I didn't really party in high school. My friend group fell on the 'nerd' spectrum, and not the mainstream kind that pop culture has appropriated. Instead of going out and taking risks, I would go to the beach or stay in with my friends for triple sleepovers where the hardest alcohol in the house was reserved for the medicine cabinet.
College has been a different experience. I've gone to parties where most of the people aren't interested in getting to know each other past the point of who was going to give them booze or a hit. The most striking thing I noticed, however, was the amount of people eager to make out with each other, or the amount of strangers kissing and stumbling away from the party early together. This was a whole new ballgame for me; I'd only dated two guys over the long term in high school, and this 'one night stand', 'hookup' thing was completely foreign to me. Little did I know that this hookup phenomenon extended its invasive tendrils into the crevices surrounding all of my relationships at university.
Recently, I attended a seminar discussing the book American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, where the author Lisa Wade gave a brief overview of the phenomenon I was witnessing in my everyday life. According to her research, the so-called 'hookup culture' seen so often on college campuses in America today has evolved since the beginning of the 20th century. Due to certain economic influences and social trends, the concept of hooking up instead of having meaningful interactions has become a dominant cultural constraint on social behaviors of college-aged young people today.
'Culture' itself is defined as 'the attitudes and behaviors characteristic of a social group', or as Wade put it during the seminar, a 'collective idea' that something should 'be a certain way', or an ideal that 'everyone' should aspire to. In the case of casual sexual encounters - known as 'hookups' that can range from making out to having sex - the culture dictates that the BEST encounter involves the LEAST amount of emotion and meaning. For example, the best hookup is one where people can have a sexual encounter and leave without any worry about commitment or romantic finesse. This sounds, at its barest, practical for the average college student of America, who is struggling to stay afloat in the shrinking middle-class; there's an expectation, a desire, to be fully settled in their careers and home life before letting someone else into the picture.
However, the culture places so much emphasis on meaningless interactions that, suddenly, every small interaction becomes packed with meaning. "Oh, you hooked up with someone and now you're holding hands? You must be in a relationship," says hookup culture. This creates a pressure on those who don't like to hook up to conform, or to feel insecure about wanting something more than a lustful encounter with a stranger. Where cultural movements of days past have looked on the act of having multiple sexual partners as 'slutty', hookup culture protests against that image with the idea that anyone who DOESN'T want multiple partners is 'desperate' for a committed relationship. Trying to be human and meet the standards of these opposite expectations would make anyone's head spin.
What really struck me the most about Lisa Wade's talk was the idea of communication. Hookup culture thrives on the least amount of communication needed to make something happen, which can lead to confusion and mixed expectations for those people involved. The games hookup culture encourages - such as ignoring or even being mean to the person you hooked up with right after the deed as a way to establish meaninglessness - leads to feelings of worthlessness and unfulfillment.
Obviously this isn't the case for everyone; according to Wade's research, about 10-12% of the population thrives within hookup culture. Still, that statistic rides beside the 70% of women and 73% of men on college campuses who DO want more than just a hookup.
If so many people feel this way, then why aren't more of them speaking out about what they want?
This ties back to the idea of appearing 'desperate'. It takes guts to tell someone how you really feel, especially if the action of expressing your feelings is looked down upon by the culture you inhabit. However, communication is the most powerful way to fight against the expectations of hookup culture. As Wade put it, we humans are "bags of chemistry"; it's impossible for us to not feel SOME emotion when interacting sexually with someone, whether good or bad. Therefore, the expectation of hookup culture to have NO emotion AT ALL is hard to meet on a regular, long-term basis for a lot of young people.
This is why communication is important. It's far easier to establish a relationship of any sort with another person if you communicate exactly what you want out of it - whether you just want a sexual relationship, something more, or something in between. The key is that everyone has different desires, and communicating these desires breaks the label of 'desperate' and makes you more human and approachable.
What's reassuring, though, is that cultural expectations can change. They're literally 'all in our heads'; cultural norms are what we make them to be, and by shifting perceptions of what is desired, a greater acceptance of vulnerability can be achieved.
Relationships with people are hard to begin with. Add affection to the mix, and suddenly life gets a lot more complicated. If we as humans can accept the ways in which we love one another - whether that means having multiple partners, one partner, or none at all - then the tension created by societal pressures will lift.
Besides. What's more fun than being cared for the way you want to be?
P.S. Here are some inspirational, relatable quotes by Chandler from Friends.