Carrying On: Navigating a commitment-phobic culture

September 25, 2014


Sex has changed drastically in recent years. Well, not the act of sex itself, but American cultural norms surrounding it have certainly changed substantially. Most of us consider it acceptable to have casual sex, to have premarital sex, to have relationships with any gender or race, and to use contraceptives. Sex is now something we can try to form our own opinions on without a Bible-thumping priest telling us masturbation will send us straight to hell. 

In theory, because of these changes, we should be able to create individual values regarding sex. But I’ve found that trying to formulate my own criteria on a college campus, where hook-up culture dominates, is more difficult than avoiding a one-night stand in line at Leo’s brunch the next morning.

While open-minded views make it permissible for anyone to have sex, hook-up culture takes this a step further. With hookup culture, sex is supposed to be simple—it’s just sex, no strings attached. While long-term relationships clearly aren’t the goal of these interactions, hookup culture tends to close off any other non-casual exchanges. 

Let me explain this point with an example: a conversation I had while waiting in line at Uncommon Grounds. I was in line, deciding whether I could stomach a cup of Corp coffee or if I would need to get tea. A guy I had met a few days before got in line behind me. I whipped out my best small talk skills, and after a bit of conversation regarding classes, I got my coffee and no longer had an excuse to be chatting with this boy. “Good luck with classes and everything this week. Maybe I’ll see you around this weekend, a few friends are throwing down in Village A,” he offered with a smile and a slight head nod. I, of course, responded with the incredibly promising, “Sounds cool, let me know.” I said it with a slight smile, so he knew I actually did want to see him. 

Obviously at that point I didn’t have any expectations for what could happen—I didn’t expect him to show up on my doorstep Friday night with a bouquet of roses and a reservation for a nice dinner. The problem here is that both of us were afraid to make any kind of commitment or show any kind of obvious interest. Maybe he would have sent me a Facebook invite, but maybe not. Maybe I would have messaged him, but again, maybe not. It’s a competition of pretending to be indifferent, everything based on subtlety. And that’s because hook-up culture values this appearance of indifference, this lack of expectations. Hook-up culture avoids commitment. Why ask someone to hang out when you can just add a smiley after mentioning the possibility of some vague weekend plans? Hook-up culture strives for the easy way out. 

People who want more than just casual sex, the brave and the bold, are often caught up in this indifference. Turns out, that boy would have been interested in hanging out with me in a non-party scene, meaning I had the possibility of having something more than just a one-night stand. Our mutual friend told me this after I mentioned I couldn’t go to the party he invited me to. He and I never really talked after that. He thought I wasn’t interested because I didn’t go and I thought he wasn’t interested because he never tried to talk to me again (and God forbid either of us actually make the effort to ask about it). 

Hook-up culture only has an illusion of liberated openness: in theory we engage in it to enjoy sex without unnecessary stress or pressure, where really we are just frightened of any sort of commitment. And while yes, I am happy I can have premarital sex without being given a scarlet ‘A’ to wear and be shunned, hook-up culture takes the idea of casual a bit too far. It doesn’t just offer an alternative to commitment, it rejects commitment. I’m not saying that relationships in college are impossible because of this attitude. That’s clearly not true. Hookup culture merely makes meeting people and dating more difficult. It makes walking that fine line between one-night stand and relationship quite blurred. 

Being asked on a simple date just to get to know someone is as rare as finding a decent beer at Brown House: you see one of the hosts walking around with a few nice, cold bottles of Magic Hat #9, but you don’t bother asking for fear of coming off as forward and somewhat out place.


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