Is there a way of improving hook-up culture?

God save the morning after tweet

It is nine in the morning on a Wednesday and I am just getting back to my parent’s house after a night spent swallowing a bottle of Coconut New Amsterdam whole and going upstairs mid-way through the party to take a bath in the host’s tub.

My shorts are on backwards and I am still entirely wasted. I’m leaving for a festival in Dover in three hours and have a sizable amount of laundry still left to do.

I’m shoving clothes into the washer when I realize something funny. Maybe gross. Maybe baller. I’ve just tossed in a hoodie and a t-shirt that belong to two different guys. Still left in my hand is another hoodie from a third guy and in my other my phone is open to a paragraph text message from my friend telling me about the guy I made out with last night. I was standing in the midst of a Hook-Up Lost and Found and, as it were, the crossroads of my trash bag generation y life.

What I came to wonder was this – was I a live-action metaphor for dirty laundry? If so, is hook-up culture as simple as we make it out to be?

hook up culture

Before recently, I would compare it to a sophisticated version of the Free Love movement, notably more structural and obviously less gross, just with the same basic concept.

But is that really the case? How can something with such a strict structure fit the expectations of so many convention-defying individuals?

Hypothesis: it can’t. Hook-up culture is complex

So how can we make what is supposed to be an easy and amplified college experience less of shit-show?

trying too hard

Illustration by Colin McCarthy

The concept alone is straightforward. In practice, however, hooking-up gets complicated when what was supposed to be effortless and fun becomes formulaic, as it so often does.

We shouldn’t be more attracted to a person because he or she doesn’t text back right away. Acting uninterested isn’t interesting, it’s boring. Imagine being asked what you look for in a guy and replying, “Tall, funny and he has to be a slow-texter so I question whether he like’s me or not.”

Pretending not to be into a guy I’m very much into seems kind of petty.

When I don’t text back, it’s because my phone is broken or misplaced, or I’m artlessly uninterested. I’m not trying to provoke someone into liking me more because he thinks I like him less.

Why have we convinced ourselves that making the people we’re interested in feel unwanted is the move? That’s completely desperate and contrived. Sure, we want them to know we have other options but you don’t need to be a total dick to spark somebody’s interest. You’re young and thriving and have no time to give a fuck about inconsequential shit like how long you should wait to text back.

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Illustration by Brighid Shea, @brighidshea

The phrase ‘hooked-up’ covers everything that falls between making out and sex. The trend of hook-up culture applies all at once to the act of dating without labels, and to those who have participated in a one night stand or those who hook-up consistently with one or more people. The shittiest thing about these all-inclusive terms is how easily one can misconstrue another’s idea of hooking up.

Basically, none of us know what the fuck we’re talking about, and everybody’s scared to specify what it is they actually want.

Hook-up culture is vague as shit – in labels, encounters and intentions. However, if someone tells you they aren’t interested in being serious, they are not being vague. They are being honest.

Two people who share mutual feelings for each other might not share the same vision for their relationship. Most of us have experienced wanting to be with a person so bad we’re willing to compromise how we want to be with them. This rarely works out. If you want to hook-up with other people, if you want consistency, labels or a relationship, it’s unlikely you will stop wanting that.

Some people can successfully engage in relationships with no objective or label, and there are some who prefer a clear, defined status. At different points in our lives, we will probably fall all along the spectrum.

Catching feelings for someone you are hooking up with does not make you weak or desperate. It’s pretty natural. It just makes you the wrong contender for casual hook-ups. Chivalry isn’t actually dead, you guys. We just have to stop acting like morning texts are a dozen fucking roses. Don’t let yourself get excited for ‘you up’ texts if you know that’s not what you really want.

problem 3

If I could, I would invite all my former hook-ups to a baseball field, behind a grade school after a t-ball game is coming to a slow and painful death and the last of the dadbods are packing coolers back in their SUVs. All my Starbucks lovers would line up and for a moment, I’d take it all in. A conga line of mostly regrettable dick. 

I’d take a step forward and offer my hand to each of them. I would hear Neil Armstrong’s words ringing in my head: One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

“Good game,” I’d say, as I begin the high-fives.

Good game indeed.


After five or so minutes, I would be nearing the coda. My hand tired, making me feel young again (#tbt #highschool #handjobs). 

The perfect closure. End fantasy.

In reality, no good-game chant could strip these poor boys’ memories of all the weird shit I’ve said while drunk and the closest I’ve come to closure is telepathically bonding over how hard we are trying to avoid eye-contact in public.

But what about the more regular hook-ups?

In some circumstances, we can get exactly what we want, and in others we will find that fulfilling our personal sexual quotas fails to be the only motive behind our drunk texts.

There were guys who I was close to and comfortable with, who were casual but still respectful, and who could handle no labels without feeling used or without making me feel used. These guys did nothing wrong, things just worked out exactly as we planned.

So, why have I at times felt so uncertain when something worked out perfectly from beginning to end – when I got exactly what I wanted?

Hypothesis: For many college students, myself included, hooking-up is a loophole through which we can temporarily put off committing to any one person

While there’s nothing wrong with doing your thing and relishing in the college experience, when avoiding commitment is the number one priority in the the dating life of so many young people, the absence of closure in hook-up culture seems to be an obvious problem.

If one is experiencing the same basic elements of a relationship- physical and emotional attraction, communication, some sort of consistency – they might experience symptoms similar to that of a break up. The two things lacking are a label and commitment, and the absence of both make us feel as if it ‘didn’t count.’ It’s not up to those factors though, it’s up to the individual.


Art by Lucine,

I never had any urge to defend myself when I was called a “slut” growing up. I wasn’t unaware or cocky, I just knew it was a word that could be reshaped and repurposed just in time to piss one of us girls off. It sounded as uninteresting as any other word. So did “virgin. And from 14 on, I felt like the knot in a perpetual tug-of-war between the two, always waiting for one side to let go so I could take my final position. It wasn’t that either word bothered me in particular, just that I was told I was both but I was exempt from being either.

Today, not much has changed. Though I’m not as frequently confronted with labeling my every atom, my actions by a lot of people’s standards are condemnable. The Thirsty Thursday’s on campus often land me in a new dude’s bed and I could, and might, start a charity with all the clothes I’ve collected from one-time lovers. But even so, the fact remains I have never had sex and I haven’t the slightest idea of when I will. I’m not making a conscious decision everyday to sustain from sex, I’m just doing whatever I want.

My point is this, giving a person a label only narrows your idea of them. Yeah, whatever, I am a virgin but there’s not a list of qualities that go with that label. I’m going to do whatever I want till the end of time and there’s not ever going to be one word that can describe who I am on its own.

And now to quote the infinite wisdom that is Mean Girls, Mrs. Norbury once said, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

hook up culture2

Hooking up is complicated. Life is complicated. College is complicated. Women are complicated

Some of us have secret sexual missteps we try to block out – some feel rebuilt and some feel ruined. Some of us have used shamelessly and some of us have been used willingly. Most of us have experienced rejection, and likely will again. We’re all going to hurt. We’re all going to judge, and we’re going to be judged. All of us are going to make it, no matter the stupid shit we’ve done. None of us are simple and none of us are one word.

It is impossible to know the layers of a girl.