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Why My One-Night Stand Reached Out To Me Decades Later

I felt guilty questioning his reason for reconnecting.

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man looking at a woman he's sitting with outside of a cafe
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“I confess I looked you up online,” read the LinkedIn message from the distinguished 63-year-old insurance exec. He had the name — and nickname — of the hot cabana boy I’d met on Labor Day at a Catskills hotel in 1979. He was my own Dirty Dancing partner and sole one-night stand. OMG — it was him! “Email me,” I wrote, intrigued.

I’d never slept with anyone quickly before, but at 18, he seemed special. After a romantic date that, for lack of privacy, ended on the hotel’s auditorium floor, I played it cool, not whispering “Call me.” When he didn’t, devastation struck.

My Jewish mom, clueless about our tryst, saw this dazzling summer server from our tribe as son-in-law material. “Let’s send him food,” she urged. Next thing I knew Second Avenue Deli was delivered to his Ivy League dorm. Humiliatingly he ignored me, my mom and our pastrami. He was probably a player, out of my league. I was crushed that my passion — and care package — didn’t prompt a call. Two years later, the novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues arrived in my mailbox … from his address. He knew I was an aspiring writer. Yet this sexy paperback sans note was perplexing.

That July, I moved into NYU’s dorm for grad school at 20. At the cafeteria, I bumped right into Cabana Boy! “I’m getting my MBA here,” he said, smiling. “Meet me tonight?”

At last, I would learn why he’d ghosted me (before ghosting was even a word).

Smoking a joint in Washington Square Park at sundown, he invited me to his dorm room.

Second seduction? No, to show me that his box of important treasures had a photo of us from the hotel two years earlier. I melted, feeling special to him, after all. He gave me a copy of his graduation picture.

But I was dating someone else. He was too. I didn’t hear from him again — until now. He emailed: “Rendezvous in Washington Square Park to catch up on the last 40 years? Are you happy? I’m curious about your life.”

He sounded elegiac. After waiting the length the Israelites wandered the desert to see him again, I hoped he wasn’t sick. I pictured a deathbed apology.

I found his grown kids on Facebook, but no mate. Perhaps newly divorced, he’d deleted her photos to fish for exes? I’d been married a quarter century. Desperately curious why he was curious, I emailed him to fill in missing pieces of this ancient puzzle. He answered: He was healthy. In his early 20s, he’d wed a different Susan, an undergrad classmate. They had kids during her medical training. Upon her cancer diagnosis, they moved to her small hometown where her relatives helped raise their brood as he commuted East to work. She didn’t make it. He’d been single 16 years.

My heart splintered, revising our overview: Doing everything right (academic diligence, marrying a doctor young, multiplying as per our religion’s mandate, moving near family), he’d lost his beloved. I did everything wrong (ignoring all but poetry in Manhattan, marrying another scribe later in life, forfeiting parenthood after infertility), but I had my spouse. Cabana Boy’s recap was illuminating: By college he was already with his studious, maternal Susan. I was his type for a fling, not forever.

I felt guilty questioning his reason for reconnecting. Was he revisiting his before-marriage playlist? I envisioned him stumbling on my recent hardcover, thinking: Hey, I know her. Seeing how accomplished I’d become, he regretted abandoning me — twice. I scrutinized his family pics, attaching one I found online, asking if she was his wife. No answer.

Had I really just sent a near stranger a picture I’d web-stalked of him and his late spouse? A benign hello regressed me into an impulsive teenager whose most reckless hour was haunting her.

“Sorry super busy today,” he replied at 5 p.m., to my relief. “Did I miss an email?” I apologized for my intrusiveness. He didn’t mind. The pic was indeed them, freshman year. Gripped by their tragedy, his nostalgia seemed poignant.

Amid packing for a trip to Michigan and buying my mate, who was recovering from surgery, a knee brace, I said “Let’s meet Monday,” before my trip. That way I’d have a juicy story for my mom. I had an hour at 9 p.m. when my husband was teaching.

A muggy 80 degrees, I switched from sweats to black slacks and walkable sandals. Warning I was a COVID elbow bumper who didn’t shake hands or embrace seemed presumptuous. Meeting in the park, he went for a hug, saying “You still look great.” Given my self-consciousness, that was a kind greeting. He had the same mischievous eye sparkle. It was drizzling. He rode his bike over, he said. He’d remained naturally athletic and dashing while I wilted in the rain.

“How about a drink?” I asked, though I’d quit partying many moons before. Sitting at a Mexican dive’s sidewalk extension, he ordered a beer and I sipped water. He asked about me, then offered an update, like the “old friend” I’d told my husband I was meeting. I shared my secret: He was my only one-night stand ever. I didn’t add: After the unexpected hurt his silence caused, I’d kept my clothes on months into a relationship from then on.

“But we hung out three years in a row,” he said.


“The first year 1977, we double dated. I was with Suzy Bard. You were with Cary Fabricant.”

How mortifying! He’d confused me with his third Sue! How many were there? The snub that kept on snubbing. “Remember, we fooled around in the car later?”

Thinking hard, I recalled a backseat, Cary, flask and bong. Were there triple hotel stays? An awkward teen who lost weight and grew breasts overnight, I’d become a popular bombshell for a few fickle summers, but former stoners had bad memories. Perhaps other vacations I hadn’t noticed this preppy all-American. I preferred long-haired, tall artistic hunks. Aha! Cabana Boy wasn’t my type.

My husband was.

What else had I misremembered? Was my only one-nighter actually three? Thankfully we agreed: one sole intimacy on the auditorium’s floor.

“But we kissed in the NYU dorm,” he added. We’d canoodled after the park? “The last time I saw you,” I said, “I was leaving NYU’s dorm the next day with my Michigan boyfriend, who’d flown in.”

“I was with my wife Sue, before we married. You met her.” (I knew that never happened. The name detail would have stayed with me.)

Waiting out the September storm felt cosmic yet confusing. Why did I care? I’d last seen him at 20. I imagined we were star-crossed brain and soulmates, destined for disconnection. Maybe we were trying on a different path for an hour. Was I memorable, his last lips before marriage? I bet he was lonely, missing his lost youth and the past was soothing.

“Why contact me after so many years?” I mustered, dying to solve this eternal enigma. “I remembered you were really cute,” he said. “We had good chemistry.”

That was his majestic motivation? A lifetime ago, his flattery had thrilled me. Now the superficiality stung. I had to get home. After finding his bike and walking me to my building, he went for a goodbye embrace. I gave him a quick pat on the back, surprised my heart hurt. He yearned for his Susan. Did I want him to still want me, though I wasn’t available, to revise his past rejections?

At home, I told my husband 99 percent of the story, including the circuitous trek in the rain. Without looking up from his newspaper, he asked, “Why did you keep walking?”

“To find where he parked his bicycle.”

“So, he’s in better shape than I am,” he mumbled. “He’s shorter than I recalled,” I told my brilliant 6-foot-4 spouse, revealing the disappointing punch line about my former cuteness.

“Sounds like he doesn’t know why he contacted you, but he couldn’t forget you,” he offered, making everything more poetic, like he had for 25 years. It reminded me how lucky I was. I’d long ago solved all mysteries about men. I wasn’t dumped, abandoned, wounded or owed anything. Cabana Boy was just a sweet holiday diversion on the way to my beshert, Yiddish for destiny.

“How many times did we visit the Concord when I was a teenager?” I asked my mom the next day.

“I think three years in a row,” she said. “Why?”