How To Deal With An Emotional Hangover After A One-Night Stand

by Meredith Lee

I sexually matured smack-dab in the middle of a sorority house. Among our ranks, the one-night stand was more than a right of passage. It was hailed as the Holy Grail of validation. The more validation you could get, the better.

On the weekends, we drunkenly explored the beds and the bodies of men who lived within walking distance.

In the mornings, we’d crawl out of neighboring fraternities and hurry back to our collectively hungover sorority house.

The journey home from a one-night stand was commonly known as the “Walk of Shame." Upon arrival, we tended to our physical hangovers.

We knew so-and-so was going to vomit until about 6, when she’d shower and rally for the evening festivities. We knew so-and-so was definitely not going to rally, and she’d need peace and quiet for the next 24 hours.

We knew to place a fan by so-and-so’s head or to bring so-and-so ice chips. Together, we moaned about headaches. We consoled about new bruises from falling down in stairwells.

But, when it came to our emotional hangovers, we were clueless. Many were isolated with morning-after loneliness. Others cried alone, feeling embarrassed over romantic missteps.

Most of us binged on television and snack food to elevate our depressed moods. A group of us obsessively checked our phones for texts from our one-night partners.

Those texts never came, and it hurt. Instead of giving voice to the sadness we were feeling, we stuffed it down with a sleeve of Fig Newtons.

We knew how to do a Walk of Shame alone, but we didn't know how to have a Conversation of Shame together.

Mediums like popular television, women-facing magazines, movies and gossip websites told us young, attractive, educated white women love a good sexcapade.

And if we didn’t love our sexcapades, then it was probably our own fault. And in a sorority house, your own faults are best kept to yourself.

Nobody was there to present us with the counterargument. Nobody told us, for some people, a night of emotionally detached sex is followed by a stretch of depression, anxiety and emptiness.

Nobody said feelings of guilt and unhappiness are not necessarily a product of societal slut shaming or religious conditioning. Nobody argued this slump is a perfectly valid reaction to our recent experience.

The most shameful part of my college-aged sexcapades was denying my own unhappiness and suffering quietly through emotional hangovers.

I spent several years doing the same sexual dance each weekend, always expecting a different emotional result. That cannot be what the Sexual Revolution was going for.

Because my peers and the media were not offering the answers I needed, I searched elsewhere.

For me, breakthroughs came with the help of therapists and mindfulness pursuits. Now, I know sex for the sake of sex is emotionally harmful to me, and that’s okay. I don’t need to do it.

These realizations should be available early and often to young adults who are sexually active, and they should be happening outside of shrinks’ offices and ashrams.

I’m now a conscientious facilitator of those Conversations of Shame I was afraid to have in college. When my friend divulges about a one-night stand, I probe a little deeper: “How did that make you feel?”

Frequently, I find they are reckoning with the same kernel of guilt and dissatisfaction I wanted to hide.

I say, “I can understand that feeling. I have had it before.” She sighs with relief.

Now, my friends and I confidently take Walks of Shamelessness. Some of us walk home alone earlier in the evening.

Others still walk arm in arm with a stranger, giddy over the impending sexathon. But when one of those friends hurts with emotional injuries incurred between the sheets, she will call me on her walk home.

I will acknowledge and validate her shame and sadness. That way, she can transform it into power.