Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy Endings

The hookup culture was not a natural product of human evolution. Young women did not just decide one day to ignore their emotional needs and engage in repeated, unsatisfying, casual sexual encounters. Only alien influences can explain such a strange cultural phenomenon.

As I and many others have noted, feminism is one reason that more and more young women set out on this self-defeating journey. My most recent comments are here.

Now we can identify another of the Pied Pipers of the hookup culture: women's magazines. I am reliably told that Glamour is a highly respectable and much read magazine. In a recent issue Jessica Pressler has this to say about hooking up: "It's taken womankind 200,000 years to finally be able to have no-strings, no-guilt sex. But what happens when you start wanting more? We've cracked the code to figure out how you can have your fun-- and your happy ending." Link here.

Of course, Pressler is referring to a happily-ever-after ending... true love leading to a committed relationship. For what it's worth men and women have rather different notions of what makes for a happy ending. If you don't believe me, just ask Al Gore.

As for the substantive point, have women finally learned how to have no-strings, no-guilt sex? If you read this recent Susan Walsh post, you would have to conclude that Pressler is either being too kind or too optimistic. Link here.

While it is true that modern girls have gone a bit wild, in no sense can we say that they have not paid very dearly for their experimentation. If hooking up traumatizes and causes depression, how can anyone possibly say that women have cracked the code. They might have been induced to sacrifice their intimacy to make an empty political gesture, but beyond that, they have not profited from hooking up.

In all fairness Pressler does note that young women who have undergone the trials and troubles of the college hookup culture often end up not knowing how to date, how to develop a relationship, or how to move that relationship toward commitment.

This is not quite the same thing as cracking a code. It tells us that the hookup culture exacts a heavy behavioral price.

Pressler does not see things quite this way. She believes that women can have their hookups and have love, too. All they need to do is to be more forthright and direct, more assertive and overtly verbal about what they want and expect from a relationship.

If a woman wants a relationship, she must say so, the sooner the better. Even if she has hooked up, she can still assert that she expects more from the encounter than just casual sex.

For my part I have never seen the great advantage to explicit statements defining the nature of this or that relationship. Love and romance require a goodly measure of mystery. Prospective lovers who declare their intentions too soon or too openly risk driving their partners away.

On the other hand, it may be that in a culture where hooking up is the norm, one is obliged to state clearly, from the outset, that a certain form of sexual contact is not to be considered a hookup.

On the other hand, if the sexual contact occurs within the context of an ongoing relationship, there is far less chance that it be misconstrued.

Pressler is wrong, however, to suggest that you can have it both ways. If a woman's goal is to find love and a relationship, then she would do best to abstain from hookups. And if she wants to move from hooking up to love, then the first step should be stop hooking up.

I believe that the more important consideration is, how does a young woman who has engaged in a number of hookups recover her sexuality? How, after giving her intimacy away, does she take it back?

She might not want to go as far as Hephzibah Anderson who gave up sex for a year. Link here. Anderson's book, Chastened, has just been published. I have not yet read the book but I have it on order. Any author who has a name as splendid as Hephzibah Anderson deserves our support.

Whether or not women choose to give up sex for a time, they will need to recognize that, when it comes to intimacy, you cannot have it all. Young women might have more options than their mothers and grandmothers, but they should recognize that different paths exact different costs, and that they do not all lead to the same kind of happy ending.

No comments: