Once upon a time there was dating. How many generations ago was that? Do you remember those days? By a certain point in high school – Grade 10, Grade 11 – you looked forward to being “asked out on a date” by a nice guy, maybe someone you had been interested in for a while. You went to a movie. Or for pizza. He took you home. If you had fun, you hoped he would ask you out again. You probably went out with other guys too. But after a while you started “going steady” with one special guy. Maybe you wore his class ring.
If you weren’t dating, you were waiting and longing for that first date.
What happened to dating?
As the “sexual revolution” of the 60s progressed, having sex outside marriage began to lose its stigma in society. Some young people started to believe it was okay to have sex if they were dating someone they liked. School sex education programs told teens that sex was perfectly okay as long as it was “safe sex”. In the 90s a Christian high school student in Halifax said to me, “I can’t think of any of my friends from school who view sex as anything besides a pleasure thing. No one even gives waiting till marriage a thought.” An assembly speaker at our sons’ high school said that “the normal high school student” would have four sexual partners by the time they graduated. Teens had “friends with benefits,” the “benefit” being sex. Sex had become a normal aspect of dating.
And then came the “hook-up” culture, casual sexual encounters detached from relationship, love, or commitment – and sometimes even from liking. You could spontaneously decide to have sex with someone you had just met, or you might go out in the evening looking for someone with whom to have sex. Implicit in the hook-up culture is the understanding that however far you go sexually neither of you should become romantically involved in any serious way. You intentionally avoid intimacy. Dating, as we once knew it, essentially disappeared.
Why has the hook-up culture become so pervasive? What is the attraction?
Relationships, especially of the boy-girl variety, take time and emotional energy – the hard work of give-and-take, communication, and learning to deal with someone who is different. In a hookup, which goes straight to sex, you don’t have to develop a relationship. “Sex is more tangible than love,” said one college girl, “and it is much, much easier than taking the time to get to know someone.”
The problem with the hook-up culture
But hook-ups haven’t satisfied. Young people are left feeling sad, empty, lonely, and disillusioned. They think they leave their feelings at the door, but physical and emotional intimacy can’t be separated. Many would like to escape but don’t see a way out. The title of a book by Laura Sessions Stepp says it all: Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. Her book is primarily about the young women she interviewed, but she saw that young men are as dissatisfied with the culture as the young women.
What is the solution? Is there a way back to emotionally fulfilling, non-sexual relationships?