What Hookup Culture Taught Me About Committed Relationships

Like most 18-year-olds adapting to their first year of college, I relished in the freedom that was a lack of parental supervision, three-day weekends, bullshit ‘101’ classes, and the droves of women walking back and forth across campus beneath the San Diego sun, which helped me come to terms with my high school relationship that ended because ‘we were going to different colleges.’ In retrospect, it was my most meaningful relationship and it sucks that it ended that way. I wanted to find that again when I got to college, and for a brief three months of my freshman year, I thought I had, until my now ex-girlfriend said that having a boyfriend made it difficult to make new friends. Although I was crushed at the time and it sounds like she just wanted to sleep around, I’d come to agree that partying with a girl who has a boyfriend is kind of a buzzkill unless you’re already friends with her or the boyfriend.

“Enough of that,” I thought. If it’s casual, inconsequential sex everyone’s having in college, then who am I to offer or request anything more? So I didn’t, and the next three years were hookups and friends-with-benefits because I knew this might be the last time in my life that wearing flip-flops and gym shorts wouldn’t be deal-breaker, and because I thought the casual nature of it all would make my life less complicated, the latter proved to be quite the opposite.

Jealousy is inherent from both ends of this situation: my hearing that she was hooking up with someone else was always a ‘game over,’ and her seeing a tagged picture on my Facebook with another girl or comment on my wall led me to deactivate my account altogether.

Then there were the female booty-calls, a text that would sometimes arrive at midnight on Thursday or Friday saying something like “what are you doinggggg?” which was sketchy if I was already with another girl and way too dramatic if they were at the same party, (I was not in a fraternity, just to clarify). Because even if they didn’t know each other, girls have a freakish sixth sense about those things. There was also the danger that having casual sex within your own social circle could affect how she’s perceived, and the longer it goes on the less sure you are that this is all either of you want.

Before I’m crucified, none of these girls would be considered ‘sluts,’ none of them had boyfriends, I never offered empty promises and they never said, “Wait, before we do this, I need to know that you want something serious to come of it.” I didn’t go home pissed off if a night of drinking with friends didn’t end with sex, I didn’t wait for them to walk-of-shame out of earshot and run through a soccer-tunnel of high-fives because I didn’t associate hook-ups with my identity; I had other things in my life that brought me a less fleeting sense of fulfillment. One-night-stands were the organic end result of connecting with someone on an intimate level, no pun intended.

I spent the last three weeks of my senior year with a classmate who was moving across the country for a job, presenting a clearly established ‘this hookup will end soon’ scenario we both understood. Getting to know her was something else, her strong-willed, ‘no filter’ personality was masking the unease she felt about leaving California, about stepping into the unknown, and I loved making her crack a resistant smile and break into a ‘fuck you for making me laugh at this’-laugh. We went to the beach on the cloudy day before she left so she could run into the freezing Pacific Ocean one last time. And as we said goodbye, I felt my stomach twist in knots for the first time since I said goodbye to my ex. It was a self-reflecting break from reality, like an alcoholic staring at a pile of empty bottles and wondering what they’ve missed out on.

What was it all for? Was the thrill of the chase more satisfying than the potential pain of the demise? Had I reduced the human experience and blunted the emotional ties between love and sex and was it irreparable?

Because that’s not how a man should think, those shame-tinted questions were for women, men — we’re made to believe — aren’t wired for such complexity, especially not in an environment so saturated with potential mates. ‘Potential mates’ and those other evolutionary words we use to rationalize our actions seem to simultaneously debase our humanity, a self-affirmation used to silence a competitive and presumably unwarranted feeling, but for how long?

There’s something strange about being 24 and seeing those friends-with-benefits’ engagement notifications on Facebook; seeing the women whose company I enjoyed for the tangible and intangible now in a committed relationship, wondering if that could’ve been me and why it wasn’t.

College might be the only fraction of our timeline when both men and women can or should engage in that sort of Dionysian debauchery, but the idea of continuing that behavior today isn’t met with the same ambition. I’m not making a moral argument against anyone who continues to do so, nor am I pandering to redeem a guilty conscience, but it felt like a phase. A necessary step in maturity even, and — in a way — I’m lucky. If I hadn’t experienced that adolescent love and happiness that resides in the harmony of companionship, I might’ve never thought to look for it again. TC mark

featured image – Jenny Kristina Nilsson

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