Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Inside Hookup Culture

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Inside Hookup Culture

Article excerpt

Inside Hookup Culture

Are We Having Fun Yet?

By Alexandra Solomon

The preparations began days in advance. Jess, a college senior, had been asked out on a first date by a 24-year-old friend of a friend. Her tribe was buzzing with excitement. "Everyone was my number-one fan," Jess says, tucking her long brown hair behind her ear. "It's super unusual for someone to go out on a real first date, so everyone wanted a piece of the action. My girls were Facebook-stalking him and commenting on his looks. Everyone wanted to Uber to the city with me and hang out at the bar across the street from where I was supposed to meet him."

As my former student shares the story of her first first date, I'm struck by how the whole concept of dating is brand new to Jess and her friends, though sexual experiences are not. On college campuses across the country, "hooking up" has all but replaced traditional, old-school dating rituals, and I can't help feeling uneasy that for many young adults, getting naked with someone you barely know is less newsworthy than meeting up for a drink and a conversation. And while a part of Jess finds the communal attention intrusive, another part finds it quite natural. After all, this is exactly how she's been living since she was in her early teens. "My generation is really public," she explains. "We put it all on Facebook and Instagram. It's how we live. I think that's why there was some comfort in having it be a group thing."

So despite Jess's nagging sense that it ought to be her first date, not a collective one, when the big night rolled around, her tribe hung out at one bar while Jess and her date got to know each other over drinks at a bar nearby. As it happened, she wasn't crazy about the guy. They texted a few times after that night, but things fizzled out and life quickly moved on.

Today, at 23, Jess is working at her first job and about to go on her second first date. "Amazingly, he called me!" she said. "You've got to understand, guys might text or post something on social media for you, but they don't call. I realize how crazy it sounds that a 23-second voicemail about meeting up for dinner sends me over the moon. But a phone call is the real deal!"

Like most Gen X mental health professionals, my exposure to youth culture has waned over the years. The one direct experience that's kept me in touch is that I teach an undergraduate course at Northwestern University called Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101. Originally launched in 2001 by William Pinsof and Arthur Nielsen, the course now fills within hours of registration opening and receives lots of media attention, probably because it offers some unusual experiential elements, including the chance for students to explore their own "love templates" and get academic credits for doing something as deeply personal as keeping a self-reflection journal. In turn, I get to hear firsthand my students' confusion about what it takes to create a satisfying intimate relationship--which makes the rise of hookup culture all the more disconcerting to me.

Donna Freitas, in her book The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused about Intimacy, offers this definition of a hookup.

A hookup includes some form of sexual intimacy, anything from kissing to oral, vaginal, or anal sex, and everything in between.

A hookup is brief--it can last from a few minutes to as long as several hours over a single night. The hookup may be a drunken makeout on the dance floor or involve sleeping over and taking the so-called "walk of shame" in the morning.

A hookup is intended to be purely physical in nature and involves both parties shutting down any communication or connection that might lead to emotional attachment.


At the start of each semester, I tell my students that, although I hate to burst their bubbles, they didn't coin the term hookup in a sexual sense. …

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