Be it a chance encounter on a night out or the gratifying end to a few hours of drudgery on a dating app, these hookups can be easy and exciting ways to satisfy carnal desires with no strings attached.
But they can also lead to complicated emotions.
“I had a one night stand that ended up lasting way longer than expected, and it kind of developed into a very complicated friendship. It started with one night, and we kept seeing each other more often. Next thing I know, we are running mundane errands together,” 28-year-old entrepreneur Sarah, from Manila, Philippines, told VICE. Sarah preferred to go by a pseudonym because of the stigma that still comes with discussing one’s sex life in the Philippines.
“We got really close and comfortable with each other so I guess that’s how I ended up being attached. He didn’t want a relationship, and the future I imagined with him didn’t look that good either, but we both can’t imagine a life without each other.”
Sarah said she mostly has one night stands to fulfill momentary physical needs or to make a night out more interesting, so she could have a story to tell her close friends. Still, catching feelings is always on, or under, the table.
“When I have a one night stand, my train of thought would usually be, ‘Why not? It could end up turning into something good,’” she said.
Indeed, the intense emotions that come with having a one night stand can make people feel like they want something more long-lasting.
During sex, the body releases oxytocin, commonly called the “love hormone,” so it’s natural to feel a deep connection during and after the act, even if it only happens once, explained Bernadette Gea Gea, a Sydney-based psychotherapist who is focused on helping people learn how to prioritize themselves without losing the relationships that matter most.
“Sometimes, the appeal of the one night stand—with no ongoing commitments or responsibilities—can be otherworldly, and it’s easy to surrender to that. Sensations are heightened and feelings can be very intense at this stage,” Gea Gea said.
Sarah admitted that even though she doesn’t usually get to know her one night stands very well, she still briefly imagines “how a future with them would look like.”
Gea Gea explained that when people catch serious feelings for a casual hookup, they may be ignoring the reality of the situation, perhaps to get more out of it.
“It’s possible that that person is not responding to what’s available at this moment, and trying to fulfill deeper needs… Those needs can vary, but they’re usually related to wanting to feel wanted, important, loved, or something similar,” the psychotherapist said.
Of course, catching feelings for a one night stand isn’t necessarily doomed from the beginning. One night stands can lead to long-term, meaningful, committed relationships, if all parties are open to that. But don’t hold your breath.
“There’s nothing wrong with catching feelings, it’s a matter of letting them go again. It’s important to understand it’s normal to feel. It’s a matter of self-regulating and choosing how to respond to feelings. If we know our tendencies, we can better care for ourselves,” Gea Gea said.
At certain points in their lives, some people may also find that catching feelings after one night stands is inevitable, which can lead to painful patterns.
For these people, Gea Gea said it may be worthwhile to consider this question: What do they get to feel or believe about themselves by catching feelings?
“It might alleviate an anxiety about being alone or unloveable, for example. Conversely, what would they be present to if they didn’t get swept away in those feelings? The answer is likely to be that they are somehow undeserving of being loved and chosen, or something to this effect.”
These feelings of being undeserving of love can have their roots in how people were loved—or not loved—as kids, Gea Gea said.
“We tend to love as adults the same way we loved as children and that’s based on how our main caregivers loved us… If there was any kind of inconsistency, ambivalence, neglect, or abuse in our early bonding with our parents, unfortunately, we go to that as adults too,” Gea Gea said.
“When our experience as children was such that we needed to be a certain way to be loved, we tend to believe that love isn’t consistent or constant, so it might be easier to latch onto any semblance of it rather than feel the pain of the false belief that we’re not worthy of it, as we would have felt when we were children.”
Gea Gea added that people who find themselves with feelings for a one night stand should take time to gauge the gravity of those feelings, and reflect to see if the feelings align with what they really want.
Sarah, for example, said that in the past, she had one night stands hoping that they would lead to long-term relationships.
“I guess I was low-key doing it to hopefully find the one,” Sarah said.
But Gea Gea said that it’s important for people to first figure out what it is they really want from a hookup.
“I think it’s important for people to learn how to connect with themselves, and understand their own needs, and really get clear about what they want. Also to ask themselves if the other person is really a potential partner, or are they just letting the hope of love run away with them and determine their behavior.”
For those who are certain they’re not looking for anything long-term, Gea Gea said that there are things that can be done to prevent catching feelings from one night stands.
“They can be clear about their intentions and be upfront and honest. Away from that, they’re not responsible for the other person’s follow-up reaction and behavior,” Gea Gea said.
Those who have surprisingly found themselves getting emotional would do well to acknowledge those feelings honestly, allow them to exist, then let them go.
“We can catch feelings, but we don’t actually have to hold onto them. It’s possible to let them come, stay for a while, and pass.”
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