I Married a One-Night Stand

June 1, 2009



“Love is the answer, but while you’re waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty good questions.”

Woody Allen





Today I’m beginning a new series, and it starts with the backstory of my own most significant relationship. I sometimes share personal details here, but I’ve never told you this particular story. It’s the story that originally won me the confidence of a group of young women, who have gone on to share so much of themselves with me over the past few years. I guess it gave me street cred, or maybe it was bed cred. Anyway, today I’ll lay it out, and in future posts I’ll be commenting on the bits that I believe are relevant to you. My next post will address the primary moral of the story, so check back tomorrow for that!


I Married a One-Night Stand

In August, 1981 I left my beach apartment in LA to spend two years earning my MBA at The Wharton School. I had applied to business school on a dare from my father, who had foolishly offered to pay my way if I could get into a top program. I had been a middling student (and party girl) in college, but once I graduated from college and went into the workplace, I excelled, primarily due to my people skills. Wharton took a chance on me, and off I went.

On the first day, my class of 650 was called together for an introductory welcome speech. I didn’t know a soul, but I entered the auditorium and found a seat somewhere in the middle. I looked around, seeing pretty much what I had expected to find. Only about a quarter of us were women. Most of the guys looked like they’d been weaned on the Wall St. Journal. The early 80s was the height of Preppy style, and this group was a walking, talking ad for double popped collars. At least they weren’t the hot but dumb surfers I’d been hanging out with at the beach for the last couple of years.

There He was. He was sitting a couple of rows up and a few seats over. He didn’t look like anyone else in the room. His hair was a little too long to be fashionable. He wore rimless glasses. He looked long-legged; his knees rose up uncomfortably behind the seat in front of him. He was wearing a colorful checked shirt, rolled up to the elbows. He seemed a bit older than many of the other guys. He looked around suddenly, and I got a glimpse of his face. His eyes were the color of swimming pool water. He had crows’ feet, which gave him a wise, sensitive look. I thought he looked like a poet, or maybe a songwriter. Definitely not a business type.

Over the next few months, he and I wound up hanging in the same crowd, and I learned more about him:


  • He had a preference for Penn undergrads.
  • He had a preference for skinny women.
  • He gravitated towards dark, exotic looking women (his opposite).
  • His walks of shame took him right below my window.
  • He regarded me as one might regard a married, unattractive coworker. That is, I was not invisible, he was perfectly friendly, but there was NO VIBE.



  • He had worked in the record industry, and knew a ton about music.
  • He had a slight space between his front teeth.
  • He was witty.
  • He dressed with a creative edge, at least compared with all the Investment Banker wannabes.
  • He sometimes told charming, self-effacing stories that gave him a slight air of vulnerability. He knew he was cool, but he was not cocky.


I had a huge crush on him, but could see that it was 100% one-sided. He was never rude, but neither did he ever linger to chat with me, or seek me out in any way. In early March, my roommate and I decided to throw a party, and we intended to make it a rager. I asked Him if he had any recommendations for music, and he offered to lend me a bunch of his LPs so that I could make a tape. I went over to his house, glimpsed his bed, tried to focus on his record collection. He was very nice, but all business. NO VIBE. I left with my arms full of his best party music.

The following week I arranged to drop off his albums one evening. When I got there, he was in a chatty mood. He seemed in no rush to get me out of there, so we hung out for a bit. I was nervous, but I needn’t have been because there was NO VIBE. At one point, he went to his desk and pulled out a photo. He showed it to me, identifying the dark, thin woman as his ex. WHY? WHY ME? He said that things between them were “on hold” while she tried to sort out her sexual identity. Oh, you have got to be kidding me! Now I’m competing with a dark, thin, bisexual? I had nothin’! I nodded and made sympathetic murmurs for a couple of minutes, then decided I really wanted to get the hell out of there. No way did I want to give advice to this lovelorn guy.

I stood up, said thanks again, and went to put on my coat. He pounced. WTF?!?!?!? He was into it. VIBE! I knew I couldn’t trust it. I knew it meant nothing. But here I was, with Him, and it was never going to happen again. So of course I went with it!

In the morning, he was all about the pillow talk. We stayed in bed till afternoon. SUCH A NICE VIBE! It was a Friday, and as I walked home I wondered when I would see him next. You know what’s coming, right? Right. No weekend sighting. No call. Nada. At lunch on Monday, we were sitting in the same crowd of about 8 or so. He acted as he always had towards me. Nothing had changed. We were back to NO VIBE. That was really hard, very disappointing. I didn’t get it; everything had gone so well, I felt that we had really connected. I was crazier about him than ever. I had it bad.

I decided I didn’t want to just pretend it had never happened. I’d rather be awkward not-friends than act as if we were, and always had been, platonic. On Wednesday afternoon, I saw him in front of the library. I approached him. He was very cordial.

“Oh, hey Susan!”

“Hey. Listen, um, I uh, just wanted to say something to you.”

He looked petrified. He looked around, desperately seeking an exit strategy.

“Well, I just wanted to say I really liked being with you the other night, and I would like to spend more time with you.”

He looked me in the eye then. He didn’t look surprised. He didn’t look anything. His face was inscrutable.

“Um, I, er, don’t think so.”

Okayyyyyy. I wasn’t exactly ready for that. I should have been, but I wasn’t.

“Oh. OK, that’s fine. Allright, well, I’m gonna go study now, so I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah, you bet.”


As soon as he was out of sight, I scurried back to the dorm, threw myself onto my bed and wept. When I had stopped hiccupping, I recounted the whole humiliating conversation for my roommate. This occurred during midterms, and that weekend was the start of spring break. I was a mess, and I wanted to spend some time alone. I booked myself into a charming B&B in Kennebunkport, Maine. I read and walked and slept with a big fire roaring in my room. It was pure self-indulgence, with a strong dose of self-pity as the foundation. It was a great weekend. I remember reading Wuthering Heights to milk it for the full effect.

After I returned, I ran into Him, and he asked me how my “sad and lonely” weekend had been. What an asshole. OK, awkward not-friends. I can do that. After a couple more weeks, he approached me and asked, “Are you upset with me about something?” Was he for real? Of course I said, “No! Not a thing! We’re good!”

In May, he and his roommates threw a big strawberry daquiri party to celebrate the end of finals. I went, it was fine, I was over it. He was actually sort of attentive. Whatever. I got wasted. As it got late, He was standing next to me, putting his hand on the small of my back. He leaned over and whispered, “Why don’t you stay?”

Reader, I slept with him. Only, this time I knew not to expect a damn thing. I left first thing in the morning, before he could start in with the meaningless pillow talk. Shortly after, I went to NYC for my summer internship, while he stayed in Philly for his. In June I received a typed postcard from him. Typed. Who does that? It included a positive review of the new Elvis Costello album and a recommendation that I save my pennies for the new Kid Creole and the Coconuts record as well. I wasn’t sure whether this progress made us “not-awkward not-friends” or “awkward friends”, but either way, I didn’t think much of it. We had always connected around music, after all.

In early July, I got another postcard, also typed:

“I’ve been trying to call you, but you are never there. Not in the morning, not in the evening, not in the middle of the night. ??????”

Ha. Something is up. Too little too late, bud.

Late July:

“I was thinking of coming up to NY for a weekend. To see you. OK?”

That first night, I served a romantic picnic dinner on the roof of my building in Tribeca, including a cold soup with lobster. It gave him food poisoning. We hooked up when he wasn’t barfing, and it was the most romantic weekend ever.

We surprised everyone by staying together through our second year, and then moving in together in NYC after graduation. We got married in September of 1984. We’ll celebrate our 25th anniversary this year.

That’s our story. As you can imagine, I had some residual feelings of confusion and rejection at first, and that made things complicated for a while. I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy for finding your one true love. He hasn’t ever really explained any of his early behavior, except to say that he was incredibly stupid for a while. He has proved his love for me every day, though, since that weekend in New York. Oh yeah, I’ve got him wrapped around my little finger.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the single most important lesson in this story. What do you think it is? 

  • I’ve heard that story before but it is one of my favorites. I tell it to my friends when we are down in the dumps about guys. I’m still a little into my most recent hookup and still send him stupid emails about helping me find work and with grad programs. I have to say your story and pretty much how you live/d your life is totally awesome and I think it is why so many of us “young” ones love your blog. I just love knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel and hope that my most significant love story is as great as yours.

    • susanawalsh

      That is so sweet, Megan, thank you. There is something about it that gives hope to young women – that’s why I decided to share it with the world. My husband doesn’t know, I think he would have a heart attack. Fortunately, he rarely reads HUS, so I think I’m safe. I’m tempted to start a pep talk here, but I’ll save it for the next few posts….BTW, I’m sure you didn’t miss the part where I said I would NOT recommend starting a relationship this way. It took me a long time to feel good about it!

  • I’m moving on from the last one. I have an email drafted to him in my email asking him to go for coffee to talk about something pointless. I just realized that I seem so desperate and that is no way to start a relationship. I am not really focusing on the relationship thing at the moment. I’m kind of sick of the whole dating/hooking up thing.

    • susanawalsh

      It does get old, feeling like you are “working on it” all the time. Sounds like you need a break. I have always thought you and that guy would make great friends, and you have clearly extended the offer of friendship. So it sounds like there is something weird there. With him, not with you. Maybe he’s just not worth it, even on that level.

  • ThePeachTart

    Susan what a wonderful story. I can’t wait to hear more.

    • susanawalsh

      Thanks, Peach Tart! That’s high praise coming from an awesome storyteller!

  • Decoybetty

    This may turn into a rant, I apologise if it does. so the movie He’s just not that into you….Justin Long (le sigh) spends most of the movie telling Gigi that she is the rule not the exception. Awesome. Until the end when he’s all “you’re my exception” — you’re the exception, Susan, not the rule–so good on ya (no seriously! I have to say, I think you handled the situation wonderfully!)! But that wasn’t my point, my point was that totally annoyed me about the movie. So now, I’m waiting for the guy where I am the exception? Until then, I am going to be the rule? Was this their way of saying “I love you”…couldn’t we have just stuck with that? Ranting, over and out!

    • susanawalsh

      I totally get what you are saying. In a way, my story sounds a little like winning the lottery or something. I got to be the exception, how often does that happen? I hate looking at it that way because it seems like it’s all totally out of your control. But I don’t think it is. I think there were things I did that shaped the outcome, and things my husband did as well. Some positive, some negative. When you think about it, falling in love passionately is the exception, not the rule. Maybe love is the exception, and that’s what makes that person so special. And the “rule” is basically just the norm for douchebag behavior most of the time. Stay tuned, I’ll be talking more about it.

    • heartbot

      I just watched this movie and thought the same thing. The movie on the whole was utter crap, but this part is very true. For the most part, you are the rule. Very few women ever become the exception–even with the guys they are meant to be with. Even with him, you will be the rule! The point of the movie, I think, is to stop wasting your time thinking you will be or even can be the exception, when most people, the overwhelming majority of people, aren’t. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. That’s just the way dating is, and I think the movie really (if you ignore all of the stupidity) drives home the message that you should date smart, and stop attempting to date a fantasy, rather than a real live human being.

      While I love, love, love this story, Susan, I’ve gotta admit…it’s going to get girls hopes up. It’s the same reason why I don’t tell my not-so-romantic love story to girls pining away over men who have no interest in them. It’s not helpful. It wouldn’t have even been helpful to me a few years back when my own Mr. Right was being Mr. Dipshit. Telling girls that they can turn their hook-ups into marriages is, in my opinion, very risky and more often than not really bad advice. While you can, by all means, encourage girls to date smart and hook up smart by telling this story, I think telling them that they can expect far more from their hook-up partner than their hook-up partner likely ever had any idea of giving is…well…almost cruel.

      • susanawalsh

        Thanks, heartbot, this is such a great comment. I love it that the article has sparked a discussion. I have been blogging for six months, but only published it now because it feels like a lot of exposure and I wasn’t sure how my readers would react. So thank you for reacting, and explaining how you feel!

        You know, I liked the movie HJNTIY more than the book precisely because it was more hopeful. I personally feel that the book encourages women to give up and move on very, very quickly. It doesn’t allow enough, IMO, for the, um, idiocy of the male species when it comes to matters of the heart.

        The message I’m trying to convey is that not you can turn your meaningless hookups into marriages. I just published a new post that is really about having the courage to say what you really feel. That’s what made me feel OK about being rejected. It cleared the air in a way, and it left room for something other than more meaningless hookups. I didn’t expect anything more, but in some way, my speaking from the heart, knowing he wasn’t into it, changed the dynamic. That’s not predictable. But even if he had never come around, I would still feel good today about making the choice to lay it on the line.

  • I know. Currently he always responds to my emails, but it really isn’t worth it. Just realizing it.

  • Hmmm… Heartbot you raise an interesting point. I heard this story after I had just gone threw a little bit of a rough patch with a couple guys I had been hooking up with. I saw this story as more of you never know what could happen. If you read it she pretty much gave up on her husband ever coming around. I mean it is a romantic story as in the girl gets the guy in the end, but I don’t think that us single girls out there are waking up the next morning after a hook up going “This is the guy I’m going to marry.” We all know what a hook up means and if you think that it is going to turn into something more then you probably should not be hooking up with him. Also I think this story just shows you never really know what can happen with a hook up or a relationship.

    I get the whole date smart and date real and don’t believe in a fantasy. However, I think what the story really is saying is that you should hold out for something amazing because you are amazing. What is amazing to you could seem like totally mundane friendship to someone else. Sometimes that means you pine over Mr. Dipshit because you think he is your Mr. Right, and in the rare cases he is and yes maybe hearing stories like this keep your hopes up, but maybe it also allows us to see potential in all our relationships. All of my friends that are in amazing relationships all have amazing stories. I believe it is because they waited to be the exception.

    I guess that is my rant for the day.

    • susanawalsh

      Megan, thanks, you said it better than I did. My giving up on those hopes is exactly what I found freeing. And yes, you are amazing. And you deserve respect and honesty, and if that’s all a guy can give you, that’s still worth a lot. And when that guy comes along who wants to give you more, I hope you realize it. Because my husband nearly made the biggest mistake of his life, haha! There is a lot of serendipity in all relationships. I agree that it is important to look for the potential, but live your own life to the fullest no matter what.

  • Nameless

    Nice story..

  • Polyamorous Desi

    “I have to say, though, that looking for comfort is no way to get into a relationship.”

    Why not?

    • It’s not fair to the other person, assuming they want more than to be like an old pair of slippers that you can slip on at the end of a hard day.

  • Polyamorous Desi

    Comfort doesn’t have to mean sexually dry or romantically defunct. The commenter who used this word is also having sex, and enjoying it, with the man she used about.

  • Tom

    My SO was a supposed one night stand 😉

  • terry

    hi susan! found your site through the great kate bolick atlantic story. but where is the article following this one? cant seem to find it!

  • terry

    oops, i dont think i gave you the correct email address. this is it!

  • Wayfinder
  • nina

    I know this is a very old post, but i just recently discovered your blig and i am loving it. I wanted to comment on this particular post because my mother went to Wharton the exact same years and i showed her your photo and she recognized you
    What a coincidence right?

    • @nina

      That’s crazy, who is she? She probably remembers my husband as well!