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Getting busy: Fulfillment without commitment at the University

By Bethany Biron, Managing News Editor
Published October 1, 2012

It set stipulations on spending time together outside of the bedroom to prevent any romantic sentiments that could have arisen over morning-after pancakes.

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Breitenbach, sitting at Owen House, said she agreed with the woman in the study, saying her experiences with hooking up in college had largely been focused on meeting carnal desires rather than facilitating meaningful and fulfilling interactions.

“I’ve more just been kind of free-spirited about it, more dealing with physical needs instead of emotional needs,” she said.

Similarly for Cohen, the woman in the open relationship, sex became more of a biological urge than an emotionally laden interaction, and served as a means for establishing independence.

“That sort of occurred to me — that I shouldn’t really have to base my life around these Puritan, Victorian morals,” she said.

The end of the “MRS.” degree

As young women become more self-sufficient, they have subsequently pushed marriage further down the road.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Statistics Reports, the median marriage age based on aggregated data from 2006 to 2010 was 25.8 for women. Compare this to 21.8 for females in the 1950s.

Part of this spurs from the dissolution of a cultural dynamic associated with finding a husband in college, according to Jennifer Aubrey, an associate professor of communications at the University of Missouri and a former Ph.D. student at the University. For many young women, a career has taken precedence over marriage.

“We don’t think, ‘Oh, we’re in college to get a man!’” said LSA senior Gia Tammone. “That would’ve been the attitude maybe for our mothers, definitely for our grandmothers. We’re in college to better ourselves, not to get a better man.”

And while a woman still makes 77 cents to a man’s dollar, the gap is narrowing: In 2010, the ratio of women’s-to-men’s earnings among 25-to-34 year olds was up to 91 percent from 68 percent in 1979, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The delay in marriage also derives from an unstable job market, forcing students to accrue additional degrees and honors to stay competitive in the workforce as part of “credential inflation,” Armstrong said.

The years of additional schooling needed to rack up the necessary credentials to exude marketability extenuates the increasing average marriage age, she said.

As an aspiring doctor, Cronin, the woman who described herself as “in-between,” said she simply doesn’t have time to meddle in the precarious world of collegiate dating.

“I always knew I wouldn’t think about meeting anyone until I was out of medical school and out of residency, because you can’t really deal with anything when you’re in residency,” she said.

At a college renowned for its academic excellence, the constant strain to succeed among the University's sea of highly motivated individuals is pervasive. For many students, finding the time for a relationship on top of studying for exams and participating in extracurricular activities can be impossible, making non-committal hookups look increasingly attractive.

“Especially at a top-tier university like this, everyone is really, really busy,” Engineering senior Bennett Howard said. “(Students) don’t necessarily have time to be talking to a girl out of state all the time, or spending all kinds of hours with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Convenience is definitely an issue, and a more relevant issue at this University.”

Breitenbach also emphasized that committed relationships tack on yet another responsibility to the already overextended schedule of a typical college student.

“Relationships are quite mentally straining, and when you’re trying to graduate, especially from Michigan, you have all these kind of other stresses — you have to get a good GPA, you have to do all this extra work — you kind of want to die sometimes,” she said.

The preponderance of the double standard

Despite the advancements young women have made toward sexual empowerment, Aubrey argues that “old-fashioned patriarchy” has continued to prevail in a culture largely based on sexual objectification.

According to Aubrey, in a party context women are more likely to be evaluated by their appearances than men, whereas men are more likely to be evaluated on other attributes: resources, access, social connections or financial means.

While out at a bar one night, Cronin said she was approached by a man who groped her breasts. Clearly violated, she inquired what possessed him to engage in such an inappropriate manner.

“He was like ‘Well, didn’t you want me to? That’s why you were wearing that shirt,’” she recalled. “That’s the kind of stuff that I hate.”

In a study, Aubrey analyzed television shows to see how sexual experiences and their consequences were distributed among females and males.