America’s favorite past time is refusing to commit after selling a fantasy. Interestingly enough, “millennial” relationships are exactly the same. How fun! Except there’s no selling of a fantasy as much as there is the goal to realize one. That’s not to say hooking up is inherently a terrible and a morally corrupt thing to do. That would essentially be an attack on human nature itself; we love to have sex (as a whole). It’s awesome, very few people would deny this. But there’s an obvious shift in the mentality surrounding sex and causal dating that hasn’t been seen in such ubiquity before. This shift is the concerted effort by my generation to devalue the significance of sexual encounters and actively avoiding…dare I say it? Feelings. This pseudo anecdotal analysis has weighed on my brain for nearly ten years now and I caught wind of this amazing podcast via NPR that touches on this very subject. So I can’t claim all the credit for how articulate I’m going to attempt to be, but I will because scumbag.
American media is hyper-sexualized and it’s no secret that sex sells. Throw a handful of scantily clad women or muscle bound men into any advertisement and watch the retention levels climb. The product doesn’t matter. It could be pet shaving cream and Joe Schmoe is gonna make a note of the brand that showcased those lovely D-cups getting pawed by Fido. Yeah so sex and sensuality is ever present in routine life. And these images are usually associated with situations that are emotionally detached and exist exclusively in a “let’s have fun” scenario. This is especially true with alcohol ads. It’s a rarity to have wholesome and emotionally charged ads alluding to sex. The only ones I can think of are wine adverts that carry this connotation of sophistication so obviously hookup culture doesn’t fit that theme.
Again, nothing wrong with having fun and experimenting. These are things that college kids have never been a stranger to. My parents’ generation was just as adventurous, lewd, and hookup oriented as my generation is now. Truth be told, I kind of owe my existence to hookup culture…awkward. Anyway, there’s nothing about what my peers are doing today that’s drastically different from previous generations on a surface level. Where the real disparity lies is in the valuation of these encounters. Nowadays hookups and casual dating carry a much larger stake in social status. You have men and women banging people they don’t even like just to be able to say “Yeah I got with a 8/9/10 out of 10 bro, get at me.” Then they blow off the people they undeniably vibe with because they don’t fit in their sexual narrative. Something is off about this.
I think this has always been a thing, but it was usually tempered by the encounters where this person ends up catching feelings for someone during this process of “singleness” we’ll call it. So in previous generations, by in large, you’d have people slowing down once they’ve found that person (or persons) that vibes with them. Persons they can see a legitimate future with. Cue relationship woes and wonders, children, marriage, domestication etc etc. It was a process that a significant portion of people entered and exited in a relatively healthy manner. Now, based on personal and anecdotal experience, people want to engage sexually, but only so long as they don’t encounter any emotional stimuli. Soon as either party starts getting a bit dreamy somebody breaks it off. No exploration, no discussion of it, nothing. Because simping doesn’t increase your social and sexual worth apparently.
This behavior isn’t natural nor is it conducive to emotional growth. I’ve never been that dude to be running through woman after woman. I’m just not wired that way honestly. I like to take my time and focus on one (or two) women at a time. Depending on how things go, I’ll seek to upgrade our dealings to be exclusive, committing to a long term deal that may or may not work out. My personality and introversion definitely are reasons why I prefer things to be this way, but statistics brought up during that podcast showed that I’m not alone in my thinking on this. The author noted that based on surveys and polling she conducted during her time writing the book, an overwhelming majority of people weren’t super enthused about hookup culture. Many preferred traditional methods of dating that involved emotional investments. Emotional investment is certainly the crux of a relationships, is it not? So why is hookup culture the norm?
For me the biggest detriment to this lack of valuation in relational encounters (casual or serious) is the implication it has for men and women. The main one being that anyone that seeks to maintain a semblance of a working relationship, romantically or platonic, runs the risk of being seen as desperate. It’s gotten to a point where being called desperate is worse than being called a slut. What a time to be alive. There’s nothing wrong with being promiscuous. If that’s how you roll, please do. I also think there’s something to be said about throwing yourself at anything that has a pulse. But in the context of hookup culture, this version of desperation seems to be more in line with shaming people that seek meaningful connections pre or post coitus. Which is ridiculous. God forbid I actually want to have something in common with the person I have or gonna be smashing uglies with.
Which begs the question, what is the ultimate consequence of a culture that devalues meaningful connections in lieu of gaining social acceptance and becoming the hottest piece of ass there ever was? Plenty, but some obvious concerns would be people poorly equipped to be emotionally mature in a committed relationships once reality settles in. Moping around at 30+, bitter and jaded. Claiming there are no “good” people left when in fact all those good people passed them by in their pursuit for gaining notches on the belt. All that swag and social validation currency can’t be exchanged for real connections.
Much more alarming is the level of pressure those of us that don’t wholly subscribe to hookup culture feel when engaging our potential mates on this level. You don’t want to seem desperate, but you also don’t want to seem disinterested. The dynamics say “hey man/lady, just get yours and go. There’s plenty more where that came from!” That may or may not be true depending where you are, but there’s a lot of human collateral in the wake of this type of behavior. And karma doesn’t take kindly premeditated discord.
The duality of relationships being great and terrible is integral to forming emotionally rounded people that will be able to sustain future relationships. Not experiencing how you fucked up or how somebody fuck you over does nothing, but create unrealistic expectations. Pleasure, pain, and neutrality are essential to figuring out what you like and what you don’t like in addition to understanding the physics. Internalizing those actions and reactions that occur in those situations can’t be substituted. Dissociating oneself from the emotional aspect of human interaction…I almost can’t fathom that. We’re emotional ass creatures dude. Stoicism be damned, everyone feels. It may not be expressed identically, but let’s not delude ourselves into believing most people aren’t capable of emotional attachment. Literally the most human thing ever; caring about shit and equating it with various emotions. Maybe I’m crazy, I dunno.
Using sex, hookups, and even relationships as a tool to make only ourselves feel better is a dangerous practice. And that’s not an attack on hookup culture or casual encounters. Those are just as important as serious ones. What’s important is that we’re enriching the people we’re investing ourselves into and the same has to happen on the other end. Lifting each other up, helping each other out, and sharing life with one another…that’s what it’s all about. Doesn’t matter if it lasts or who hurt who; it happened, lessons were learned and all parties involved are the better for it. Energy was exchanged in sincerity, not taken and abused. If nothing else happens, at the very least one can say “Hey, I learned something and it wasn’t all bad.”
It’s never all bad or all good. It’s like eating Starbursts. You’re gonna be looking for that pink, you’ll be okay with some reds, but you can’t have the true Starburst experience without orange and yellow. Yes the latter two are gross compared to pink. Yes you can throw them away, but why would you? They’re important. They teach you to buy only the Tropical pack where all the flavors are on point. Mistakes get made, then lessons get learned.