I remember the warm, cozy Saturday mornings I would spend as a child, nestled into the living room couch playing with Bratz or Barbie dolls and drawing fanciful, yet unsophisticated, pictures of my future wedding. All of my Bratz and Barbie dolls had boyfriends (some of them had to share boyfriends because the doll industry is seriously lacking male representation) and I would spend most of my free time taking my dolls on dates or marrying them to one another. I’ve had a traditional view of love and relationships since I was a little girl: you find someone you like, marry them, have a copious amount of babies, die together — the end.
As an adolescent, I longed for the days I would go to fancy restaurants with my partner or take long walks on the beach; images of spending Christmas together and taking them on family vacations swirled through my head. I saw dating as one simplistic, unchanging thing.
Imagine the shock I experienced once I actually grew up.
I entered the dating scene during the reign of the “Netflix and Chill” era (I guess that’s one of the consequences of being part of Gen Z). As a naive and overly hopeful young woman, I failed to realize that the days of traditional courting had ended and were replaced with a new custom: hookup culture. I was the 16-year-old girl who expected a dapper young man to meet my parents before taking me out. I expected this imaginary young man to ask me about all of my interests and desires, to bring me flowers every time we saw each other (at least until the two-month mark -- then he’s free to drop the uber-romantic facade). I expected to be dating this young man for a couple of months before he even thought about touching anything below my neck.
I didn’t expect for anyone to “slide” into my DMs, saying gross things — which they thought were charming, but were merely nothing more than virtual catcalling — or for them to expect to hook-up the first time we meet each other.
I quickly realized that our generation had morphed the idea of dating into something non-committal and easy-going. Dates turned into hanging out. People “talked” (a slang word to describe doing things with someone that you'd do with your boyfriend/girlfriend, without having to actually call them or treat them like your boyfriend/girlfriend) for months before actually entering a relationship — if they ever did. People would “talk” to multiple people at the same time, not having any significant interest in either person they were engaging with. People hooked up and never talked again. People talked just to hook up. In this new-age and confusing dating scene, I just about saw it all. The only thing I didn’t see was actual love.
Okay, let me not get too dramatic. I actually had a boyfriend during my sophomore and junior year of high school. I knew quite a few people who were dating and not just hooking up. There was never a complete lack of close-knit and meaningful commitments, but the number of people in these commitments were not the majority. As I studied the world around me and how people my age interact with each other, I noticed that this new form of dating was never a cause of concern for them. In fact, I don’t think they ever saw it as a new form of dating. How could they? It’s all we’ve ever truly known.
Love is not glorified in this generation: sex is. From the music, television programs, and films, we’re being told that our goal is not to enter into a stable relationship but to “smash” as many people as possible.
When there’s music blasting on the radio with lyrics hooked over a catchy beat, telling us “I don’t want no wife, I just want her for one night,” we nod our heads and dance along, growing fonder of the idea of casual sex. When a character on our favorite TV show has a storyline centered around their relationships with multiple people (at the same time), we grow to love them, accepting the behavior and mimicking it in our own life.
The culture we are immersed in sees sex as a game, a pastime. It likens physical intimacy to something as inconsequential as playing Parcheesi. It places sex over emotional connection — because sex is more fun and commitment is too much work.
The culture we are immersed in sees relationships as an end goal, not something on-going. We are taught to consume as many people as possible, not to grasp just one. In college especially, it seems like hookup culture is the only form of dating. “We’re young,” they say, “explore. There’s no fun in settling down.” Settling down is undesirable in our fast-paced and hedonistic society. Hooking up is placed over developing a relationship — because hooking up is more fun and relationships are too much work.
I always thought that with sex comes emotional connection, but in this generation, we are taught to not feel any emotion at all. We have decided that sex is physical — nothing more and nothing less. This transformation of sex as an unemotional experience makes it easy to disassociate it from romance altogether. The generation to which I belong sees this experience as something as non-intimate as watching a movie. You would watch a movie with just about anyone, right? And for this reason, precisely, is why people my age can engage in hookup culture.
When sex becomes as unexceptional as watching a movie, it becomes something we practice regularly and without commitment. Why date someone when you can partake in the most “fun” activity without any ties? Why long for anything deeper when you can just have fun? My generation, accustomed to instant gratification, longs for and appreciates hookup culture.
So where does this leave all of the young hopeless romantics? Where does this leave the people who see sex as a spiritual and emotional activity? (And who are very selective of who they do it with?) Where does this leave the people who want a commitment, a lasting expression of love and affection, a person to exist with and not just to experience?
It leaves us on the outside looking in.
It leaves us with the stigma of being boring.
It leaves us lonely.
It leaves us together.
For those of us who share these ideas about sex and relationships, it feels like we’re truly alone in the world. We are surrounded by a culture that tells us our sentiments are wrong. There is a wedge between us and most of our generation but that wedge drives us hopeless romantics together.
We don’t have to adapt to hookup culture to find a partner, or wallow in despair over how we will never find a partner.
We just have to find each other.