The other day, I was listening to one of Kelly Clarkson’s albums and, during her song “I Do Not Hook Up,” I had that feeling that I often get when listening to music that came just before the era of the Internet Thinkpiece: “The internet would hate this song.” It would likely be labeled as slut-shaming, a way for Kelly to separate herself from those “other girls” who are happy to lay down for any cute guy who looks at them long enough. And the fact that I have always loved this song — it’s catchy, Kelly is amazing, and I definitely identified when it came out — would likely be something I would have hidden. But luckily for us, this was not 2009’s “Blurred Lines,” and we weren’t subjected to hundreds of essays about how dangerous it is to dance to at a bar.
But even addressing hookup culture, outside the confines of a four-minute pop song, is a pretty dangerous activity. It’s easy to err into judging or slut-shaming or pretentiously separating yourself from the rest of your peers. For a long time, I’ve avoided writing about it altogether, mostly because I don’t want to get yelled at for these very things.
It seems clear to me now, though, that the kind of hookup culture we see in movies and TV and in the apps marketed to us for increasingly unemotional sex, that this really isn’t what people want. Obviously the people I know are a pretty small sample, but I can’t think of a single person — male or female — who is anything like Samantha from Sex and the City. Being capable of moving from partner to partner, having friends with benefits or booty calls, and never really getting attached, seems like it appeals to a very small percentage of people our age. Sure, everyone might have a casual relationship or a one-night stand, but most of us seem to be looking for emotional connection, sustained happiness, and the confidence that comes from sleeping with people we trust and care about.
And yet this constant hooking up, the devaluing of emotions and the insistence on being as detached as possible, is what is marketed to us as the norm. Everyone has felt that wave of “Am I needy?” when floating along in a relationship that refuses to define itself, as though wanting to express how much you like someone would make you strange or undesirable. The culture has undoubtedly shifted to one where being a free agent gives you all the power, and still wanting to commit and take things slowly with one person makes you inherently weaker.
In order to play this game, many of us have tried to put aside our desire to be serious, participating in hookups and casual dating because it’s the best thing that’s available to us. We date people that we want to be serious with, but never can be, because we feel that insisting on something more permanent would be unreasonable. When hookups become the norm, wanting a committed relationship can feel like an unfair demand to make. We all push ourselves to be less demanding, to be “cool” with “just hooking up,” no matter how much we might personally dislike it.
But I feel that songs like Kelly’s — stating that, personally, you are not interested in participating in this culture — are a positive thing. The more we all take a stand in our personal lives, making it clear that we’re not interested in hookups and, if we like you, we’re going to be open about it, the easier it becomes for us all to be honest. It doesn’t have to be about putting another person down who genuinely enjoys participating in these kind of relationships, but there is no reason to stop yourself from saying what you really want because you fear it is shaming someone else. It’s up to all of us to be clear, and to say, “Casual hookups might be what other people want, but I don’t want it in my own life. And that doesn’t make me weak.”
Because there are surely Samanthas out there, of both sexes, and 2014 is the best time they could hope to be in the dating game. But there is no reason that we should all pretend to be like them, to be okay with the increasing focus on sex and detachment and the thrill of the new, just to not seem outdated. We will continue making pop culture about casual dating, and technology will make it easier every day to not form long-term relationships. But this will never mean it is the normal or default setting for human interaction, and saying “I do not hook up” is nothing to be ashamed of.