Posted by: heartsleeve | November 1, 2007

Thoughts on sleeping around…

So I was reading this article on the rise of casual sex… To be honest, I think the whole notion of the “casual sex phenomenon” is a little bit overblown. For a while in my life, I was kind of a part of this phenomenon I guess — I had casual sex as opposed to relationships — but in doing so, I never felt like I was abandoning other ideals that I had. I might have thought that love and romance were a little out of reach for me, but that didn’t mean that I thought they were impossible or that I had given up on them. I definitely hadn’t written them off as figments of the collective social imagination.

Out of my circle of friends, I am one of maybe three people who have engaged in this so-called phenomenon, and one of those people I ended up dating for over a year. The rest were overwhelmingly either embroiled in long-term relationships (some are now married, others have been together for so long they might as well be) or were in hot pursuit of the boyfriend/girlfriend they would someday turn into husbands/wives. Even those of us who did have casual sex were not anti-relationship. We just recognized that we weren’t in one, so we’d take the next best thing. Hook-ups were an easier alternative for a period when there simply wasn’t anyone available or interesting to be in a relationship with. *shrugs*

I guess for me hook-ups don’t show the absence of love or ideals of love/romance/partnership in our society. They do however point to the fact that we have more casual notions about sex in general. Even for those who still think that sex is important, sacred, and to be reserved for a loving relationship or marriage, it’s not hushed up the way it once was. People talk about sex, in public spaces, in mixed company. We see/hear it everywhere — on TV, on billboards, in magazines, on the radio. We make irreverent jokes about it, and it’s not just men jesting in gentlmen’s clubs. Sex has become very public, highly visible, and we all talk about it. Whether we talk about having it or not having it, it’s something that we can talk about. And by simply putting sex in the public sphere, we make it more casual. No longer is it that dirty thing we can only talk about in whispers, or with members of our own sex behind closed doors.

Beyond that, yes, relationships are more time and resource consuming than hook-ups. Most college students, at least, don’t really have the time or resources to devote to the cultivation of a relationship. Plus, when many students plan to go off to graduate schools, law schools, med schools, or take jobs in other cities, or plan on doing any number of other enriching typical post-college activities (e.g. Peace Corps, taking a Fullbright, etc.), most simply can’t look at finding a long-term relationship as a possibility when they know that in four years, everyone will be heading off in their own directions. This is directly a result of both more people going off to college and more people planning on continuing building their resume of education or experiences before going into the working world. Love and romance have become things that are secondary to education or career, or at least, they are things we are taught, wisely, by our parents to put off until we are in a position to support ourselves, our lovers, and any offspring that might be accidentally produced when you have someone around that is readily available for intercourse 24/7 (well, at least in theory).

Hook-ups are what happen when you don’t have the time to find the real thing, when the real thing isn’t available, or when finding the real thing could interfere with other goals that you have for yourself, in a social environment where attitudes towards sex are casual. I don’t think they change classic notions of love, romance or partnership. At least for me, and most of the people I know, those things still exist and are unbelievably important. I think most people are looking for love — but for those who feel comfortable with it, they’ll take a hook-up in the meantime. And overwhelmingly, most people aren’t comfortable with it, or at least aren’t comfortable with doing it on a regular basis. (I think it’s kind of unhygienic, and I know I’m not alone in this opinion.)

It kind of annoys me when people compare hooking up with the disintegration of monogamy and marriage and very notions of love itself. Does it point to changing social mores? Absolutely. But do those changing mores have to come at the expense of love? Ehhh…

I think there is much more that threatens ideals of love and romance in our society than hooking up, although some of the reasons why hooking up has become so prevalent can also be seen as some of the reasons why, say, the divorce rate is so high. Increasingly, we put education and career above love, friendship and family. Many people are simply too busy even as adults to focus on those things which should be important, largely in attempt to horde large amounts of material possessions that tout a person’s status and success. People on the whole are less patient, much more concerned with easy solutions and quick fixes; maintaining a relationship in the long-term is incredibly hard work, and most people aren’t willing to put in the leg work.

There is a prevailing notion that love should be easy and effortless. I look at things like He’s Just Not That Into You or any other number of dating resources that basically tell you any time your partner starts slacking off, it means it’s just not meant to be and you should break up immediately and move on to something better. And…there’s the notion that something better waits just around the corner. The entire idea that love can be perfect, easy, and effortless is ridiculous, but I think it’s one that most people have in their heads. They don’t realize that love is a lot of work. And maybe part of this comes from the fact that so many people in my generation (and even in those ten years older than I am) were raised by parents who, themselves, divorced rather than stayed together, never put in the kind time and energy necessary to make a marriage work. (Ask anyone whose parents are still together if their parents have never had a hard time staying together — almost all will tell you that divorce was something that crossed their parents’ lips more than once.) The truth is, before people stayed together because that’s just what you did. Now, people aren’t willing to “settle.” Everyone wants to trade up for something better, and whether that’s a better job, a better home, or a better spouse…people are always looking for the next big thing. I think as a society we don’t value what we have in general. We always want more.

Maybe hooking up is a biproduct of all these same factors which are negatively impacting ideals of love, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a contributing factor. If hooking up and love were opposites, there wouldn’t be so much debate over whether hooking up is a good or bad idea in terms of emotional health. There wouldn’t be the notion that fuck buddies usually leads to someone getting hurt, of someone getting emotionally attached. Within the “hook up phenomenon,” there is still the potential for emotion and attachment and connection. It is not devoid of the elements of love and romance; it’s just generally considered a bad idea to let them slip in, because chances are, it’s going to be one-sided. I think it just goes to show that those ideals exist and that they are important. It’s just that in our lives, there is less and less room for them. Love and romance get squeezed out, but it doesn’t mean people don’t want them or hope for them.



  1. for as much as you think my opinion counts, i agree. mostly. šŸ˜›

  2. Your opinion does count, although I’d be interested to hear where it differs. šŸ™‚

  3. I agree with you that the dichotomy between casual sex and romance/relationships/whatever the article implies is false. Believing in/participating in one doesn’t preclude the possibility of the other. I do think that this is reflective of the fact that many people in our society are more comfortable with sex and find it more casual a topic than some previous American generations have.

    I guess from hearing about my texan-turned-hippie friend’s experience with her cali poly friends, I don’t see the distinction as necessarily being that romance is “out of reach.” She has both and she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her. Some of the guys that she’s seeing she goes out with. Others she mainly stays in with.

    I guess another part I disagree with is that people actively seek out long term relationships or have casual relations. Perhaps that’s just a personal thing. Other people we know have gone into initially dating someone with a long term thing in mind, but that’s not how I function. I’m a one-day-at-a-time kinda girl.

    I don’t think that either extreme is more of a “real thing” than the other. Both are reasonable desires/acts depending on what a person feels they need/want. I know you later say that you don’t think they’re opposites, but I feel like you imply that one is more valid.

    We may have had this conversation before, I can’t recall. But I think that perhaps our difference in opinion stems from core ideas about what romance/partnership/whatever is. I firmly believe that there isn’t one person out there for people. I think that some people are better for each other than others. But that’s strictly determined by people’s personalities/backgrounds/etc.

    Or perhaps our opinions differ due to the fact that I’ve tried damn hard to balance both ambition/career/success/other self related stuff and the dating/romance side for the past five plus years.

  4. I know we’ve talked about the polyamorous thing before, and as I’ve said before, that gets entirely too confusing to me. šŸ˜› I have a hard enough time keeping up with one other person…I literally can not function when there are multiple people on my plate. So I agree with you in that my argument is inadequate in addressing polyamorous culture. In general, though, I feel like anything I say on polyamorous culture would probably be insufficient because I just find it baffling. (I don’t disapprove or anything — I just don’t get it.)

    And I guess because I have (usually) actively sought out short-term or long-term relationships, that’s my perspective. Not everyone does, but I guess the point of this article was people actively seeking out specific types of relationships, so I was responding to that…

    I also don’t know if I believe in one person for every person, but I definitely think there are people out there with whom some people are drawn to and compatible with, beyond simple shared interests, values, experiences, etc. (You can have a ton of things in common with someone and lack chemistry or that something else that makes a person fit with you.) Not quite on the level of soulmates, but…I definitely think it’s possible that there is someone (or multiple someones) out there that you can meet, fall in love with, and be reasonably happy with for the rest of your life. Whether you choose to look at it as predestined or just random in my book is really just semantics. :-p

    I guess being in a relationship for five years definitely skews the way you look at this topic. :-p Having been the lonely girl who was surrounded by couple friends and hated always being the third or fifth or seventh or…I think once even the thirteenth wheel, you have a different perspective on what it means to actually LOOK for relationships or non-relationships, usually in the wrong places and often suffering the consequences for it. I guess the thing that strikes me is that there are so many different ways to look at love and relationships, so many different ways that people approach them (polyamorous-ness, for instance ;)), it’s impossible to say that romance is dead…or at least in its final throes. The truth is, it’s as much ingrained into our culture as ever. It’s just that the definitions of what love is and how people find it/maintain it are shifting, expanding, mutating into new things.

  5. Yes, definitely. I think I have a distinctly different perspective ’cause I’ve been dating Will so long. (Though if it helps any, we had very few couple friends for a long time when we were dating. So it was uncomfortable for us too.) And I also think that my friend’s experience definitely gives me a different point of view. She’s happier doing this poly thing than I’ve ever seen her– part of me really feels obligated to defend her lifestyle choice as a result…

  6. Well there’s nothing to defend, at least from me. šŸ™‚ I don’t get it, I can’t talk about it, but I’d love to hear her (or anyone who does it) perspective on this stuff.

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