Big Questions

Is It Ever Okay to Leave Someone in the Middle of the Night?

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I was recently Gchatting with a friend, who I’ll call Daniel, who was recounting the time he messaged a girl on OKCupid only to find himself in her bed hours later, wide-awake and miserable in the middle of the night. So, like an adult, he decided the best solution for his misery was to leave without telling the girl in question, and also never speak to her again.

Daniel admitted he was never really into this girl to begin with, but he said the real reason he left was because her apartment was “awful awful.” Although I questioned his exact tactics, I did see his point: No one wants to toss and turn on a stranger’s floor mattress next to a furnace pipe in an apartment that feels more like a gutted factory building when you could be dozing off in your own, soft bed under the gentle red glow of Netflix while spooning an economy-size bag of cheese puffs.

But do those few hours’ worth of discomfort justify this otherwise particularly cruel brand of unannounced exit? As with all big questions I have about how to function as a human being who sleeps with other human beings, I turned to my ultimate jury: my friends. (Or, at least, my friends who happened to be around on Gchat that afternoon.)

The mostly-unanimous answer was, “It depends.” Let me be clear: there is no not-shitty way to leave someone in the middle of the night. There are only varying levels of shitty on the shitbag spectrum onto which you will inevitably fall, should you decide to pull the do-and-ditch on some poor, unsuspecting soul. That said, the question of whether or not the do-and-ditch is “okay” depends on a multitude of factors in your relationship: Is this a one-night stand or a more serious relationship? Are you giving this person any kind of advance warning? Do you expect to see this person again?

There is no not-shitty way to leave someone in the middle of the night. There are only varying levels of shitty on the shitbag spectrum onto which you will inevitably fall, should you decide to pull the do-and-ditch on some poor, unsuspecting soul.

Most people I spoke with agreed if you’re in a more serious relationship, it’s okay to slip away to the comfort of your own bed, as long as you let your significant other know you’re leaving before he or she falls asleep. But this isn’t always the case. There’s a famous episode of Sex and the City in which one of Carrie’s boyfriends, the brooding and insecure writer Jack Berger, comes over to reconcile with her a week after the rocky couple decided to take a break. “I want to try to make this work,” Berger whispers into her hair. But when Carrie wakes up the next morning, there’s no Berger to be found — all that remains is a Post-It note stuck to her computer that reads, “I’m sorry I can’t Don’t hate me.” Yes, this was a total dick move. But the whole point was that Berger never intended to see Carrie after that last non-interaction, so he had nothing to lose by giving her the slip.

The etiquette is a bit grayer when it comes to first-time hookups and one-night stands — on the one hand, you may have no intention of ever seeing this person again. This person may have no intention of ever seeing you again. Perhaps you’ve both made a terrible mistake, and quietly leaving would be the best for both of you. On the other hand, hookups and one-night stands are people, too. As my coworker wisely put it, “I just think if you’re hooking up with someone, you have to treat them like a real person, and that means not treating them like garbage you walk away from because you feel like it, or you’re tired, or their bed isn’t up to par.” She adds, “I want someone to value me more than a few hours of sleep.”

Lastly, there was a whole subclass of people I spoke with who implicitly OK’d the do-and-ditch because they were practitioners of its just-as-questionable cousin, the bone-and-boot (in which you hook up, then rather unceremoniously send your date packing to sleep elsewhere.)

So although the jury is still out on the fine-print, the moral here is this: leaving in the middle of the night is not okay most times, okay sometimes, and always better if you leave a note. Unless you’re Jack Berger — that guy is a dick.