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Vaguely Urgent

How text messaging has transformed the art of finding a late-night hookup

by Molly Eadie on February 13, 2013


During his first semester of college, Mark met Tom, both 18 at the time, at a party and they exchanged numbers. They left the party separately, but texted each other when they got back to campus. They hooked up, and the next day, added each other on Facebook.

A week later, Mark sparked a text-message conversation about a book he’d read. They planned their first date via text, and after three years, are still dating.

But earlier this year, they decided to try an open relationship. They were still together, but Mark had never really been with anyone else, and wanted that experience. They agreed that one-time hookups with other people were OK, as long as they weren’t with people they knew and it didn’t interfere with their relationship.

Where does one find a stranger, ready for a one-night stand, who will come over quickly, leave just as quickly, and never be seen again?

You might find one at the bar, but Mark and Tom found the Internet to be a lot easier. They both joined dating websites like OkCupid. Soon Mark was texting so many men he had trouble keeping track of them in his phone.

“It was incredibly easy,” says Mark. “I could find a guy online, give him my number, and he’d be over within the hour.”

On nights Mark was out with his friends, texting made 2 or 3 AM hookups possible.

Late-night, spontaneous hookups are nothing new, but texting somehow makes them seem a lot less desperate and obvious than a phone call. A text can be sheepishly disguised as a genuine inquiry of one’s well-being, or an invitation to just “hang out.” A text message asking about the crowd at the bar you’re at is a lot more innocent than a 1 AM phone call asking where you are. Checking into locations on Facebook or FourSquare, or posting a photo of the bar your at, is effectively announcing your night’s plans to the world. When everyone’s whereabouts on a given Saturday night is practically public knowledge, it’s a lot easier for half-planned meet-ups and run-ins.

And for people trying to avoid relationships or even dating, texting can fill the void when that late-night desire for a partner kicks in. Ted, in his early 40s, met Sarah, 25, in a bar one night. They took a liking to each other and often hung out because they frequented the same watering holes, and finally hooked up after a night of drinking. But whenever Ted tried to interest her in scheduling an actual evening out together, she was vague about her availability, and no date ever happened. Instead, once in a while Sarah would send him a text around midnight, usually something seemingly innocuous like “You out?”—her signal that she was in the mood.

And when nights out are deliberately left open-ended, texting is key to finding a quick backup plan. Ian, 21, says one night at a house party, the girl he was making out with suddenly left. He never found out what happened to her, but, hot and bothered, he resorted to texting a girl he had met the previous weekend. She was sleeping and his text woke her up, but she invited him over anyway.

With ease of communication comes the danger of impulsive ex-sex that one or both parties would have avoided when sober. Colin, 22, drunkenly texted an ex-girlfriend one night, knowing she had moved states away. But his seemingly futile late-night text wish came true: Ten minutes later, she was at his door. Unbeknownst to him, she was in town visiting a friend.

“The texts usually say ‘Hey come over let’s hang out,’ or ‘Hey what are you doing right now,’ ” says Jen, 22, who met a bouncer at a pub and started regularly hooking up with him after his shifts. He obviously wasn’t trying to just “hang out.”

“Lo and behold, I was lady No. 2 in his life.” She says she never thought of herself as someone who would get a guy to cheat. His relationship with his girlfriend was on and off, but Jen told him as soon as they were back on, “our shenanigans would end.”

He didn’t own a car. “So I always had to drive to get some, she says. “Not worth the gas money at the end of the day.” Worse, she says, she later found out she was not No. 2, but No. 3.

While some might use the discreetness of late-night texting to keep their various girlfriends oblivious, the privacy could be a good thing for those just not ready to tell the world.

Abby, then 20, had been texting a guy she had mutual friends with, but no one knew they were interested in each other. They had a few sleepovers, but other than that, they communicated only through text messages. When it was starting to look like it might turn into something, his phone died, and with it, their courtship.

Late-night texting can complicate life when relationships start to get real, but for uncommitted casual sex, it gets the job done.

“Texting means you always have a backup plan,” says Katherine, 23. One night during her sophomore year of college, she ran into a former hookup at a party, but was more interested in going home with someone else. She decided to go for the new guy, and he came back to her room, but left soon after. Feeling rejected, she sent a text to her old flame, he came over, and the night wasn’t lost after all.

“The backup plan might not always the best idea,” she says, “but it’s there.”