“We’d agreed ahead of time that this was just going to be a general meet-up, so we could gauge interest first and make sure neither of us were serial killers,” says Holmes, 28, an engineer and pole dance instructor in Seattle. “The idea was to move toward something casual, but there was no intention of anything happening this first meetup."
The night they met, McDonough walked into the restaurant wearing a TARDIS dress, a reference to the cult classic Doctor Who. For Holmes, a fellow Doctor Who fan, it was an obvious sign they had a lot in common. After dinner, they grabbed ice cream and went back to his place to watch Penny Dreadful. That night, they slept together for the first time and discovered they had strong sexual chemistry. They continued to have sex for the next four months, until one day Holmes realised he’d developed feelings for McDonough. At first, he was caught off-guard. This wasn't what either of them had expected.
“We were spending so much time together and talking more about ourselves and our lives, just even outside of going to each other’s places and banging around for awhile, that I think it just steadily developed in the background without either of us realising it,” Holmes says. They've been dating ever since.
Dating a one-night stand might seem counterintuitive. In the age of Tinder and Bumble, it's never been easier to have casual sex, and for many, the purpose of such apps is to hook up with multiple people with no strings attached. But in many cases, casual sex can lead to something more serious. While there's no reliable data to suggest how often this actually happens, according to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, as many as 30% of relationships have started out as one-night stands.
Moreover, while cultural stereotypes suggest that men are more likely to pursue one-night stands than women are, research indicates that the truth is more complicated. In fact, men are three times more likely to want to turn a one-night stand into a relationship, according to Match’s annual Singles in America survey.
One reason for this phenomenon? People who are playing the field may still be subconsciously looking for a good partner, someone who’s “a cut above the rest,” Grant Langston, the chief executive officer of eHarmony, told Men’s Health.
The Match survey also indicated that men are 43 percent more likely to believe that sex helps to build a strong emotional connection, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it: having casual sex right off the bat arguably makes it easier to build a strong emotional connection with someone, because you’ve already breaking through a major comfort barrier (i.e., seeing the other person naked).
"You already know how that person is in bed. As you get to know each other, it’s just going to get better from there and you have more feelings. You can actually get to know this person,” Sameera Sullivan, a men’s matchmaker based in Manhattan, told Men’s Health.
While different factors like luck, timing, and compatibility obviously play a role in whether a one-night stand can evolve into something more, some might argue that human biology predisposes us to developing deeper feelings for someone we have sex with only once. While much has been written about the role that oxytocin, or the "bonding hormone," plays in developing feelings of post-coital attachment, having sex also increases the level of dopamine in our brains, which can also act as a “bonding agent,” Langston says.
That said, not everyone is interested in a relationship, and some people might genuinely only be using hookup apps to pursue something casual and short-term. Although it's not uncommon for a one-night stand to turn into a relationship organically, it's important to note that if you start developing feelings for your partner beyond sexual attraction, they might not be on the same page. That's why it's important to be open about your feelings right off the bat.
Holmes says having low expectations allowed him and McDonough to establish a level of trust without tacking on pressure to make things work. “From the start, there was a great amount of openness and honesty,” he says. “It felt like it was going to be something temporary, so it was easy to just kind of lay out wants and needs early.”
So can relationships that started out as casual flings actually last? Mark Black, who’s been married to his wife Mary for 29 years, says absolutely.
In true When Harry Met Sally fashion, the Blacks met twice — once when Mark was 20 and spotted Mary at a beach in Minnesota, and then again five years later at a broomball tournament. They started talking and eventually began a casual relationship. Mark had already been divorced once, and was “dead set” against getting married ever again. But the more time he spent with Mary, the more he developed feelings for her.
“After we got together, it was like I didn’t have that desire to go out and see or date other girls anymore,” says Mark, 57. “I was thinking, 'This girl is satisfying all my wants and desires, and we get along great. I don’t know how I can do any better.'”
So how do you actually know if a one-night stand is the real deal? If you're having amazing sex several times during a one-night stand but you don't have much to say to each other afterward, that's a good sign it's just lust, Sullivan says. But if you're connecting and enjoying each other's company both before and after sex, there might be something deeper there that's worth exploring.
Langston says that "the best way to understand if a person is a good partner for you is to see them in a lot of different circumstance. You want to see this person after a bad day and after a great day. You want to see this person after they’ve had too much too drink and when they’re bored. You want to have as many data points as you can get.”
This article originally appeared on Men's Health US.