Here’s an excerpt from a conversation I’ve had too many times:
“So anyways, we were hooking-up and…” “Wait, hooking-up or ‘hooking-up, hooking-up?’”
The ultimate sexual buzzword, beautifully ambiguous and compellingly non-committal, “hook up” is the perfect phrase to describe whatever happened last night.
But maybe you’ve never really used it. Maybe you’ve never “hooked up.” Yet apparently you still have, and apparently we all have.
The best rumor about our generation is that we have destroyed dating in favor of this super-charged hook-up culture. That we are narcissistic and superficial and ditching our emotions at the bedroom door. And, most importantly, it’s claimed that this is all we want from our relationships.
The inescapable sexy headlines scream at us that we lack emotional depth. They tell us we “bed down” too easily. They tell us we’re living in the perfect male culture. They tell us men are silently suffering. They tell us this is good for women because it empowers them. They tell us this is bad for women because it creates sour feelings.
It’s reiterated in mass media that marriage in one’s early 20s is insane, and then next the headlines complain that our generation is destroying the sanctity of relationships. They tell us that college kids are a bunch of sex-crazed loons indifferent towards anyone’s pleasure, sexual or otherwise.
We are allegedly a “generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.” We are allegedly a generation that is settling too soon or not at all. We are allegedly hooking up with everyone in a giant, label-less, fluidly-sexual dance party.
Are we? Is this what we all want?
There’s a great deal of evidence circulating saying this hook-up culture is a myth.
A short quote from the University of Portland says, “there is no evidence of substantial changes in sexual behavior that would indicate a new or pervasive pattern of non-relational sex among contemporary college students.”
There’s survey data that says, across genders, millennials believe personality is the sexiest trait in a person.
If it is true that the majority of people aren’t having more wild trysts than previous generations, and if it’s true that we value partners as more than a means to an orgasm, what is going on here?
Maybe media saturation or a storytelling about “tales from last night” being stuff of legend or an endless onslaught of movies and TV shows and music telling us and showing us that all our generation wants is the flesh and none of the heart.
If everything we see, hear and talk about is reinforcing the idea that everyone is hooking up and no one is dating, and that it all lacks a basic human kindness, what kind of expectation can we really bring to any romantic or sexual encounter?
Hook-up culture, myth or not, is a place where a lot of sexual politics get hashed out. And unfortunately, it results in a lot of people getting marginalized. Marginalizing participation and marginalizing emotions and somewhere in this system a great deal of us forget how to care for one another.
It routinely shocks me how many people I talk to seem to be searching for something existentially meaningful, beyond the flesh, but automatically assume the other person isn’t. This assumption spans gender and orientation and I just want to scream and beg and plead with everyone to have the hard-real-true conversations everybody seems so afraid of.
I’m frightened by the number of people pretending to be okay with settling for the casual whatever, when they secretly want much more.
Everyone should experience sexuality with compassion, and empathy for vulnerability.
Perhaps we need to create a new assumption, a new cultural expectation. We need to realize that the majority of us are lost and confused and wholly desirous of an entire person. That all of us are a little afraid.
Let’s begin debunking the illusion that all relationships are binary – hooking up or marriage/babies/forever only.
If we want to live in a culture where vulnerability and emotional depth are recognized both at dinner dates and under the sheets for everyone then we must quit marginalizing the majority living in the middle of this binary system.
Next time you’re ambiguously talking or listening to the latest hook-up tale, create a culture of conversation that allows for authenticity of feeling.
It may be less sexy and more complex, but most of the time that’s exactly what we are.