This summer, I decided I was done with relationships. Newly single and studying abroad in Paris, I wanted no strings, no responsibility, and absolutely no drama. Any romance would have to fit into my happily single life, be short and sweet, and preferably involve a hot French guy who spoke minimal English. If I was looking for anything, I was looking for a fling.
I ended up hitting it off with a guy who did speak English — Jesse* was also studying abroad and attended a college not too far from mine back in the Northeast. We met during a night out with friends, I thought he was cute, and I knew that his flight back to the U.S. was in just a few days. We quickly established that we were enjoying our single lives in school and abroad and were both recently out of relationships, so neither of us was looking for anything long-term. The conditions for a fling were ideal.
The time constraint — and being transparent about our expectations — changed the way I behaved, too. I couldn’t play the games I usually play when I first start dating someone. I didn’t worry about waiting 20 minutes to text him back or being the first to initiate conversation. With seemingly no potential for a future together and nothing really at risk, I felt free to be my real self — something that is rare for me on early dates. We spent the three days we had together going to dinner, visiting museums, and walking around the city, all while diving into deep discussions and opening up to each other in a way I didn’t think two flingers ever could.
“When you don’t really ‘care’ because it’s a just-for-fun relationship, you might feel more comfortable being vulnerable and getting raw in the emotional sense,” says Laurel House, dating coach and host of “Man Whisperer” podcast. “You feel freer, you aren’t as stressed, some of your walls have come down, and you don’t hide your true self.”
Perhaps because of our carefree honesty, I began to fall for Jesse. I had always thought of flings as short-term bouts of physical passion with little conversation and even less emotion. You can’t have real feelings for a fling. But when our barely 72-hour romance came to a close, I was left with the giddiness of crushing on someone new accompanied with confusion as to why I felt the way I did about something that was supposed to be meaningless and superficial. Perhaps it’s because casual dating isn’t my mode of choice. My college friends could rattle off their casual one-night stands or flings that ended in ghosted texts, false expectations, or simply fizzled out. But to my surprise, my correspondence with my fling didn’t end — and it didn’t seem like he wanted it to, either. Jesse would text me out of the blue just to start a conversation or DM me about something I posted on Instagram. He seemed to view what we had as potentially more than just a casual three-day fling and shared my desire to see where it could go. We even made plans to meet up again later that summer when I returned home.
When I got back to New York, a college friend excitedly told me that she had discovered “The Rules,” an old-school, single girl’s self-help Bible that would surely end her search for “the one.” She recited the commandments: rarely return his calls, don’t open up too fast, and so on. While she read, it dawned on me that I had brutally ignored every relationship “rule” with Jesse, from the proper amount of time to wait before responding to a text to when to spend the night. And yet, without a lofty end goal in mind, it had worked for me.
In the weeks and months that followed, my summer fling transformed into a full-fledged relationship. When Jesse and I met up in New York later that summer, we discovered the emotions we felt after our Paris fling weren’t just the result of rose-colored glasses. We actually did like each other. And when we returned to school, our texts turned into long FaceTime calls, our vacations turned into time to visit each other, and my fling turned into a real boyfriend. It got me thinking that maybe we need to re-evaluate what flings are. I used to assume that flings had no substance, but learned they can be the perfect way to get to know someone, because they naturally lead to letting your guard down.
“The key is to find someone who is as open and as real as you are, so your relationship isn’t built on superficial grounds,” says House. “That means saying what you like and don’t like, and being unafraid to walk away if something isn’t working, (even if you know it has an end date).”
The nothing-to-lose mentality of flings allows us to leave behind the fake personas we often introduce to new partners and bring our true selves to the table instead. Because when you find someone you truly connect with, the rules of romance go by the wayside, which is exactly where they belong.
*Name has been changed.