Ah hook up culture, the bane of my millennial existence. I’m still friends with a number of my former students, because some genius thought it was a good idea for me to be teaching kids 5 years younger than me. It was, because I’ve gotten the immediate satisfaction of watching them become incredibly cool adults. Most of them are more adult-y than I am, but I’m pretty sure that this is just my personality and we’ll be continuing to use that excuse until I’m 80 and we start using senility as an excuse for what has been a very consistent pattern of behavior. In any case, I have the pleasure of being near enough to their age to get what they are dealing with but far enough to have made and seen enough mistakes to warn them. Not a single discussion has gone by this year that wasn’t about how much they hate hook up culture and how much they wish they didn’t have to participate in it.
I never managed to successfully hook up with people when I was single, it all inadvertently became a relationship, so I actually told my friends I was no longer hooking up with people to avoid relationships, which is a level of commitment phobia that made even my most player-y male friends disturbed. So I can approach this from their perspective and I still get to say that it sucks. The thing is, as a commitment-phobe and sexual abuse survivor, hook up culture made it possible for me to be very casual about two things that none of us are actually successfully casual about. I realized, very, very recently, that I had engaged in most of my consensual sexual activities while disassociating because it was the way I brought myself to being able to let people I didn’t particularly trust or like touch me. That and lots and lots of alcohol. So you say sexual abuse survivor and you expect that, but this is a lot more common than we think it is. I have lots of friends with very happy childhoods who report the same experience. So I decided the healthier thing was not to do it anymore, the hook up thing, I mean. So I stopped.
When I was coming of age, this behavior was supposed to be both enlightening and liberating. Finally, women could fuck people they didn’t know or like too! HOORAY FEMINISM! Or something. I’m not really sure, I just know that it was very much part of the cultural expectations. And it’s not because dudes are assholes, because ultimately they’ll try to get away with having sex with the lowest level of commitment possible if they can. The reason for this is many, but one of the big ones that tends to get overlooked is that we get married much, much later than we used to. We have about a decade or more (pending on when you started having sex) where getting into a serious relationship IS A VERY BAD IDEA but we are still human and want to get laid. Most dudes don’t want to do the hook up thing forever, just until they reach an age where they are comfortable with a relationship that might lead to marriage. For college-educated folks, this age generally starts around 26, 27. Which means that in the interim, we all have to find a way to satisfy basic cuddling needs without accidently getting serious with anyone before the socially sensible time. It also means, that a lot of us don’t date the people we could see as a marriage material until we are at this age. Which has led to a lot of confusion for a lot of really wonderful people that I know. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, these are sensible, thoughtful decisions so long as the hook up thing doesn’t bother you, but if you have feelings and don’t drink, my guess is that it’s hard to be intimate with strangers you don’t like. I mean, I just don’t have that level of self-control.
One of my former students felt so much pressure that she asked me if it was ok for her not to have one-night stands. That’s right, folks, I had a beautiful, intelligent, well educated, professional young woman ask me if it was ok if she didn’t do something that felt right for her body because the culture is so pervasive and powerful that is not socially acceptable for her not to. So I just wanted to be the adult in the room that said this: No, you don’t have to do anything that doesn’t nourish you. And any guy that isn’t willing to wait to have sex with you until you are comfortable and trust him doesn’t deserve to be having sex with you at all. If hooking up with people makes you empowered and happy, I say go for it! That’s awesome! I support you! YAY SEX! But what is empowering to one person isn’t empowering for others.
Millennials are very confused about relationships. We grew up in the aftermath of divorce becoming commonplace and the in the shadow of the sexual revolution. We now have to negotiate a world that has fewer and more nebulous rules. But there is one rule we can all agree to, no one gets to tell you what to do with your body and sexuality. If it makes you feel more empowered and comfortable telling dudes you aren’t sleeping with them until they make feel safe, however long that is, then do that.
I’d apologize to my still single male friends for spreading the word around, but they’ll have to admit first that they’ve complained about this culture to me too and that at the end of the day, they want the girls they are sleeping with to be happy and comfortable too. I’m not sure what to do about the “still need to get laid” problem, but I think we can start by being honest with each other and ourselves.