No Strings Attached: A Commentary on Teen Hookup Culture

“If she showed him how much she needed him maybe he'd run away. But it's more than that. It's almost not about getting hurt, but about her pride. Of liking someone, thinking about someone, damn it they get in your head and she can't concentrate on anything else. And if he can concentrate and she can’t, then she is just someone to be pitied because, fuck, is she the kind of person who loses herself over guy? Who forgets how it felt the other ten times around and pretends it could be something new? That the feelings are real this time and she hasn’t been there and done that. Damn it why does her stomach still react like he's still kissing her? She knows how unhealthy it is for her to keep thinking, keep staying up although she wants to go to sleep but only so she can think about them together before closing her eyes for the night.”

I remember what relationships looked like to an elementary school version of me. From a young age, I was inundated with ideas of how men and women who wanted to be with each other were supposed to act. I had great ideas of love, of princes sweeping me off of my feet and carrying me over puddles. But sometime between my fantasy-esque ideas of what one should be like with the person they are attracted to and now, something changed. As soon as I became interested in boys, I forgot the very things that used to be so important to me. Maybe because it was just that: a fantasy.

Since the moment I sprouted boobs and my face started looking much less prepubescent and people started paying attention to me, I was intensely commitment-phobic.

Twenty four hours after accepting my very first invitation to a date with a boy who, ironically, is now my best friend, I texted him: “I can’t do this, I’m not feeling it”, which, translated, meant something along the lines of “I thought I liked you but even going on a date is suffocating I can’t do this suddenly all my feelings are gone”. That first “rejection” turned into a pattern. I knew from that point I didn’t want anything to do with relationships or dating or anything structured like that. I made it clear to every person who showed interest that I did not want anything serious, that I wasn’t a relationship person.

I hooked up with boys like one tries on shoes. Some were flashy with an uncanny ability of making me feel like shit. Others felt comfortable and made me feel beautiful. And that was easy. It was low effort. I did and continue to reject the idea that only guys can have casual relationships with others
and that girls just aren’t “wired” that way. Girls are just as sexual and I believe it is liberating, in a way, to hookup with the guys I am attracted to and not overthink it.

But even though it was liberating, it also made me think a lot about the hookup culture we have as teenagers and the damage and limitations of that atmosphere on both boys and girls. I started realizing I was good at the hooking up part, the physical part where you don’t necessarily have to communicate anything substantial, but I was awful at everything else.

Am I able to catch a dick kind of whenever? Yes. Do I have someone to support me emotionally and make me feel loved which is arguably more important? Not really. I started realizing that the moment in which I did find someone who I wanted to stick around for more than a hookup, I didn’t know what to do. I panicked, an inner crazy-girl monologue whirling around my head. I wanted to be with this person but I also had an instinctual need to protect myself, to ditch whatever thoughts of commitment or emotional attachment I had, to hook up with a billion people in order to delude myself into a false sense of security and abate my fear of commitment. I restrained the part of myself that craved more than a casual relationship and shoved any daydream-like thoughts about the person down because I literally could not and, honestly, still cannot wrap my head around the fact that somebody might want me in a more serious way. And more than that, I felt too insecure in the environment in which most of my friends operated to give someone power over me: the power stemming from the person whom I liked knowing how I really feel.

But even though I think I’ve been negatively impacted by the hookup culture, guys also end up becoming limited by it, perhaps even more so than women. It’s already taboo enough for men to exhibit authentic emotion as they are labeled “pussies” or “soft” when they “catch feelings” for a girl, as if it’s a disease. There is absolutely an emasculation that occurs the moment men admit they have any sort of feelings, and the hookup culture only exacerbates the difficulty of displaying authentic emotion when every aspect of the social scene works against such a display.

Ultimately, it comes down to power and the fear that comes with giving up that power. The hookup culture only feeds the fear we have of giving up some of the power we want to keep in order to avoid getting hurt. I’m not saying everybody should strive to be in relationships: I’ve never wanted to be in one, either. In fact, I think casual relationships can be very fulfilling to a lot of people. But I also think we need to stop and think about whether it has become harder to let go of the power that comes from being relatively detached emotionally from your partner.

I say do whatever you want when it comes to defining the relationships you involve yourself in. But once you begin to let the fear of vulnerability override your true feelings is when you have to step back and realize a penchant for casual relationships isn’t always a good thing, no matter how easy they are.

text and visual: alex farina
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