My guy friend offered me what may be one of the most realistic yet depressing nuggets of insight into the male perspective on hook-up culture this past weekend.
“Stephanie,” he said with all the earnestness of someone about to harp upon one of life’s (or at least, college’s) great truths. “I’m a guy. We hook up with dumb, pretty girls all the time because they’re pretty.”
My initial response was to smack my friend in the arm, but that only made him yelp in protest, “What? It’s true!” He then went on to claim that this attitude towards women was universal — at least amongst the Natty-swigging, Hoodie Allen-listening set of men he knew so well.
“Please tell me y’all will start to value girls on the basis of their, uh, personality or intellect at some point,” I said. It was so unfathomable to me how he could treat me and other female friends with respect while, more or less, shifting his behavior towards the girls he pursued sexually (to be fair, though, this kind of attitude was more reflective of his demographic rather than an unflattering reflection upon him).
To be frank, part of me didn’t want to know the answer to this question. If — as he suggested — most guys at our age chose their romantic endeavors (or, if we’re not mincing words here, conquests) on the basis of how surface-level attractive they were, what hope was there for those of us who were a little rougher (or rounder) around the edges? Whose hair didn’t shine as brightly and blondly as a breathing Barbie doll? Whose bodies didn’t fill out every inch (of which there are few) of our bandage dresses to contoured perfection?
Would they shove us in their back pockets, only pulling out us as possibilities to consider during otherwise dry spells? Have we all been reduced to notches that they can etch into their bedposts — proudly and, sometimes, with less pride?
My friend muttered something nearly incomprehensible under the din of the crowd around us, and before I could press him further, he got up to hit on the girl by the bar — someone in his political science class I knew he had been eying for weeks.
I sat at our booth, mulling what my friend had said over the remaining few dregs of my drink. Grim as my friend’s posit was, it made me wonder: why did so many guys — at least those still on the early side of their 20s — feel this way and what made them think it was okay? Why does the power dynamic in most relationships/hook-ups shift to their favor?
The answer is double-fold, I think.
First, guys at our age are unsure of what they want, and as a result, hook-up culture becomes a means for them to prove to their peers that their testosterone levels are up to par. Though not all, many guys view the college romantic scene as a cornucopia of diverse flavors that will satisfy whatever craving they have at a particular moment — and Lord knows that no one has a worse sweet tooth than a 20-year-old dude. But when they’ve got pints of Rocky Road, Cookies ‘n Crème, and Mint Chocolate Chip before them, how could they possibly settle on just one flavor? And if one flavor fails to deliver, there are dozens more at their disposal.
Second, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that girls (especially at our age) get attached more easily, as much as we may try to fight it. If for no other reason, this makes sense from a purely biological standpoint. For example, my friend is currently taking a class on primate behavior, which, she claims, has clarified for her some of the great mysteries surrounding dudes and college hook-up culture. She informed me over lunch this week that males at this age are at a place in their lives where they’re trying to “spread their genes as quickly and widely as possible.” Her (slightly censored) words, not mine.
20-year-old women, on the other hand, are nearing their child-birthing prime and the evolutionary (sometimes subconscious) subtext behind each of our hook-ups is the desire to find someone who will nurture us, who could be caring fathers for our hypothetical offspring. Hypothetical — because very, very, very few of us are ready to be mothers at this age (fingers crossed that none of us do). Science has screwed us over in this instance and made it more difficult for us to remain as detached as is necessary to keep our hearts from falling victim to those who will trample all over them.
So, what do we do, as girls? How are we supposed to navigate college hook-up culture in a way that keeps us from getting hurt? I’ve written about this in the past but the truth is that I’m terrible at following my own advice (under the cool-as-a-cucumber façade I try to maintain regarding dating and romance, I often reach Bridget-Jones levels of neuroticism) and suggestions are easier heard than executed.
I guess our most reasonable option is to muster up as much self-respect as we deserve (though that, too, is easier said than done), refuse to let anyone carve us as notches into their bedposts, and hope that men age like wine — Pinot Noir rather than Two Buck Chuck, that is.