Are you seeing a woman regularly, spending good time together, figuring out sex things she likes, getting increasingly efficient blowjobs and talking about your feelings with enthusiastic adoration toward her, but would bristle at her suggestion that you’re having an actual relationship? Then you may be engaged in a several-night stand, a modern conundrum wrought by dating apps, the illusion of choice and the idea that relationships can meet the full spectrum of human need while remaining utterly meaningless. Perhaps congratulations are in order for cracking the monogamy code, but possibly the woman you are with is very confused.
We know this because over at Broadly, Maria Yagoda explores this new dating phenomenon from the female side, and it is not a ringing endorsement. Yagoda writes:
Enter what my friend and I have dubbed “the several-night stand,” a casual and recurring hook-up situation that mimics a relationship but is definitely NOT a relationship because one party recently got out of something long-term or is not looking for anything serious right now or wants to keep doing this without a label? As its name suggests, the several-night stand is like a one-night stand, but takes place over several nights, often over a period of weeks or months. When you are together, you feel like you’re dating-dating. When you’re apart, the intimacy vanishes, save for the occasional post-2 AM Instagram-story remark or a “sorry your cat died” text. (That counts as intimacy, yeah?) The several-night stand arises because one person wants a girlfriend or boyfriend for a night, maybe a few times a week.
The stories are basically the same: A woman has been hanging out a bunch with a dude who doesn’t want anything serious, yet he shares emotionally and texts all day. The result is she’s dancing around an impenetrable door-to-more that will never open. It feels like the guy is having his cake and eating it too, but isn’t just the sex-cake of yore; it’s also the feelings-cake of today. It’s why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free, but the milk is blowjobs as well as talking about his life and his feelings and giving him supportive responses and equal parts adoration in return. And blowjobs.
And most importantly, there’s zero obligation on either part, only it feels like there’s too much going on for there not to be. It’s all the sex and the emotional labor of a real, honest-to-god relationship, only he can dip in and out without explanation and she has no ground to stand on if she objects because like, No labels, babe. Told ya up front! He either suddenly treats her like a psycho, or simply says any discussion of the relationship beyond this fake relationship version is simply too much.
While we’ve written skeptically before about the proliferation of allegedly new dating phenomena that’s really just an old thing repackaged in a new term — Cushioning! Breadcrumbing! Benching! — this feels truly and distinctly modern. (And shitty.)
Dating, as fraught as it is to do a dance of courtship, at least used to be something like layaway, in that it came with the possibility of something more committed down the road if both parties agreed. Casual flings, for all their equally fraught possibilities of catching feelings, not only involved laying down limits up front (I’m not looking for anything serious) but they also reflect that casual, limited status in the lived experience. You might have sex, but you don’t spend that much time together. He definitely isn’t texting you adorable cat gifs, remembering your birthday, and telling you you’re gorgeous and wonderful.
But such is the dilemma of the several-night stand. It’s literally all the Things with none of the Thing. It’s not a series of disconnected hookups (though it’s presented as casual) but rather comes plush with all the perks of a relationship, while skillfully masquerading as a booty call. No one likes a relationship whose steps are already laid out, unless that’s all you want.
Evan Marc Katz, a relationship coach who often translates male behavior for a female audience, fielded this exact question from a woman recently who found herself in a several-night stand situation. Kris writes in:
I have been in an exclusive relationship with a man for 6 months now. He has shown up in every way AND more. I had major surgery and he stood by me, slept in the hospital, and took care of me at my worst for my 3-week recovery. He just took me on our first trip away. He wants to see me every day and I love that.
Basically though, I was blindsided the other day because after everything, he said that I am not his “girlfriend” and he doesn’t want the expectations that come with the title.
Katz tells her he simply doesn’t get these men, writing:
Women waste years on men who said they want a casual relationship on their terms only — and then claim to be shocked when it turns out he was telling the truth. Next, I’m a big believer that good men do whatever it takes (within reason) to make their partners happy. Sometimes it’s sleeping at the hospital or taking care of your dog or fixing your car. And sometimes, it’s saying “I love you” or referring to you as his girlfriend, just because it makes you feel safe.
And if I have one big opposition to this man’s behavior, it’s that he’s standing on some sort of principle, putting his needs above yours, and refusing to take the very simple step of calling a spade a spade: yes, you’re his girlfriend.
Yes, to be clear, women can also enact this version of stringing a man along who wants more while she still plays the field. But because women can still get casual sex pretty much anytime they want, the illusion of equal-opportunity meaninglessness inevitably dissolves. She doesn’t need to provide emotional support to a dude to get laid. Why do men offer boyfriend-y love when they don’t want to be boyfriends? When, had they simply said they wanted sex, they might have gotten it and nothing more?
Of course, if everyone agreed this was a great progressive relationship model, there’d be no article on Broadly, and certainly there are couples who do find mutual bliss playing house without the label. The problem is, as Yagoda points out, many don’t, and by the time you realize it, it’s too late to renegotiate the terms. She writes:
The problem is that the convergence of two people who want this same arrangement, and who can communicate enough to effectively establish it and allow it to exist but not develop into something lopsided, is rare. Often there’s an imbalance in feelings built on a lack of communication so deep that a year might pass before you realize what’s going on and that you hate it. The recent Reductress article “Are You Dating or Just Friends Who Have Sex and See Each Other 5 Times a Week?” captures the sentiment of the several-night stand so perfectly that I did a nervous Robert Durst burp when I saw the headline. For how terrified people are of the “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” label, they seem strangely comfortable with many of the roles that fall just slightly short of it.
This is a unique byproduct of endless dating options bumping up against the eternal human need for real intimacy. In the end, though, one thing is still true: When it comes to love, most of us do whatever we can get away with. If you could pop into a hot stranger’s house with reasonable assurance that the sex would be both safe and amazing, but you didn’t even have to know their name or top darts score, you’d probably do it. If, in order to get that same sex, you had to meet at a bar for a few drinks and pretend their cat was really interesting, you’d do that too. One of these versions is pathological you; the other is socialized you. All relationships negotiate this midpoint, and this is why we have everything from furries to polyamory to sister wives.
Every generation should try to unbundle monogamy, a problematic notion that doesn’t seem to work for at least half of us and whose necktie has been slowly loosened over time for good reason. But it’s one thing to actually break up the cable monopoly so everyone can single-serve channels at their leisure; it’s quite another to repitch the same old shitty package but call it a new, special offer.
If you’re a dude and you’ve hit the point in your several-night stand relationship where she is pressing for more or simply wondering why your actions don’t match the words, the answer is to not bury your head in the sand, call her a psycho, or act aghast. It’s time to re-evaluate what you want, restate your goals openly and transparently, and move on if they don’t line up. Whatever you do, don’t keep playing a role you never intended to truly inhabit. That is an age-old dating concept women have been fielding for years: Bullshit.