loose acquaintances and overlapping connections. When you’re traveling, there’s a sense you’re not as beholden to behave in the ways your very close friends back home would expect.”

Totally. Because you don’t have the historicity that you do with the rest of your friends, you’re given carte blanche to be a slightly different version of yourself. It becomes an arena to experiment, untethered by the typical expectations.

“It’s so freeing to have no strings attached—no friends in common to discuss, no continuity in part of a greater social game, and there’s no before or after. You’re forced to be very present.”

What was your most successful friendship ONS?

“This one was a group one-night stand with my boyfriend and me. We were at a Christmas party that was ending much too soon, and we were disappointed since we really put on some outfits. We ended up talking to these two Italian girls who, we could tell, had also put on some outfits to have “a night.” We all decided to go out dancing, and they gave us mushroom chocolates. We played “Never Have I Ever” in a taxi, which is kind of lame and not something I would normally do, but it was fun—we all shared things about our lives that were completely outrageous. We hung out with them for seven hours, and I don’t even know their names. I don’t even think we exchanged Instagrams, we just said goodbye. It was beautiful.”

Have you ever had a F.O.N.S. that backfired on you?

“Oh certainly. Back in college, I went to the birthday party of a tangential high school acquaintance back in Pittsburgh. The party was poorly attended, and everyone seemed tepid and anxious, but I didn’t have anything else to do that night. I decided to just take the reins on the programming, and we went to a few bars and some clubs and ended up dancing till 4 a.m. The only problem with friendship one-night stands is that you run the risk of being categorized as a “party friend” instead of both people realizing this is outside the norm. In this case, the old high school acquaintance definitely made that mistake and kept hitting me up over and over again to go dancing. The joy of the one-night stand was shattered, he didn’t understand that night was the exception, not the rule.”

So you’re saying, just let it be a beautiful memory?

“Exactly. Just like the risks with a sexy one-night stand, you run the risk of someone getting attached.”

There seems to be so much language and literature online about navigating sexual or romantic liaisons, do you think there needs to be more language about the nuances of friendship?

“For sure. Structurally, friendships and romantic relationships share a lot in terms of obligations, expectations, and how to balance asymmetries between consenting partners. I think it’s helpful to draw from the well-articulated lexicon that we already have with romance and apply it to friendship because it's not unalike. It’s a crutch for now, but I believe it's a productive one. Sex or not, a relationship is a complicated bond.”

The older I get, the more I realize that long-term platonic friendships might be the central relationships in your life. Romance comes and goes, but friendships are forced to grow and change with you as a person. Long-term friendships often have a resilience that romance doesn’t. It’s a shame we have far less language to discuss these dynamics.

“And it’s okay to break up with friends, too. I’m not sure there’s a perfect way to do it, but I’ve struggled with heartbreak in friendships just as much as in relationships. Oftentimes more.”

Ah, the dreaded friend breakup. That’s one nut no one’s been able to crack.

“Not yet. We’ll have to talk about that next time.”

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