Before heading home last Thursday night, my friends and I walked to Café Ambrosia on Maynard street in search of a late night cup of coffee. It was about 1:30 a.m., and when we got there, the coffee shop turned out to be closed. With nothing else to do, the four of us leaned with our backs against the window, ready to part ways. But then, a curious scene unfolded before us. Two-by-two, stumbling couples walked past, evidently coming from Skeeps, the bar just a few yards down the street. While many of them might have been Jewish, let’s just say it didn’t seem like they were going home to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
Many of these couples were clearly just meeting for the first time — making awkward small talk about the frigid weather and discussing what summer camps they went to. Admittedly, my friends and I were witnessing only a sliver of campus life, but the sight was illustrative of a grander theme — and a significant issue — at the University.
It’s not a groundbreaking observation that random hookups are commonplace on this campus. Many students accept meaningless hookups as the rule, with relationships as the exception. And by now, plenty of articles, essays and sorority house dining hall conversations have acknowledged and lamented this fact. For whatever reason, college students — and I’ll admit, it’s an overwhelmingly male inclination — seem averse to asking one another out on dates or actually building meaningful, romantic relationships.
A friend who graduated last year recently told me that within just a few months of post-graduate life, she’d gone on more dates than she had during her entire time at college. So is it possible that this trend is just a college craze that will fade with age?
Of course. But I’m not willing to accept the clichés that boys will be boys or that this, too, shall pass. As “normal” as this trend seems to us, it’s clearly not constructive. Our college years are far too formative for us to blithely accept unhealthy behavior now in sight of healthier conduct down the road. Young adulthood can be tremendously lonely as we teeter between our adolescent lives and whatever “real” futures we expect to come in adulthood. And random hookups only exacerbate this emotional solitude.
The conventional wisdom is that guys promote this hookup culture because they won’t commit and that girls just let it happen. But in defense of my gender, I know plenty of men on campus who’d gladly forego the weekend hookup ritual for something a little less fleeting, if only the opportunity arose. Though it’s tempting, I think it’d be a mistake to pin the blame squarely on men. If it were so simple a dynamic between males and females, then the hookup crisis, as it perhaps ought to be known, would not exist in homosexual circles. But I know plenty of gay men and lesbians who play into the exact same routine largely because they feel they don’t have any alternative. The reality is that anyone who feels slighted by the dating paradigm — heterosexual girls in the mainstream imagination, but also guys, and gays and straights alike — probably has contributed to their own predicament by allowing others to call the shots. If a woman, for instance, wants to regain control of the scenario, then she needs to be less willing to give in to men’s advances from the start.
This advice has certainly been given before. And it’s taken on a small scale all the time. But the problem with this is that one voice alone is not enough to enact systemic change. What we need is a mass grassroots initiative to replace the hookup culture with a dating culture or at least a culture of respect. En masse, women need to withhold themselves from guys insistent on one-night-stands or purely physical relationships, until said guys start realizing they need to stop taking women for granted. I know plenty of girls who have done this already but only to personal ends. If all women on campus took this stand, men would have no choice but to take heed.
I know this may appear frivolous, and I may sound alarmist, but the hookup culture is getting out of hand. And though we have activists at the University engaged in innumerable social debates, this issue remains untouched by any serious movement or protest. It’s time to channel the University’s activist heritage and take a stand in unison. Because taken alone, our attempts mean little. But together, we can do it. Or not do it, as the case may be.
Matthew Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.