How to Have a One-Night Stand (When You Don’t Really Want To)

When we last left Amy, she was going to the hotel room of a strange man she’d met online — the first relationship she’d had with a woman had ended and she was lonely. Here’s what happened in the hotel…

Kieran and I went to his hotel room and sat on the edge of the bed and made small talk. He was polite but aggressive, which made me feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. Not unlike many people, I talk incessantly when I’m nervous. I pressed my knees together.

“Where are you from, exactly?” I asked.

He said the name of a town that I wouldn’t recognize. I nodded like all my relatives were from there. He leaned forward and touched my face. My heart seized, which was confusing. Wasn’t this what I had been looking for?

“You’re a coy one, aren’t you?” he said. He smiled but he looked serious. Very serious.

Except for a brief stint in the tenth grade with an Israeli boy who spoke no English, I had never been with an aggressive male. I thought it would be exciting to be with a man that took charge, but instead it was alarming. He was nice, but he moved in close and fast, and when he came toward me I reflexively moved away.

“Come on, then,” he said.

“Let’s take a shower,” I said, startling myself with this sudden suggestion. But it made sense, too. I could examine him in the shower to make sure that no parts were gangrenous. I could check to see if there was any physical evidence of turpitude. I could buy myself a little time, maybe see if I could get my head into a more comfortable space before I was called upon to act. All in all, I thought it was a brilliant idea.

What I learned in the shower that night was that soaping up with someone is only fun and sexy if you know and like that person, perhaps even love them a little. I know there are those who will disagree with me, but you and I know that those people are wrong.  Taking a shower with a stranger isn’t all that fun.

We stood under the hot water and tried to kiss for a while, but I had trouble with it. I couldn’t figure out if this was because I was kissing someone I didn’t know or because he wasn’t a very good kisser. If I did know him, would I think he was a good kisser no matter how he kissed? Eventually these thoughts and the two glasses of wine got jangled in my head, so I gave up trying to be passionate or even just friendly and started grabbing random body parts. Let’s get through this, I thought. Maybe if we got finished soon I could arrange for my return to coincide with a bakery in my neighborhood that opened early every morning. I could comfort myself with a warm croissant.

We fumbled our way to the bed. I tried my best to make it winsome, to make it fun, but I know now that winsome and fun only happen when there is emotional intimacy. As I’ve mentioned before, if you take away the art of knowing or caring about someone, you just have a lot of repetitive mechanics. The best thing about the whole ordeal was that it was extremely short. The worst part was that he flipped me over on all fours for the big finish, which wasn’t horrible enough for me to ask him to stop, but didn’t exactly motivate me to beg him to keep going, either. The second best thing about the experience, I thought to myself, was that it was an experience. Yes, I reasoned later, it was awful, but experiences are good things for writers to have.

When he was through he asked me if I’d had an orgasm, which, all things considered, was fairly considerate, and when I told him that I hadn’t, he asked me if I wanted one. I could see him eyeing the remote.

“Is this some kind of English thing?” I asked.  “Is there a law of reciprocity with regard to orgasms and one-night-stands in the British Isles?

For some reason his indifference irritated me.  (We would probably need couples counseling soon.) And I did sort of feel like he’d left me hanging.

“Yes,” I said, like I was holding out my hand for an after-dinner mint.  “I want one.”

I closed my eyes and focused on aiding him in the completion of the job, but it wasn’t easy. If you feel uncomfortable reading this, just imagine how I felt. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to imagine I was with someone — anyone — else but the only image that rose to the surface was an unformed cloud of shame. I was exhausted and I wanted to go home. I didn’t want sex.  I wanted to be known.

When it was all over we hung out in bed for about four minutes. He switched on the TV. The sportscaster was discussing highlights from the U.S. Open.

“This is a very famous tennis match,” Kieran said, speaking very slowly and pronouncing each word carefully, as if I were from another country, or perhaps hard of hearing.

“I know what the U.S. Open is,” I said. I got out of bed and put on my clothes.  “I’m going,” I said, waiting for him to open his arms and beg me to stay in bed with him forever. “Let’s order room service,” he’d say, leaning over the end table and picking up the phone.  “And after we watch the sunrise I’ll buy you a penthouse overlooking the Hudson.”

He said nothing.  He didn’t even get up to walk me to the door.

I slumped in the cab on the way home, thinking about this dumb joke I read in the fourth grade about a kid who felt so low he had to take off his shoes to watch television. I had plumbed new depths of self-loathing. I’d traversed the bleakest landscape and my heart had withered. For the first time in my life I felt like I wasn’t a somebody, but a something. A woman, sure, but a woman without an existence, a woman with no history, no narrative, no background.

So was it worth it?  As a person?  As a writer?  Am I sorry for the experience? I’m embarrassed to say that I’m not. When I think back on that night it makes me feel filthy, violated and ashamed, but weirdly, I’m grateful for the experience, too. It would be a different situation if I were addicted to self-destructive behavior, but this was a one-time thing. I learned a lot that night. For the first time in my life, I’d been explicitly and overtly objectified. I’d been treated as other, and it made me think about all the other women in the world who are treated this way repeatedly. What must it be like for them?

The above is the 10th installment of a hilarious ongoing series by author and squirrel hunter Amy Bronwen Zemser called “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child.” Start at the beginning here. Read more of Amy’s adventures on her blog,

Amy on coming out, homophilia & sexual identity:
My Husband Has No Penis