It was at a friend's birthday party that it happened. Leela was turning 25 - the last of our group to join the club of “legally able to drink”. So, as you might expect, it was a night of much drunkenness. I wasn't drinking, though - not because I was feeling particularly virtuous or anything, but because I'd just recovered from a bout of severe viral that had left me bed-bound for more than a week, and mixing antibiotics with alcohol just seemed like a really bad life decision.
As the hours passed and the bottles emptied steadily, the party kept getting wilder. Sober in the midst of a bunch of really sloshed people, I danced my heart out. It was then that Sahil started flirting with me. And I flirted back. Luckily for us, everyone else was too buzzed to really notice what was going on.
Sahil and I had been friends for seven years. There had always been chemistry between us, but we'd never been single at the same time, so neither of us had actually ever made a move on the other person. Friendship was the safer, more sensible option.
But now we were single. Both of us out of relationships that had taken a toll on us. His girlfriend, to “save” their relationship and take it to the “next level”, had pretended to be pregnant, and then dumped him when she realized he wasn't rich enough for her to really want to marry. My boyfriend of five years had cheated on me for two of those. So there we were, miserably single, at a party where everyone else was happy-happy-happy.
“So, when are you planning to leave?” Sahil asked as we danced together.
“I'm staying the night. My parents are not going to let me back into the house at 3 a.m.!” I laughed.
“Then I'm staying too,” he said.
“What's your excuse?”
“I'll tell Leela I'm too drunk to drive back.”
“Are you?” I shot back. As inevitable as it seemed by then that something would happen between us, finally, I didn't want alcohol to be the reason why we altered the dynamic of our relationship, our friendship.
“No. I just had two beers. I'm well within the limit.”
I smiled in relief as I spun back into his arms.
Around us, people finally began to call it a night. Leela, staggering on her feet, assigned rooms to those of us who weren’t leaving. As she tried to herd Sahil into a guest room with a bunch of other boys, I pulled her to one side and whispered urgently into her ear.
“Are you sure, P?” she said. “I noticed you guys were doing everything short of actually making out… But are you really okay with this?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied. “I need this.”
“Because… I’m tired of obsessing over why things didn’t work out with Rohan. About why I wasn’t enough for him, why he needed that other girl.”
“And is that enough?” Leela said. “What if things don’t work out with Sahil?”
“I don’t care,” I said - and I was being honest. I really didn’t. I wasn’t worried about the future, about whether we were messing up a friendship. All I knew was that after a really long time, I felt wanted. And he was a friend, someone I had been fond of for a long time, not a random dude trying to score an easy lay - I just felt happy.
“Okay, take that room,” Leela said after a while, propelling me down a corridor. “Thank god mom and dad aren’t here this week. Else you would have caused a major scandal!”
I waited in Leela’s pretty-pink guest room. Nervous, excited. There was a knock on the door a couple of minutes later, and Sahil walked in.
“I can’t believe you told Leela!” he said, half-frowning, half-laughing. “I don’t know whether to be shocked or embarrassed!”
“Be whatever you like,” I told him. “But come here…”
When we all left Leela’s place the next morning, I was probably the happiest I had been in a long, long time.
Things didn’t work out with me and Sahil. In fact, we didn’t even try to make them work. It was, we both knew even as we started, just what it was - two friends who found each other attractive getting into bed together. We didn’t discuss it, we didn’t try to hook up again, we didn’t starting dating.
Real life is not like the movies - had we tried to continue as “friends with benefits”, one of us would have hurt the other. If we had tried to get into a relationship, burdened as we were by the bitterness of our individual break-ups, we would have made each other miserable. Friendship was, as before, the safer, more sensible option. And so we stayed "just friends".
But I don’t regret what I did that night. It was, strictly speaking, a one night stand. To my mind, though, it was much more - it was an affirmation that I was an attractive woman, and that just because my previous relationship had ended, the world had not. I slept with someone for whom I felt a great deal of affection and attraction, someone who felt the same way about me. It was liberating...and empowering.