Hookup Culture Is Painful

Though I like to pretend that my romantic life resembles that of a pre-Botox Carrie Bradshaw — full of shimmering stiletto heels and dapper men who look as though they’ve just walked off the pages of GQ — it took a tragic turn towards Bridget Jones territory this week.

On my way home from the library one evening, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen much this semester. My brief interest in him at the beginning of the school year had fizzled into distaste (read: hurt feelings and an excessive amount of time whining to my friends) for various reasons. Needless to say, I was a bit startled when we crossed paths, behind the row of frat houses near the area I live.

“Hey,” he said, not unkindly. “Haven’t seen you around in a while.”

I opened my mouth, searching for a witty response that would go over his head, and promptly burst into tears — which took both of us by surprise.

“I-I-I’m sorry,” I sobbed. “I’m just feeling r-r-really emotional.”

At that point, I was simultaneously crying, trying not to cry, and feeling somewhat bemused that I was crying in front of him in particular. He, on the other hand, looked shell-shocked — like someone had just handed him an infant with a sopping diaper that he had no idea how to change. Frat boys typically don’t have to deal with many bawling girls. Especially those crying for no apparent reason.

He asked what happened and made an awkward motion towards me, arms extended. The first lesson taught in Guy 101 must be thus: you don’t have to listen to crying girls but always hug them in order to stopper their tears. I gave him the tl;dr version of what had happened this weekend after surreptitiously wiping my face on the back of his shirt.

I had had fairly roller coaster Friday and Saturday evenings, during which I realized just how much college hook-up culture frustrated me and, frankly, diminished my self-worth. Per the current state of affairs, I could go up to a group of guys and blather on about the most insipid topics I could think of — it wouldn’t matter as long as I dressed a certain way and caked a certain amount of make-up onto my face.

Thinking about that — as well as the fact that I had just spent two hours procrastinating my homework by looking at videos of Cory Monteith (the best way to do emotional masochism) — meant that I was a ticking time bomb of college-girl feelings when I ran into him.

“Well,” he said solemnly after I finished weaving my sad tale. “It sounds like you need a boyfriend.”

“No, no, that’s not it,” I said, snot threatening to drip out of my nose and effectively destroy any chance that he was still attracted to me. “I just…I just want someone who only wants to hang out with me and only wants to hook up with me and will nurture me but not a boyfriend…”

I was quoting Hannah Horvath, and my romantic life had just sunk to its lowest point. He, on the other hand, still looked thoroughly confused. His biceps, which were bigger than my head, had probably siphoned off important blood flow to his brain.

“Do you watch Girls?” I asked tearfully, to which he responded, “Is that a trick question?”

He continued to hammer home his boyfriend suggestion, which was out of character for someone who belonged to a social set that prided itself on “banging as many babes as possible” (real quote, though from someone else). Before we parted ways, however, he promised to gather his friends round and tell them to “not be dicks to girls” — which I hoped they would not forget the next time they chugged one too many pitchers of piss-water beer.

Later, as I sat in my bed and soothed my wounded pride by sending my friends Snapchat selfies while I watched Netflix, I began to think more deeply about his recommendation. Finding a boyfriend, as per his suggestion, seemed tempting (though unrealistic — I don’t know what he was thinking) but honestly, I only wanted all of the emotional styling of a relationship without having to put in the work. Between classes, jobs, and other social obligations, the time to actually date was a luxury that very few people I knew had.

And the biggest #princessproblem of all was that I couldn’t have my cake and eat it too. Well, what I really wanted was to have two cakes and only eat one.

For most of us, the college lifestyle is not conducive to sustaining healthy, viable relationships. I do have some friends that manage to do it, and I wish them nothing but happiness and beautiful, bald babies somewhere down the road. However, they possess a superpower that most of us don’t have. When we barely have enough time to finish our homework assignments (though that may be more due to getting lost in the Internet than anything else), how would we possibly have the time to invest in another living, breathing human being?

Yet, at the same time, I was growing bored and disdainful of hook-up culture. My enthusiasm for it had started off as a means of proving to myself, post painful breakup, that I still had game — nothing jump-starts the ego than swapping phone numbers and spit while gyrating to “Blurred Lines” at a frat party. At this point, however, I had effectively determined that Momma got her mojo back, and my tolerance for those who treated me like a human compost dish had begun to dry.

So, what’s the middle ground? What bridges the gap between the impersonality of hit-it-and-quit-it hookup culture and the energy-sapping, all-consuming nature of relationship-ing? Where do we find, as Hannah Horvath described, someone who will emotionally support us with as few strings attached as possible? Someone who cares about us, enough to ask how we’re feeling and to treat us respectfully, without demanding more time and energy than we can afford to give? Are friends-with-benefits a tenable solution to this romantic micro-crisis? What about choosing one consistent partner with whom to hook up — hopefully, one whose pillow talk is just as stimulating as anything else?

As for me, I’m just going to lay off the Cory Monteith videos and hope that I stop bursting into tears in front of random boys. Maybe, at that point, I can work on finding a love interest that is just as cute as ole Bridget’s. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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