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Opinion | For students, 'hookup culture' leaves much to be desired

By Eric Niehaus
On May 5, 2014

Why are so many BuzzFeed and Facebook articles written about how "men aren't real men any more" and how "dating in college is dead?" And why is Tinder so popular? I think the answer is simple: Our relationships lack sustainability.

Men aren't real men for what reason? Because they don't treat women with respect, is a typical response. When men are convicted of this, however, I've found it primarily exists within the context of hooking up. Dating is dead in college? Dating is an ongoing process and one that demands consistency. If there isn't consistency in whom you're dedicating yourself to, then is it really even dating? You could make an argument either way, but it isn't sustainable.

In all the main components of our lives, we seek sustainability; we like knowing with what group we'll hang out, knowing our progress toward our degrees and so on. Most every part of our lives is structured - a certain degree of predictability is not just welcome but consciously sought after. Why, then, do we cheat ourselves and not translate that same effort to attain sustainability in romantic relationships?

Now, I understand not everyone is looking for that "special someone" - that's fine. But when pursuing love while operating in the hookup culture, people are only going to end up frustrated. Hooking up leaves no one really knowing what's going to happen next. Perhaps there is a bit of excitement in going out and not knowing what could happen - we like a little mystery, don't we? But does it leave us fulfilled, as love does? Perhaps for some, but I'd argue they constitute a minority. "Is he going to call?" ... "Does she like me?" ... "Are we just friends?" These are all thoughts that have plagued men and women alike. Not knowing in the short run can be a sexy notion, but not knowing in the long run ruins relationships.

Now, I've likened "sustainable" to "predictable," which sounds a lot like "boring," but sustainable relationships don't have to be boring. Having a predictable relationship in this context simply means generally knowing what's going to happen next: "He is going to call." ... "She does like me." ... "We're an established couple." We don't like having mystery in our friend-relationships, do we - what's the point? Friendship offers comfort in always knowing, which leaves us constantly satisfied. But isn't it (shouldn't it be) the same in romantic relationships? Why do we suddenly allow there to be ambiguity in those relationships?

The best businesses are sustainable. Similarly, the best friendships are sustainable. Yet, when it comes to romantic relationships, we sacrifice lasting fulfillment on the altar of temporary satisfaction (lust). I had Tinder for a while and often when I would talk to a girl, it quickly became apparent she had been deeply hurt in the past. They came to Tinder seeking that same quick, but temporary, gratification. They came for attention, if only from strangers; they came for love, if only superficial; and they came to feel special again, if only for a little while.

Tinder reflects our hookup culture. As with Tinder, when we hook up, we seek immediate gratification, and when one "resource" has been used up, we simply go onto the next. It is a cycle with an addictive quality whereby we temporarily attach to others in an attempt to find that true satisfaction - an attempt that inevitably and invariably proves futile. And when it fails, since we don't know where else to turn, we go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, becoming more and more disconnected from reality. At that point, we don't - and almost can't - wait for relationships that are conducive to deep, constant fulfillment, so we instead continue to create superficial relationships that at least give us consistent temporary satisfaction. It's the ultimate sustainable system of true unsustainability.

But why does this matter? College is supposed to be a time for reckless indiscretion and having fun, right? I mean, we're only in college once, right? There's nothing wrong with having fun, and there's something to be said about the value of learning from mistakes, but what many fail to realize, or even think about, is that who we are coming out of college is roughly who we'll be for the rest of our lives. If we've only known jumping around from relationship to relationship, how well do we think that will prepare us for marriage?

This culture of casual hookups has led us astray from constant satisfaction in romantic relationships. Before we can be truly satisfied in these relationships - that is, being constantly fulfilled mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and not just physically - we have to at some point exit the cycle of unsustainability. If we don't, we shouldn't be surprised when he or she doesn't call. But what should really get us thinking is what effect this will have on possible future relationships - what does it mean for marriage?


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