By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a 27-year-old woman, dating again after a six-year relationship. I slept with a guy on the third date and was dismayed when he didn’t spend the night. It didn’t feel like just a hookup, and it wasn’t a work night. Is this just how people date now—going home immediately after sex—or does this mean he’s not serious?—Confused
A: There are two ways to solve this problem. One is to say, “Hey, I’d really like you to stay the night.” The other is to hide his shoes and keys.
The “half-night stand”—avoiding the early-morning walk of shame, often via middle-of-the-night Uber—is being proclaimed the new one-night stand. The truth is, the just-post-sex adios isn’t exactly a new phenomenon; it’s probably just more prevalent, thanks to how easy smartphones make it to swipe office supplies, Thai food and sex partners right to your door.
As for why this guy left, it’s hard to say. Maybe he’s gone for good, or maybe he just wasn’t sure you wanted him to stay. Maybe he sleepwalks, sleep-carjacks or can’t fall asleep in a strange bed. Or maybe he’s got some early-morning thing—seeing his parole officer, walking the goat or (more likely) making the bathroom smell like 12 dead goats.
Your fretting about what the deal is suggests you might not be as comfortable as you think about having sex before there’s a relationship in place. You may unconsciously be succumbing to a form of peer pressure—peer pressure that mainly exists in your own mind—called “pluralistic ignorance.” This is social psychologists’ term for when many people in a group are personally uncomfortable with some belief or behavior but go along with it anyway—incorrectly concluding that most people are A-OK with it and thinking they should be, too. (Basically, “monkey assume/monkey do.”)
Figure out what actually works for you emotionally—whether you can just say, “Whatevs!” if a guy goes all nail-’n’-turn-tail or whether you might want to wait to have sex till you’ve got a relationship going. That’s when it becomes easier to broach uncomfortable subjects—so you won’t have to wonder, say, why he’s running out at 2:27am. You will know: It’s not you; it’s his sleep apnea and how he likes to go home to his CPAP machine rather than die in your bed.
Q: Resolve an argument, please. How often should married people be having sex to have a happy marriage?—Married Person
A: It is kind of depressing if the last time you screamed in bed was two months ago when your husband rolled over in his sleep and elbowed you in the eye.
However, consider that more of a good thing is not always better. For example, having more in the boobage area is generally great—unless that means having three. Well, according to social psychologist Amy Muise and her colleagues, once you’ve got a relationship going, sex works kind of the same way. They find that having sex once a week is associated with greater happiness; however, more sex than that doesn’t make for more happiness, and it can sometimes make for less.
The researchers explain that many people are exhausted and feel overwhelmed, so “the pressure to engage in sex as frequently as possible may be daunting and even stressful.” But, interestingly, comparisons with one’s peers—positive or negative—also color how people feel. Sociologist Tim Wadsworth finds that, beyond simply having sex, what really makes people happier is thinking that they’re having more of it than everybody else.
Having sex just once a week can keep the spouse with a stronger sex drive feeling satisfied enough while keeping the less lusty spouse from feeling like a sexual pack mule. This, in turn, helps keep resentment from taking over your relationship to the point where you go around grumbling that the last time somebody got into your pants, it was because they paid $3.79 for them at Goodwill.