The New York Times ran an article on Sunday about the rampant hookup culture in college. And while hooking up in college is nothing new, the surprising finding of this article is that more and more, hooking up - in place of actual relationships - is being driven by women.
The interviews with over sixty college women all took place at the University of Pennsylvania, which happens to be where I graduated from nearly twenty years ago. Honestly, it just made me really sad. Putting aside the fact that many of the women interviewed said that “hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk,” what saddened me so much was the general attitude towards real, meaningful relationships.
Apparently, women at elite universities are so busy building their resumes with clubs and research projects and internships, that having a relationship feels to them like just one more obligation. It’s easier to just get drunk and have sex with a guy you don’t really like, than it is to invest the time to get to know someone you do. In one student’s words, “we’re very aware of the cost-benefit issues.”
But the line that got to me the most - the line that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since Sunday, and which motivated me to post about the article - is one from A., who doesn’t want to get into a relationship with a guy - at all - until he’s a fully formed adult.
“I’ve always heard,” she said, “’Oh, marriage is great…You get to go on this journey of change together’…That sounds terrible. I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”
Oh, dear God - is that really how she thinks that it works? That you meet a guy in his thirties or forties, and that he’s going to be successful and independent and know who he is, and that the two of you are going to merge like two corporations and have it all figured out?
The great thing about college is that it’s the first time in your life when you’re living on your own, and figuring things out completely for yourself. But I’d argue that as important as it is to figure out how to manage school and extracurricular activities and research projects and laundry and a checkbook, it’s just as important to figure out how to be in an adult relationship.
Navigating a relationship is a skill, not something you just learn by osmosis when you turn thirty-five. And having boyfriends in college helps you to understand what qualities you want and don’t want in a husband down the line. For example, when your college boyfriend gets mad because you choose to study for a test instead of hanging out at his place, you make a mental note that next time, you need to find someone who’s more supportive of you and respects your ambition. But if all you do is have drunken sexual encounters for four years, how do you ever learn any of that stuff ?
Full disclosure: I met my husband in college, at Penn. Like most of the women in the article, I was ambitious, career oriented, and not looking for a husband. If you’d have told me when I was twenty that I’d just met the guy I was going to marry, I’d have laughed in your face. But I did meet him. And what started out as, yes, what I thought was just going to be a hookup, quickly turned into something more. I was a senior, and like many of the women in the article, I worried about what would happen after graduation, when I was going to law school in D.C. and he was moving back to LA. But unlike them, I didn’t just forget it because it seemed like a waste of my time to get into a relationship that didn’t have an easily foreseeable future. We dated, and when it came time to either break up or figure it out, we figured it out.
And I have to say, rather than wishing that I’d met someone later in life who had it all together and was stable, like A. is hoping for, I’ve loved that we’ve changed and grown and supported each other over the last twenty years. That shared history is the foundation of our marriage. The years when we were long distance deepened our commitment to each other. And all of the give and take that went into the early years of our relationship as we each struggled to establish ourselves in our careers, laid the groundwork for the give and take that came later, when we had children.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we go back to the days of the Mrs. Degree, when women went to college to hunt for a husband. I’m just suggesting that a college relationship doesn’t have to be viewed as a sunk cost; time that could better be spent furthering one’s career goals. Instead, college women might want to try looking at relationships as an investment. Maybe you don’t join that one extra club, or maybe you don’t chair that one more committee. And maybe - probably - the relationship won’t last. But what you learn in the process will no doubt pay off in the long run.
Originally published on ModernMom