On hook-up culture

By Hilary Ribons, Staff Writer

“Well, I can’t get mad at him/her. We were just hooking up…”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase from my peers over the past few years. It always comes as we sit down and try to untangle the mess of confusing actions that resulted from what was supposed to be a casual encounter.

It appears my friends are not the only ones trying to understand the codes and rules behind hooking up. There has been considerable focus on hook-up culture among college students. Whether it’s universally participated in or not, the term “hook-up” is familiar to most young adults. Its deliberate ambiguity allows people to describe their exploits and adventures without revealing too much about what they are actually doing behind closed doors.

In a recent article for The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith outlined the pros and cons of the college “dating” norm. She concluded that hooking up leaves participants dissatisfied, and she questioned why students don’t require more out of each other in order to put an end to the confusing and hurtful concept.

Hook up


I met up with one of my old friends from my previous college, and without thinking, we started to try to talk through it. This girl is a successful senior at a small college out in the countryside of Massachusetts. She holds two jobs, an internship and makes great grades. She admitted to participating in hook-up culture. She made some solid points about hook-up culture I hadn’t thought of.

Young people are still trying to make sense of a traditionally unconventional behavior. There seems to be a code that balances on the verge of non-commitment and insensitivity. Those who are most successful at surviving the gauntlet of hook-up encounters are the ones who are able to balance on that line. But where is that line?

“I know I don’t want a relationship,” my friend said. “If there was a guy to stay around for years, I’d keep them—friends with benefits, that’s fine. It’s not like I’m looking for multiple guys, but when they find someone else I have to, too. I’d be fine having one or two people and switching off…”

Her answer reflects the attitudes of many peers I’ve spoken to over the past few years. Most ideally want the benefits of casual, stress-free play without worrying about hurt feelings or being constrained by a relationship. But they want monogamy, or casual sex with only one person at at time, too. Because monogamy brings with it a certain level of commitment, the relationship-wary  often shy away from it in order to keep their options open.

With the constant upheaval of the college school year, the endless commitments to stay competitive and the realization that a lot of change is bound to happen in at least the next five years. Before the majority of today’s college-aged students start to think about marriage, a good portion of students—65 to 75 percent, according to figures stated in Smith’s article—are or have in the past turned to hooking up to satisfy their immediate needs without any long-term machinations.

Vinny and Snooki

A still of Snooki and Vinny from MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” one of the many television programs that depicts hooking up as a normal part of going out

Hook-up culture is criticized for causing emotional fallout without responsibility. But many people who participate in it feel that if it is approached by both parties for what it is, without the hope of anything more, and that the risk is minimized. My friend continued and said,

“Hooking up is a power thing. It’s the power of suggestion. If they see that you can be with other people, then they know that you could be with other people. It makes them want to be with you more. You want what you can’t have, and when you have it, you don’t want it. That’s when girls get attached. That’s why I want at least two people, so when you start liking someone, you can take a break.”

Though this may come off as calloused, it’s basic self-preservation in a culture that places an emphasis on maintaining the freedom not to be responsible for someone else’s emotions (as that seems to be reserved for a relationship).

Hooking up—in all its different meanings and forms—seems to be a response of young people who have realized that the serious commitment of an adult relationship is not, at the time, for them. It seems to be the response of those who expect themselves to change in the coming years, and who can’t promise their time, energy and emotions to someone else. It also seems to be a substitute for filling the desire that people have for closeness, even when they can’t promise something long term.

Then again, what do I know? These are merely the thoughts of one of those college-aged girls backed with a little bit of research and observation.



  1. Roy

    Firstly, I believe that there is merit in realizing the origin of the “hook-up culture”.
    History of the Western world demonstrates a nature of action and reaction – humankind reacts to an earlier age by switching its stances. A primary example would be that of the Dark Ages, which was responded to through the Renaissance; an age of devotion to religion and survival was soon followed by an era that strongly focused on man, rather than the divine. Certainly, characteristics of the previous age may continue to linger, but it does not strike as much intrigue. Society, and the individuals therein, then seeks to find interest in other matters, typically those opposite of the previous era. “Hooking-up” culture is no different, it is merely the one of the products of this action-reaction nature, following the Progressive Era. After the 1920s, women had earned suffrage, activists succeeded in mitigating the corruption of industry allowed in the Gilded Age, and people established sciences as a focal point in education. The steps taken during this period would ripple through the United States for another few decades, slowly fading over time.

    And here we are, in the Information Age. Reacting to the liberties granted to individuals in the Progressive Era, people have explored their freedom and boundaries. Quick to respond, marketing firms emphasize individuality and liberty, exploration and experimentation. Encouraging the already-powerful desires of the population, people have developed an attitude of instant gratification. These aforementioned urges amalgamate in the idea of “hooking up”, perfectly expressed in the above article. “Non-commitment”, “stress-free play”, and a yearning to “satisfy their immediate needs” all demonstrate the culture of “hooking up” and similarly a culture focused on instant gratification. Additionally, young adults are witnessing people live well into their 80s (a very rare occurrence in previous ages) and therefore feel justified in shirking the responsibilities and commitments involved in maintaining a long-term relationship with another human. They cling to their youth, hoping that it will remain long enough for them to enjoy to its fullest.

    There are benefits and detriments to such mindsets, as there always are. As mentioned above, the “hook-up” culture requires balance, but it requires more than just one. Perhaps the most important balances to maintain is that of personal integrity and responsibility. Certainly, going out to party, drinking, and “hooking up” do provide a break from the stressful machinations of day-to-day life as a student. However, some often neglect other duties or prioritize them beneath their hedonistic exploits, exemplified by those who go to class or take tests sleep-deprived or with hangovers; the people that ignore their homework in lieu of going out to party; and those who graduate college, yet refuse to accept that they have grown into a full-fledged adult by maintaining a lifestyle much like that of a college student (see: Jersey Shore).

    Conclusively, the “hook-up” culture is natural. Discretion is left to the individual, and while some choose to completely disregard it, there are plenty of people who are able to enjoy the lifestyle while still maintaining balance. Is “hooking up” one of the many symptoms of instant gratification? Absolutely, but that does not mean that it is necessarily a bad thing. Is “hooking up” a good thing? A bad thing? That depends on the individual. However, society should not encourage such behaviors to persist much past college, for that is the time to fully mature and accept one’s self as an adult. That is when the game of dating [ideally] becomes universal; but that is an entirely different topic to be addressed.

    Then again, what do I know?

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