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After a One-Night Stand, What Comes Next?

Manage your expectations while trying to cultivate a relationship.

Key points

  • For those interested in laying the groundwork for a relationship, it’s usually a good idea to wait before having sex.
  • Stories of one-night stands that lead to marriage tend to be the exception, not the norm.
  • Before having sex with someone with hopes for a relationship, it helps to build connection, reciprocity, and mutual investment.

As painful as it is—and as backward as it seems—there is a common experience in which a woman sleeps with a man in the hopes that sex will encourage a more consistent relationship, and then she is disappointed when it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s a pattern that started in college or even high school: A girl who feels interest from a guy sleeps with him because she feels like it’s just the beginning. She remembers what he said before sex—that he was into her, found her attractive, liked her—so she is hopeful that a relationship will grow out of a night of sex.

Of course, there are men who have sex quickly and still work toward cultivating a meaningful, intimate relationship afterward. But in my practice, I have seen and heard both sides—the woman’s disappointment when no relationship materializes, and the man’s waning interest when sex occurs quickly in the dating process—and vice versa, of course.

Unfortunately, as much as we wish this dynamic didn’t exist, often when a woman sleeps with a man “too soon"—specifically, before she is emotionally ready and before there is an authentic emotional connection—she may end up feeling vulnerable afterward when he doesn't contact her right away, or within a time frame she deems reasonable (or vice versa). Feeling vulnerable, she may then make herself overly available to him for further intimacy by texting, visiting him, or pursuing him to the point at which the balance of power becomes painfully skewed. This pursuit and subsequent power imbalance may not create the response she’s hoping for.

Let me be clear: If you feel like expressing yourself sexually at a very early point in the connection, that’s certainly your right.

Women’s sexual needs are every bit as valid and compelling as men’s. But if you are going to sleep with a man before a relationship is established, it’s important to work on managing your expectations in the aftermath. That’s because the reality is that more often than not, if there is chemistry between the two of you, and your time together is passionate and wonderful, you really would like there to be more. You enjoyed the attention, the experience, and the validation of his undivided attention during the encounter. You want more, and you want to know that he does too.

Unfortunately, without developing a meaningful connection in which the man feels a level of respect and a vested interest in you in general, you may be setting yourself up for rejection and disappointment, even if everything he told you before and during the encounter indicated you had a future.

As certain as you were that sex was a mutual and reciprocal endeavor, it is now offset by the disappointment and confusion you feel when he doesn’t pursue you and doesn’t respond to your wishes to see him again, regardless of what he said to you in bed or before.

Often, a relationship after first-date sex is not something you can count on until he follows up words with actions. When he doesn’t, it can leave you feeling disappointed, shamed, and disbelieving—and these feelings can lead to a dangerous and uncomfortable spiral in which you try to re-captivate him through the only means that has worked so far—sexual enticement—hoping that if he sees you or is reminded of you, he’ll feel the way he felt last time and everything will get better. You want so much to believe that what you had is “real” that you hold onto things he said or did that seem to mean he wants a relationship, too.

Instead—as traditional and conventional as we all know this advice is—if you’re truly interested in laying the groundwork for a relationship, it’s usually helpful to wait before having sex. This can be difficult when your feelings compel you to have sex on the first date.

Of course, there are tons of people with stories of one-night stands that lead to marriage—but that’s still an exception, not the norm. They're not examples you can hang your hat on.

If you really like a person, sleeping with him or her right off the bat is less likely to help you cultivate a meaningful, intimate relationship over time than if you wait until you've created more connection, reciprocity, and mutual investment.

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