I was sitting on the curb at 4 a.m., not crying but not exactly not-crying. It had been a really bad night. Suddenly a Citi Bike came to a screeching halt in front of me.
“You okay, bro?” a voice asked.
I looked up. This stunning man stood there, glowing in moonlight. “I’m fine,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I just had a really lousy night.”
“Well, the night is over,” he said. “It’s morning now. So let’s make sure you have a good morning.”
He introduced himself as Ron, extended a hand and pulled me up to my feet.
“Walk with me,” he said.
As we walked, he asked about my scar and my beard and my backpack and my shoes. Asked so much about me that I was rambling about myself. At one point I said, “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore! Even right now, I don’t even know where I’m walking!”
Ron stopped, laughed and laid a hand on my shoulder. “Babe,” he said, “we’re walking to my place.”
It was the fastest I had ever gone from bro to babe. I wish I could’ve seen the look on my face. It made him laugh really hard. He had to sigh to catch his breath when he finally spoke to say, “You’re too damn cute.”
It was nice. It was nicer than nice.
We descended into his basement apartment and my trepidation was undone by the jewel box of style and sophistication that he called home. It was all so jarringly whirlwind that I had the sustained concern — for about 10 minutes or so — that while sitting on that curb I had inadvertently offered my soul to the devil for one perfect night with a great guy.
The sex was transportive. With gymnastic prowess Ron [bleeped] his [graphic vulgarity] with the most incredible and frankly awe-inspiring [violation of Washington Post standards] I have ever [redacted].
It was something far apart from love at first sight — the giddy trajectory of a fling. The whirlybird magnetism, the electric eroticism. So many tender touches ricocheting through time and memory. It felt cosmic.
Ron was a human ransom letter of winks, dimples, smiles and muscles who held my heart hostage for a few weeks. I felt lucky to have been snatched by him.
When I finally caught up with friends, at a coffee shop, one remarked that I was “glowing.” I couldn’t talk without smiling, a kind of giggling Joker grin. And then someone said what people always say about flings: “You’re acting like a teenager!”
That’s flings’ bum rap: That they’re juvenile, silly, stupid, petty and lazy in the way that indulgence is lazy. But there’s a power to flings. Consider them romantic study-abroad sessions where you learn who you are in this other language so far, um, flung from the plodding quality of planned and plotted dates. A fling catches you like a breeze, swirls you and twirls you long enough that you forget you’re standing at a crosswalk or on a subway platform. It’s heightening, the way it makes you aware of everything around you, aware of yourself. A friend calls them “five-second crushes” and they make you eager for whatever unfolds in that sixth second.
Why is dating more mature? Dating is cowardice. Nobody ever has the guts to say what they want on a date. It’s all euphemism: “I’d like to see you” or “Let’s grab coffee” or “Would you like to come upstairs?” Daters talk about “sleeping together” and flingers (is there even a word for them?) talk about being very much awake and alert with each other. Daters whisper sweet nothings. Flingers groan and it’s everything.
Flings, like any lowbrow culture — candy, television, pop music — can give us teachable moments about ourselves. The key to drawing wisdom or growth from a fling is to realize that any serious insight is not waiting there to be mined like a jewel in a cave wall. A fling is no jewel. Nothing so obvious, so gauche. A fling comes to you like a birdsong or the elusive allure of when you find that warm spot in your bedsheets. You enjoy it without caring that it won’t last. You enjoy it precisely because it won’t last.
I had a friend, married now, who used to pronounce marriage as “mirage.” She contended there was a lot of artifice built in. But if formal courtship — from first date to wedding day — is performative, consider flings the stuff of directors’ cuts: the raw, giddy, goofy, we-can-cut-this-later experimentalism that has so often become the line between mere commerce and high art. We should all be a little more of a director and a little less of a screenwriter, living and loving off-script.
In the throes of a fling, you have no past, no future, just the gimme-a-minute pause of holding the present in your hands. You can say whatever you want. I once told a fling he was the sunshine of single life. (It sounded better in Spanish.) When he asked me why he was like the sun, I didn’t mince words: “I think you bring light wherever you go. And I can feel your heat.”
Have you ever held your eyes closed too long after a kiss? That’s a kiss flinging you. We should let moments transport us more. Let people transport us. A fling is a reminder that love is also fun and games, not just courtship. I can already hear every dating profile scream: “I AM NOT INTO GAMES OR DRAMA!” Fine, enjoy your protocol. But what is the point of being proudly “weird” or “quirky” or “queer” if you shoot down impulsiveness and serendipity? What’s the point of being “into travel” if you never let yourself get whisked away by a stranger?
Flings are not relationship fitness. But they are all relationship stretches. Let them warm you up. Let them expand your reach beyond your grasp; that’s where all the heavenly moments are. Flings are reminders that love and marriage are not missions, but rather adventures. Maybe you disagree. And maybe you’re right. But if that’s what being right is, I’d much rather be Ron.