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The Gentleman’s Guide to Entertaining a Lady at Home

The art of making overnight guests feel welcome… but not ‘Norman Bates’ welcome

On those nights when you weren’t expecting or even intending to get lucky, there’s usually a moment of panic that comes with taking someone back to your place: Did you make the bed? Does your bedroom still smell good — or just good to you? Did you ever take your ex-girlfriend’s pink razor out of the shower?

Beyond this initial worrying about the state of your apartment, though, is a secondary concern: Just how ready should you seem for this unexpected guest? Is it super-useful to have a spare toothbrush ready for her in the morning, or does it imply that she’s just one of a revolving tie rack of sexual partners, each of whom gets her own gift bag when she leaves? Does having tampons or makeup handy make you conscientious, or do they look like souvenirs from past guests whose heads are now in jumbo-size Ziploc bags in the freezer?

In the unpredictable world of casual dating, what’s a solicitous guy to do?

I’ve given this matter a lot of thought and consulted a team of experts (okay, several female friends of mine), and together, we’ve come up with a set of guidelines that should get you safely through your next spontaneous overnighter.

Setting the Mood

Allow me to say this up front: No one expects your apartment to be perfect. Most people aren’t overly bothered by a little dust or clutter. But there should be some evidence of your place having been cleaned once upon a time. My neighbor, Jess, for example, recalled going back to a guy’s house and seeing his comforter carpeted in dog hair, which was an instant hard pass. “I’m a dog lover, but even I didn’t want to go near it,” she says.

You’ll also probably want something to drink on hand — by which I mean something a reasonable person would enjoy. Wine is a pretty safe choice (rosé came particularly recommended by my group of friends, but if that’s not something you’d normally keep in your fridge, red or white is fine), and in the age of the microbrewery there are plenty of good options for beer fans out there. In general, think of sipping drinks, not things best suited for a shot glass: Gin and tonic or other mixed drinks are nice; vodka with no chaser is not.

Non-alcoholic beverages are also a great idea. One friend, Natalie, remembers going back to a guy’s dorm after a fraternity party and being delighted to encounter his mini-fridge full of sparkling water. All these years later, it still stands out as a winning move.

Snacks are another ace in the hole. At some point, the two of you are going to get hungry — or want to soak up some of the booze in your stomachs — so something to fill that hole (so to speak) is a good idea.

Bed, Bath and Beyond

These rooms are the areas that will probably involve some work. The good news is that most of these recommendations boil down to simply having solid cleaning and hygiene practices — if you’re a fairly tidy person who manages not to offend your co-workers or your dentist on a regular basis, congratulations! You’ve got a head start. Everyone else, now’s your chance to become the person you’ve always dreamed of being.

Let’s deal with the bed first. Clean sheets are great! Mostly clean sheets are okay! Visibly dirty or stained sheets, not so much. This is also an excellent time to remind you of this important PSA from MEL’s managing editor, Serena Golden: Good pillows are a must, and more than one of them. You’ll probably want more than one blanket too, especially if it’s chilly. And for the love of God, make sure your hand lotion, tissues etc. are out of sight. We don’t care what you do in your alone time, but seeing the evidence of it, “always creeps me out,” says Jess.

Protection is a must, but stick to condoms. Pills, rings, diaphragms (why would you have those??) are a definite no. Having a morning-after pill handy definitely announces, “I’m a rapist,” as my friend Jane puts it. Condoms, okay? Always condoms.

Beyond that, any and all women’s clothing items are to be avoided. It doesn’t matter why you have them, just put them away. If she wants something to sleep in afterward, offer her one of your T-shirts (but not one you really like, just in case you never see it — or her — again).

In the bathroom, meanwhile, cleanliness is a big deal, so it should have been cleaned at least some time in the last month: No one wants to see visible evidence of your bodily functions.

There are also some basic supplies you’ll want. An extra (new, still in the packaging) toothbrush, dental floss and face wash are pretty standard. But here’s a big thing lots of guys forget: Make sure you’ve got enough toilet paper on the roll, or that extra toilet paper is accessible and easy to find. Contact solution and a spare contact case are also a practical idea. If you don’t wear contacts yourself, you can get a travel kit at the drugstore — it’s on the border of weird, but the helpfulness far outweighs the creepiness, according to my friend Mandy.

While it might seem like a thoughtful idea, do not have tampons or other feminine protection stashed away: This was a unanimous no from the group, with opinions ranging from “trying too hard” to “just plain creepy.” Do, however, have a trash can in your bathroom. Preferably one with a lid.

The Morning After

Depending how your night went, the first thing your guest may want is some ibuprofen or another headache/hangover remedy, so it’s always a bonus if you have that handy.

The second thing she’ll probably want is a shower. Can I put in a word here for clean, at least mid-price towels? No one wants someone else’s used towel, and cheap towels leave lint everywhere. This is important: After crappy pillows, nasty towels in dudes’ apartments were the main complaint all the women I spoke to had.

In the shower, shampoo and conditioner are great, along with real soap (not Irish Spring or something similarly drying and abrasive) or a body wash that won’t leave us smelling like we took a wrong turn down the Axe Body Spray aisle. Don’t bother with a razor — a woman who’s just spent the night at your house for the first time isn’t likely to shave her legs in your shower.

As far as having specific women’s toiletries around, like perfume or makeup? “Gross,” “offputting” and “creepy” were the standouts of the word cloud created by my group. If you use a hair dryer for your own hair, that’s cool, but if you don’t, it can read as evidence of a secret girlfriend.

As far as other morning necessities go, coffee was a near-unanimous request, along with milk or cream. You don’t have to have lots of breakfast stuff handy, but it’s great to have some thoughts about food options, even if it’s just a local deli or bakery.

If there’s a main takeaway here, it’s that in these situations, women want pretty much the same kinds of things you do (although there’s a good chance they want them to be a little cleaner). Yes, the woman you’ve just taken home might be full of surprises, but she isn’t some mystical creature with impossible demands.

Some good advice for this and every other aspect of your dating life: The more you think about women as regular people with needs and wants remarkably similar to your own, the better chance you have of making a connection with one.

Now go forth and scrub your bathroom.