One-night stands are often viewed as being unimportant and insignificant. But, is it possible that this one night could be the beginning of a successful long-term relationship?

When considering this thought, it’s important to think about the difference between two terms that are very often thought to mean the same thing – a one-night stand and a hook-up. A one-night stand is often regarded as being something meaningless. It’s usually followed by a giggly conversation with friends over the decision that was made the previous night after a few too many glasses of wine.

Owing to this, the thought of it potentially developing into an actual relationship is often not even a consideration – for most people, it’s not a thought that ever crosses their mind. This is particularly the case for individuals for whom it’s important to wait for sex within a relationship.


Presently, we have access to a bigger pool of potential sexual partners than we’ve ever had before. In the age of Tinder and online dating, it’s clear to see how far we’ve come within society, and how having casual sexual relationships are relatively lacking in stigma. In fact, it’s without a doubt that, for a lot of individuals, the only reason they sign up for dating apps is because of the desire for casual sex. Take Tinder, for example, an app which now holds a reputation as being a hookup app where people meet, spend the night and never see each other again.

However, despite this, there is a large bank of evidence suggesting that one-night stands can – and actually do – lead to long-term relationships. But, when considering this, the difference between a one-night stand and a hook-up is key:

Hook-up: something that’s usually pre-planned – you’ve spoken to them previously, on a dating app for example, and agreed to meet in person

One-night stand: often something more spontaneous. While you may go out thinking it would be nice to meet someone, you’ve never met or spoken to the person before. For example, you meet them at the bar and end up having a drink and going home with them.

The Science

Dr. Helen Fisher, a big name within the dating industry and a well-known biological anthropologist, is now the chief scientific advisor for Dr Helen suggests that 30% of relationships start as one-night stands. Interestingly, whilst stereotypes and society suggest men are more likely to initiate one-night stands, Fisher’s research with Match suggests men are 3 times more likely than women to want a one-night stand to develop into a relationship.

But, why is this the case? One phenomenon that is essentially in play here is the idea of love at first sight. Although this does sound very Cinderella and Prince Charming, as Fisher explains it is actually scientifically plausible as love is essentially just a response in the chemical and neural pathways causing a psychological reaction in the same way as other stimuli.

One study looking at love at first sight by Arthur Aron suggests that it can take as little as 90 seconds to fall in love with someone. With the initial attraction, dopamine then triggers the release of testosterone causing sexual desire (at this stage, it’s essentially lust rather than love but from this stage, love can then develop). Following this, adrenaline and cortisol start to work causing neurotransmitters norepinephrine and phenylethylamine to cause you to focus more on the particular individual.

Additionally, with reduced activity in the frontal and prefrontal cortices in the brain, individuals experience impaired decision-making abilities. With everything mentioned above happening, plus the environmental components of a one-night stand, a concoction of emotions are present causing sparks to fly and the two of you ending up in bed together.

With either a one-night stand or a hook up there are low expectations as you don’t actually expect to develop a relationship from it. This is actually key to allowing feelings to grow. When you wake up in bed, naked next to someone you don’t know, barriers are immediately broken down. This, plus the fact that after sex people are more themselves, and with the presence of oxytocin – the ‘cuddle hormone’ – produced due to skin-on-skin contact, an attachment can grow without you even realizing.

Talking about feelings

If you wake up and find yourself desperate to get your clothes on and leave then it is probably just sex, but if you find yourself enjoying spending time with them the next morning then this may suggest there could be something deeper that might be worth exploring. This makes sense as, even if you’re just looking for someone to have casual sex with, you’re probably still looking for someone with similar characteristics as you would if you were looking for a partner to share a long-term relationship with.

Developing a relationship is complicated and down to a large number of factors, such as personal compatibility and timing – and there’s definitely something to be said about the importance of sexual chemistry. When this is present earlier on (such as a one-night stand) then for both individuals the basis for a strong relationship can be seen – it’s up to them whether they act on it. Owing to this, it’s important to be clear about feelings early on; if one individual sees the potential for a relationship, and the other just wants casual sex, then the hurt experienced can be reduced by being open and honest.

The “how we met” story

Every couple has a ‘how we met’ story – but you probably don’t hear many of these about having too many drinks and sleeping with each other on the first night they met. Although individuals may have actually met by having a one-night stand, there’s definitely still some stigma surrounding this and the thought that by letting people know that’s how they met, the authenticity and seriousness of the relationship may be questioned. So, to avoid this, a fairytale-like story is created instead.

However, this has consequences – it causes cultural norms to be established based on false romance stories and may cause individuals to disregard people they’ve had one-night stands with, and where a connection is present, as they’ve never heard of someone for whom a one-night stand has led to a relationship.

It creates a society where there’s a misunderstanding that a long-term relationship is just as likely to form from an unplanned night in bed with a stranger as it is when two individuals get to know each other slowly.

Here at Maclynn International we’re experts in relationships and love and know that there is no rule book or one size fits all. However, with matchmaking, most individuals come to us with a similar goal – to find a long-term partner. If you’re single and looking to find someone truly compatible who shares your values, visions, and outlook on life to fall in love with, then get in touch today to see how we can help turn this into a reality.