In The Atlantic's powerhouse September issue, Hannah Rosin explores the recent phenomenon of "Boys on the Side" -- the hookup culture that has largely replaced dating on college campuses, crudely claiming that "feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture." Wrong. So wrong.
Rosin showcases men stuck in a prolonged adolescence that knows no responsibility or consequence, because women -- particularly successful women -- argue that they alone, can buffer their lacking relationships with a successful career and do no more than roll eyes and accept the status quo. A status quo that women -- contrary to Rosin -- neither enjoy, nor hope persists.
According to Rosin, there is "no retreating" to a time when men showed up on the doorstep with flowers, and no modern woman wants such a "retreat" anyway. Wrong again. Sure, modern women would not want to catapult themselves back to the days free of jobs, birth control and a voice, but that does not, ipso facto, resign women to a brutish, independent alternative.
As a young woman once complicit in this recent, albeit widespread, hookup culture (that the older Rosin was merely able to observe), I'm willing to make another generalization: not only are women unsatisfied with the status quo hookup culture, we are frantic because of it. We have failed to "manipulate our vulnerability." In the face of Mother Nature, we remain vulnerable. It's not as simple as wanting babies. It's a natural preoccupation with romance. In other words, we have failed to convince ourselves that this "unbridled sexual freedom" is satisfying. It is resoundingly not.
I graduated in 2011. With our diplomas and honors and aspirations for a bright future, my classmates and I also took with us memories of the "hookup culture that has largely replaced dating on college campuses." Rosin seems to think these steamy memories can be put behind, disappearing into a "series of photographs, buried somewhere on their Facebook page." They can't. The sadistic, self-serving mindset of the hookup culture leaves its mark on hearts, memories and future relationships. Sure, as young women in college, we might not have spent night's agonizing over our inevitable infertility while wrapped up in our hookup's arms, but we sure did spend many a morning revisiting these memories, wondering why he hadn't called.
Ambiguity is okay in college. It's okay not to know what you want to do with the rest of your life. It's okay to have no idea who or when you want to marry. What's not okay? Taking your expensive education for granted. Taking someone else's invaluable emotions for granted.
As Rosin notes, a hookup is, by definition, ambiguous: "'Hookups' do not necessarily involve sex; students are instructed to use whatever definition their friends use." Unlike dating, which universally implies exclusivity and commitment, hooking up requires further clarification, as it can very well be used to reference everything from a three-second makeout session to full-blown sex. In fact, to say, "we are hooking up," is basically to say that you and someone else are consistently physical with one another, with zero strings attached... but it could go somewhere... maybe.
A friend shrewdly noted that most college relationships begin drunk and in bed, affirming that "most of the time that's what I wanted -- but if someone was intriguing, we would try to sell that same beginning as romantic." Stumble into someone, exchange a few words (if any), get physical and then consider whether or not you have feelings for them, maybe. Does that sound "romantic" to you?
Virtually no one gets asked out on a date right off the bat. That's "weird." If you go out on a date with someone, it should first be preceded by a hookup. That's "normal," the extent of the hookup culture's "conventions."
So basically, there are no conventions. No one has any idea what's going on. I am not exaggerating when I say that a young woman would be unwise to assume that a guy who pursues her, kisses her or sleeps with her also in fact likes her. Actually, it's not uncommon for people to hookup with someone in whom they have zero past, present or future interest -- their only virtue being that they were simply there.
I can't speak for men, but let me assure you this is neither good for nor desired by most young women. This is not "progress." It is rapidly crushing our sense of self-worth, security and hope of finding a worthwhile man.
Yes, I've met one or two women who managed to convince me that they were happy to use and be used -- the hookup culture's necessary condition. And yes, I've met men who hate the solitary pursuit of their own satisfaction, longing for something more substantial, more long-term, more real. But to say these outliers are representative of their genders is plain wrong.
Women want a status quo that neither devalues conventions nor requires absolute independence. No matter how much we insist we are in no rush, we are -- it's a matter of irrefutable biology. Sure, that pressure and awareness might not kick in during college, but I'm feeling it now, as are the majority of my friends. It's a worry that time is rushing by.
"I'm going to be single forever," a 23-year-old girlfriend sobbed to me. "What's wrong with me?"
"I wish I could just find myself a robot bride," joked a male friend, lamenting the tiresome game-playing and seemingly endless pursuit of something -- anything-- meaningful.
Another male friend went so far as to admit, "I don't even feel sex anymore. It's nothing special. It means nothing."
Women and men have a vague, but gnawing, knowledge of what we want: a deeper human connection -- a connection that is all but rendered impossible by today's no-strings-attached, brutish, hookup culture. No one is blameless. We all play along, like drug addicts who just can't put down the needle, craving that immediate gratification. But make no mistake, we are all frustrated and exhausted "trying to catch up."
Today, young women are conditioned to keep the "more-important things on [our] minds, such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of [our] own." But what happens when we get all that stuff -- all that stuff we can, for the most part, control -- and then we realize that what we want is beyond our control? What happens when we're ready for that "deeper connection," that real adult relationship, but all the men are too busy building robot brides, looking at YouTube clips of snowblowing or leering mutely in bars, expecting us to follow the norm: shut up and hookup.