I’ve always appreciated getting a heads-up from the host of a party if someone I’ve been intimate with is also invited—the “FYI, someone you slept with is going to be at my party” message. You don’t want to get caught with a Fritos Scoop full of seven-layer dip in your hand when someone who has seen you naked walks up with a hot, Scoop-less date. Running into a real ex is a whole other thing, but for me, running into the one-night/one-week stand has always been more embarrassing. Until recently I didn’t totally understand why.
I once hooked up with a guy who was just out of a relationship, as was I, and we both agreed to one fun night with no follow-up e-mails or calls or dates or obligations. Just a one-off. A fun-off. (Just an aside, a name-drop without the name: The guy became super famous a short while later.) We made out in a bar. On the street in front of the bar. On the curb in the residential neighborhood surrounding the bar, when the bouncer made it clear he didn’t have the same enthusiasm for us that we had for each other. The guy’s friend eventually dropped us off at my place. It didn’t take long for him to “tour” my junior one-bedroom and meet my two cats. It was clear he was not a cat person. I would usually keep the cats out of the bedroom, but this was a one-night-only thing and the cats were not, so they stayed. We had a good time, but we were pretty drunk. It was neither of our best work, but I would stand by it in court. “He did this. Then I did that. It all worked together. It was a fun-off!” I think the jury would rule it was an average hookup and that we both had nothing to be embarrassed about. So when the alcohol went from giving us energy to making us dead tired, we gave in. We celebrated a job well-enough done by snuggling up to each other, strangers, on my queen-size pillow-top.
His body wrapped around mine. Legs touching. Arms touching. Faces touching. Strangers just hours earlier now with touching faces! Two slumbering strangers totally and completely vulnerable. I sleep in the fetal position. He assumed the big spoon. I have a little whistle in my nose that I’m self-conscious about. He snored lightly and bit his fingernails. That hopefully made us even. I stared at his face while he slept. (I’m aware that sounds creepy.) That’s something else, looking at a person’s sleeping face. Seeing their wrinkles fade away as their muscles relax. Feeling the tension of life leave their body for a few hours. Feeling their toe hair. And those rogue hairs on their neck that don’t even know what kind of hairs they are. You spend more time cuddled up with a person post-hookup than you do actually hooking up. Which is why, I realized, I was embarrassed when I ran into this now famous guy. We’d been more than “intimate with each other”; we’d been intimate with each other. Sleeping together was more intimate than “sleeping together.” I drooled. I freaking drooled!
I’m not embarrassed about the sex. Or that he’s seen me naked. I thought I was, but I’m embarrassed that he knows my nose whistles. I’m embarrassed that we held each other. That I stared at him sleeping. That we slept intertwined for a long time (minus the few minutes I left to quietly fart into towels—I’m very ladylike). But why? Why is that type of intimacy embarrassing and sex is not? I guess because we’re kind of less vulnerable during sex, when our animal instincts take over. It’s afterward that we’re back to being regular humans who bite their nails and put down shower curtains in the hallway every night because their cats pee on the carpet.
I’ve hooked up with a lot of guys, and I don’t really remember the hooking up, but I do remember intimate things about them. A tattoo of a dragon that had faded and bled into a fat snake. A tan line that revealed the dude was the owner of some kind of European-cut swimsuit. And I remember things from their bedrooms: posters of bands that once defined them (Rush), books they aspired to read on the floor (Crime and Punishment) and books they’d actually read (Gone Girl, a sort of Crime and Punishment light). Souvenirs from the life they’d lived (a college diploma). And evidence of the life they wanted: a book on screenwriting, a new guitar, a travel guide to Argentina from 10 years earlier. And then there are our bedrooms and what they remember about us: our one-night stands, nose whistles, regrettable tattoos and empty Tylenol PM bottles. The Brides magazine on the nightstand, clearly not being read by any soon-to-be bride. They take these mental Polaroids of us, as we do of them.
But maybe it’s not so embarrassing. Maybe that real intimacy is weirdly beautiful, your body and your life lazily intertwined with a stranger for the night. Just two humans being human. So next time you’re at a friend’s party and you run into a girl holding a Fritos Scoop who you know from personal experience drools and sneaks off to fart into towels in the middle of the night, be kind—and maybe she won’t tell anyone you like to be the little spoon.