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.
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.
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.