But while previous generations still followed the dating paradigm — becoming increasingly sexually intimate as their emotional intimacy grew over a series of one-on-one encounters — there is no expectation of emotional intimacy before hooking up among 20-somethings. It is, in that sense, the epitome of the “free love” and sexual liberation their parents sought during their own college years.
Of course, that’s not something easily explained to this generation of parents who are so accustomed to hovering like helicopters and micro-managing their children’s lives right down to enticing their teens into signing purity pledges. Sure, they may have had their wild years in college, but the thought of their children experiencing the same thing brings on panic attacks. Never mind that their kids might be opting to hook up because they know they’re not ready for relationships, or that they’re more interested in focusing on their studies and future careers than finding a future spouse.
Perhaps parents should take comfort from one of the largest studies of the sociology behind hooking up. In her book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus (New York University Press, 2008), Professor Kathleen A. Bogel explains that even after years of hooking up on campus, college students ultimately follow the same traditional paths their parents did, even if they continue to find it a bit confusing.
When students leave college, there is a discernable shift to more formal dating. It was amazing to interview young alumni who were very much a part of the hookup culture in college who now say that they almost exclusively go on dates (except when they are “down the shore,” i.e., at beach resorts during the summer in a very college-like atmosphere). But the transition to the post-college dating scene was not necessarily an easy one. Many of the 20-something-year-old men and women I spoke with were confused over how to act in certain scenarios after college, not knowing if they were on a date or just “hanging out and hooking up.” Some of the people I interviewed had never been on a formal date until after college, so figuring out the rules for the “new” system was a big adjustment for them.
Just as their parents managed to figure out that “new” system, so will today’s college students; they’re just going to do it in their own time and at their own pace. But if there’s one benefit to all of the hooking up they’ve been doing in college, it’s that they’ll have a better idea of the type of person they do want to settle down with since they will have tried out so many other types. Also, for all of their experience, they’ll probably be pretty darn good in bed.
Not that I’m about to tell that to my friend.