Hooking Up Is Hard To Do

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Today it is supposed to be 70 to 75 degrees, depending on which meteorologist you believe, which means that it is finally upon us: Twitterpation Time. When all the googley-eyed couples emerge from hibernation and begin hand holding everywhere, causing middle aged women to coo and bitterly single people to become homicidal. A time when everyone is so blissfully happy at finally seeing the sun that we want to screw like bunnies. Or hopefully not like bunnies, because jackrabbit sex benefits no one, gentlemen.

To be fair, every season is hookup season because we are not animals that go into heat. And of course, hookups are not really hard to do. With the right combination of Paces ambiance, inebriation, and blessing from God, most of us could find someone willing to go home with us at least most evenings, if we are not even remotely picky. And the basic naughty details should have been taught to you by some combination of Disney movies, hormones, awkward talks with your parents, porn, and those awful movies they show you in sixth grade when they make the boys and girls go into separate rooms (depending on what you are doing). But, as the above example may suggest, hooking up is significantly harder to do correctly or well than it is to do in general.

For those of you who haven’t yet figured it out, America, where you are currently even if you don’t always live here, has some really messed up views about sex. Going into total detail about these views would take many pages and at least one rage blackout, so suffice it to say that hookups are seen as a nasty evil activity only practiced by sinners who will definitively have an STD. Alternatively, the hookup culture contingent paints it as a no strings attached, easy as slice and bake cookies, sexfest. Culture is dumb.

My basic views about hookups can be summarized into two points that I’ll expand on, problematize and more for the rest of this article. The first is that hookups, just like every other relationship, are not easy, no-thought endeavors. The second is that you should never do anything that you are ashamed of or do not want to do for any reason.

Hookups can be complicated because even though sex (or kissing) doesn’t have to be tied to feelings, it can be. Hooking up with someone you know often becomes complicated in some way because it is hard to get two people with a preexisting relationship on the exact same page about a change in that relationship. What happens, however, tends to be semi-unpredictable and varies wildly based on situational factors of the relationship and the hookup, making it really hard to generalize about in a 1500 word article.

If we were living in New York after graduation with its 6-googolplex single people, or if we attended a state school larger than the island of Manhattan, hookups might be totally happy go lucky. You could find someone, spend an evening (or afternoon, or whatever) with her and then never see her again. But in this incredibly shrinking campus bubble, no one stays a random for long. I hooked up with someone a while ago who I had never heard of before, and within a month I found out that he was my ex-boyfriend’s coworker, a good friend’s lab partner, and leader of a campus organization that eight different friends were part of. And then I had to hear his name on a regular basis forever.

Once you know who someone is, you will see her everywhere. On this campus, hookups don’t disappear: he’ll be in your seminar in a semester, she’ll be dating one of your friends in a year, or he’ll be shooting you an “I’ve seen you naked” smile in Sharples in a week. This is not to say you have to be thrilled about these prospects in order to hook up with someone, but you have to be aware that they are all possibilities. Of course it can also work the other way, when you want to date someone and realize that you have hooked up with one of her good friends and have to have that uncomfortable conversation. I’ve been there, and I would rate it as worse than having a shower that hovers a few degrees above room temperature, but better than going through an issue of Cosmopolitan with your mother. Clearly not jell-o wrestling with bears level, but still not enjoyable.

And before y’all jump down my throat for that second point, I am not suggesting that you should be ashamed of hookups. One of my father’s friends once told me while quite plastered that whatever you do in your life, you will have to wake up with yourself the next morning. And while I doubt she remembers telling me this and probably did not appreciate waking up with her hangover, for some reason I like it a lot. To me, this means that you should hold yourself to your own standards, because it’s not a great feeling to wake up and realize you don’t like who you were the night before. Of course, there are ways to keep this from happening.

You need to confront you own ideas about sex, hookups, and relationships. You need to figure out your feelings about sex and what situations you are comfortable doing it in. Your ideas about what constitutes a hookup, how many bases you are willing to round within the context of one, your preferences of hookup versus relationship, etc. These are things that you should think about by yourself, way before the possibility of naked time comes up. Whatever you determine your values are, you’ll ultimately be happier if you stick to them.

Within the context of each hookup, you should also ask yourself what your motivations are for doing it specifically. I don’t really care what your answer is, whether it’s “I want to have some fun” or “revenge” as long as it is an answer that you are okay with (though revenge hookups, in my experience, are never satisfying). The one exception I have to this is hooking up with someone because you like her and want to have a relationship with her. While relationships do come spring from hookups sometimes, in my very scientific made-up statistic, this happens like 5% of the time. They’re not great odds. The fact of the matter is that most people view their hookup partners and their relationship partners differently. And going into a hookup with preexisting feelings ups the likelihood that you get hurt.

You should also try to avoid hooking up with alcohol. I’m a realist, so I know this is the least likely to be followed, but there are a variety of reasons that you should at least hear me out. Anyone who has drunk a single drop of alcohol is not able to legally give consent, which means that if your partner believes the next morning that she did not give consent, even if she said yes while drunk, she is correct and can charge you with rape. This law exists for a reason: people under the influence of booze don’t always know what they’re doing. Usually after a drop people do, but the police have to draw the line somewhere. And often while under the influence, people do things they wouldn’t do sober. The other problem is that because of the puritan values still present in a lot of our society, it’s common for people to use alcohol as a buffer for hookups, either to not be ashamed on their actions in the moment or in order to “blame it on the alcohol” later. Again, I’m reiterating that you should not do something that you are ashamed of and use alcohol responsibly when mixing it with sex.

Other than that, there are a lot of things that should be obvious, but still need to be said because sometimes we unfortunately forget.

1. You do not owe anyone anything.

Not for walking you home. Not for talking to you for two hours. Not for getting you a drink. Never.

2. If you do not want something, say no.

Partners are not mind readers, and in a sexual system that doesn’t value asking permission, silence is often read as consent. If you don’t want an advance, you need to say so. It is the only way to be sure that your partner or unwanted partner gets your message.

3. You have the right to change your mind at any point.

Again, say no when you want to. A good person will respect it.

4. Use Protection.

I’m not naïve enough to assume that you ask for and trust a report of a clean bill of health from hookups, so instead you need to use protection always. For all types of sex, including oral. Condoms and dental dams are available at Worth, though in a semi-problematic policy, you have to request dental dams specifically.

5. Call someone out for making you uncomfortable.

If someone is hitting on you when you don’t want it, say something about it then, rather than when they make a move.

6. Ask for what you want.

I once hooked up with a guy who told me he had never had a girlfriend, but I could tell the second that he started kissing me because it became very clear that no one had ever felt comfortable enough to tell him that he was doing it very badly. If something isn’t doing it for you, make nice, gentle suggestions for changes.

7. Hooking up should be enjoyable.

If you are not having fun, either change something or stop. It’s just not worth it to have a crappy time.

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