I have a lot of thoughts about hookup culture. If you’re a proponent of it, you may just want to go ahead and move along now. I await the Twitter flamewar that’s just around the bend.
Sure, I have something potentially evil inside me that makes me obsessively devoted to people and therefore in constant need to be loved—but that doesn’t mean I think every single person needs to be in a relationship at all times no matter what. I am, however, thoroughly irritated that everyone around me has been so beaten down by hookup culture that not a single one of them is willing to say:
“These are my needs. This is what I want. I am valid, and wanting something real is valid.”
In fact, the way things are going, having or articulating those sentiments has become an undesirable thing, to be avoided at all costs.
I’m going to say something that will probably piss off a lot of you who’ve been stuck in the hookup spiral for so long that you don’t even know what you want anymore because you haven’t let yourself say it out loud or be vulnerable in about a decade: Hookup culture happened because—and stick with me here—
when we started supporting women being sex positive,
we adapted to the notion men appropriated,
[which is that]
sleeping around with no strings attached is The Ultimate Way to Live and makes you superior to your peers who are weighed down by their spouses and responsibilities.
That intention was great. Instead, we made it so no one of any gender feels safe saying they want to be loved, want to have a partner, want emotional security, or simply don’t want to be alone anymore.
Let me start a second time: This is not the rant of a self-hating woman who wants to keep female sexuality in a corner for all eternity the way The Patriarchy has since Day 1 of Hysteria (and beyond—here’s lookin’ at you, Eve). This is for all the people of all the genders and non-genders, this is for all the Millennials and non-Millennials, and each person who feels undefined by any particular generation because, frankly, this shit has gone too far. I am sex-positive and want the rest of you to be as sex-positive as you’re comfortable with, too. Hell, I even want you to hook up as much as you want/are comfortable!
I also want everyone to stop pretending they’re so cool and noncommittal when they’re dying of soul-crushing loneliness.
Here’s the pattern I’ve been shown as an empath who got the smallest taste of hookup culture and bolted the other way, back into the safety of honesty and vulnerability. That sounds completely fucking backwards, but bear with me a second.
In this glorious New Age of Sex, the expectation is to be down for anything and looking for nothing but a good time—which means that even a whiff of interest in a relationship (or any other level of commitment, big or small) immediately means you’re high maintenance rather than, you know, an actual person with actual needs that are fine. What it amounts to are lies we tell ourselves in order to show other people that we’re fiercely independent, that we aren’t a burden, and that we are worthy of their time and attention because we don’t need much of it.
For me this took shape in a slew of close affairs after a huge, almost decade-long breakup. That’s a long time to be out of the dating pool, and things had changed significantly since the last time I was looking for someone else to validate me. For me, this took shape in total madness with someone I was way too into.
Yes, I was sleeping around, the way we pretty much all do—but that’s not what I was looking for. I was looking for a new safe cave of monogamy to crawl into—hopefully with someone better this time—because I don’t know how not to be vulnerable and forthright with my needs and fears and expectations. But I gave it a try, was easy(going), and didn’t say a word about what I wanted in order to embody The Girl Who Wanted Nothing.
Of course, things are as good as they can be at this stage: You have the short-term, going-who-knows-where attention and validation you’re secretly hoping will build the groundwork of a potential relationship. One that will fulfill all your needs magically, despite the fact that you haven’t voiced them or given life to them.
With this particular person, I was in a game of give and take; he loved to turn the tables on me as if seeing how long he could keep me on the ropes before committing himself. Very, very wearily I played along, outwardly seeming like I actually was down for anything when internally I was 200 percent losing it. Why was he still holding me at arm’s length when I was being everything he wanted me to be—at a GREAT distance so as not to scare him off?
If he liked me so much and “wanted to see where this goes,” why did he blatantly ignore me for an entire week? Why did he purposefully show up WITHOUT a condom to withhold sex so we could “get reacquainted” once he decided to acknowledge my existence again?
This is the point where some amount of truth comes about what you’re looking for—and of course it doesn’t match up to the version of you that you let them believe.
And it’s as though suddenly you’ve created this fear and simultaneous confidence that you aren’t worthy of love and are more work than any one person will be willing to put up with. Not only are these toxic ideas of what love is or relationships should be, but these are ideas born of each casual encounter built on untruthful wants and expectations that keep happening. They don’t keep happening because you’re not worthy of love, are too much work, or are asking for too much. They’re happening because you weren’t honest with a human being about what you’re looking for and you chose to instead hope that they would magically want more from you than the expectation you set. Strike three.
At this point in my twenties, I can’t even count the amount of people I’ve had to council through this toxic culture of needing someone to fuck because being alone is terrible—while also not feeling able or willing to actually get what you’re looking for or need (stability, companionship, commitment). These things come in all flavors, so you can’t make the argument to me that they’re unpalatable to you.
I’ve heard it all. “I want to be comfortable with myself alone first.” “I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s happiness.” “I’m exploring.” “I don’t want to be tied down right now.” “Who knows where I’ll be in a year?” “I want to travel.” “I don’t believe in monogamy.”
I could go on, but I’ll just start answering these in succession based on actual advice I’ve had to give while talking these people off at-times literal ledges:
The foundation of hookup culture is fear—fear of being rejected for needing too much, wanting too much, asking for more than a casual fuck. And it’s making me sick to my stomach.
You shouldn’t be trying to prove to me that you are one, either. Live your life—just don’t go through every length to manipulate a person you’re sleeping with in order to disguise that you do actually want some level of commitment if you’re going to literally hate yourself when they don’t or won’t commit to you.
I have lived with a real and total commitment-phobe, so I call ‘em like I see ‘em. Turns out he’s a very traditional guy and wanted stability in career before trying to settle down, and has, in fact, committed. A lot of the perpetual singles in my circles settle in on this notion as a crutch for rationalizing hookup culture.
But these people have true and honest fear of being rejected that prevents them from being vulnerable enough to admit that they want a partner, career stability be damned.
The difference is my commitmentphobe friend wasn’t afraid of being vulnerable or needing someone. He wanted financial stability before committing energy to another whole person.
My need to be loved is so loud and everpresent that I never had a chance of being sucked into this system of needing to be cool and available and “down for whatever” (as long as “whatever” isn’t the black hole of a real, live relationship). I’ve been in committed relationships since I was 12, and I wouldn’t have it any other way because when I am single, I’m Grade A certifiably insane. That’s how borderline personality works for me. Try and stop me from telling someone I start dating exactly what I need, want, and am looking for—you’ll fail miserably.
That’s why it kills me to be the confidante for all the people who have ever come to me in pieces because their casual hookup won’t commit to them. You’ve set the wrong precedent. You have, for all intents and purposes, begun a connection that had the potential to be meaningful and fulfilling with lies and manipulation. And maybe even a little gaslighting.
Let’s outline aspects of hookup culture and how they negate tenants of strong, supportive, mutually beneficial relationships:
1. Starting a no-strings-attached fling with the hope it will turn into something more.
I’m by no means going to ascertain that a casual fling has never turned into a great relationship because that’s just not true. Hell, how else do people START relationships nowadays? I want to assert the difference between honesty and deception.
If you’re looking for someone you can commit to, partner with, depend on, and support with love but choke that down for the sole purpose of ensnaring them, you’re dialing Manipulation up to 20. I can’t even handle how many people I know do this. Why? Because if you let them know you want a relationship, they’ll probably get scared off and never sleep with or talk to you again.
Make note: You don’t want to date someone who isn’t on your same level; you should never apologize for what you need; and selfish people make terrible lovers, anyway. Next.
2. Saying you’re sleeping with other people when you aren’t and don’t want to be.
Most people do this because being the person who says, “No, I don’t want you to sleep with anyone else,” is admitting they want some level of commitment—and the first to do that clearly loses! I won’t get into sex safety issues here because we’re all adults, and I’m just gonna hope you’re all doing right by each other in this arena.
Regardless, saying you’re cool with seeing other people when you’re not is a recipe for disaster with literally zero merit. Tell me, who’s going to win here? You, who’s suffering uncertainty and potential jealousy and self-doubt because the person you want doesn’t only want you, or the person you want to be exclusive with who thinks you’re cool with keeping it casual with no end or commitment in sight?
Make note: This isn’t a façade with a long shelf life. And it sounds perfectly miserable.
3. Pretending you are a robot person with no vulnerabilities and, therefore, the ultimate catch.
Newsflash: YOU ARE A PERSON. YOUR NEEDS ARE VALID. Sure, we all want to get laid, and keep getting laid, and some of us (ahem, me when I’m single) will do pretty much whatever it takes to keep that train on track to prevent nights of suffocating loneliness. The problem here is that asserting time and again that you are down for whatever and low maintenance when you actually do want some level of commitment at the end of the day is so, so fucking poisonous. You’re perpetuating that what you want is bad—that to be desired, you must have no real world problems, concerns, or burdens. That to be burdened by the real world and your very real, authentic life and self makes you unworthy of attention and validation. Do you really think wanting stability and comfort is bad?
Make note: No one in this whole world will fight for what you want the way you will. No one in this world will advocate for what you need the way you must, and the time to start is right fucking now.
This is my plea to basically everyone to just be honest with yourselves and the people you’re sleeping with. Please—for the love of actual humanity—stop acting like the desire for love, emotional stability, or a partner to go through the total garbage that is adulthood with is a terrible thing. Being vulnerable and true is the only way we can find what we’re looking for, what we need. Only you know what that is. You should probably clue your casual hookup in on that so you can both get on with it—or move on to someone who can truly be your equal.