In case you missed it, Kate Taylor's piece in the New York Times, "Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game Too", caused quite a stir when Taylor put a sexy new slant on hook-up culture: That it's the women, not the men, who are driving the trend—which flies in the face of conventional wisdom: that it's the men who prefer casual sexual encounters to more serious relationships.
Taylor cites young coeds like the "slim, pretty junior" at University of Pennsylvania who, like many other of her cohorts, relies on booty calls to get her needs met. Not because courtship is dead, or because she can't find anyone, but because she doesn’t have time. She uses a rather chilling cost-benefit analysis and "low-risk and low-investment costs" approach to hooking up. She figures, in her estimation, that hooking up is just a smarter use of her time, so she can focus on what she’s there to do: Invest in her future, in her career. A husband and kids, she assumes, will come later.
So is it somehow better or okay if it’s women who would rather pluck the low-hanging fruit (so to speak)?
Nope. And the reason is simple: Hooking up cannot replace or come close to fulfilling the human need for real connection. It doesn't make us smarter, stronger or more in control to avoid connection and intimacy. It doesn't level the playing field in any real way. It purports that a woman must choose between meaningful relationships and meaningful work. This flawed belief doesn't set us up to be better or happier than the women who came before us. It just sets us up to be disappointed in a different way.
Am I implying that we need to scramble to find a life-long mate before graduating college? Hell no. I don't think a woman should even think of getting married until her career is well underway and she's had a few relationships behind her—enough to know what she wants and doesn't want. But while concentrating on earning a Mrs. degree is narrow-minded, the reverse is just as bad: to pretend that we don’t need any relationships at all—or, that when we do, we’ll know what we want when we decide we want one.
That's like saying a person can run a few sprints today and be able to run a marathon a year from now, no sweat. Or, perhaps more to the point, that she can sustain herself on bags of chips for the next 40 years. Snacks hold us over; meals nourish. A woman may have several great such meals over the course of her life. But to say she'll live on power bars and pass on dinner—forever—is to deny herself the very thing she's wired to do: Connect with another human in an intimate, real way. Hooking up as a long-term strategy, with zero connection or attachment, is like trying to sustain yourself on empty calories. That's a lifetime of hunger pangs.
But I Don’t Have Time
The good news is that young women are taking their opportunities and options seriously. The women Taylor describes are "hard-charging," ambitious. They simply don't have time for nonsense. Yet nonsense is simply what they're making time for.
One woman cited in the article said that she shifted her priorities from finding a boyfriend to finding a hook-up buddy, which she described as "a guy that we don't actually really like his personality, but we think is really attractive and hot and good in bed.”
Um, I'd call that lowering the bar. Big time. You don’t like his personality? Yikes. If the only time you allow yourself to get close to or enjoy a man is five beers in on a night you don't plan to remember, with a man you wouldn’t even care to eat breakfast with, you’re wasting the little time you have.
Still other women were cited as saying things like: "A relationship is like taking a four-credit class," or "I could get in a relationship, or I could finish my film." To see a relationship as a time suck is to mistake the real investment—and it's not a temporal one, but an emotional one. When you see a relationship only as a liability, a distraction, and potential for hurt, well, why would anyone want that?
The cost-benefit analysis may seem to give you more time now, but there's a real reason people enter into relationships, and it's not because they want to spend all day making out. Because those bonds offer support, resilience—the very things a hard-charging woman needs.
Trust me—I fought this. Hard. I told my mother for years that I didn't want a man getting in my way, making me give up things I worked hard for. I was on the defensive, fearful of what a man would "cost" me. This was what feminism had taught me, after all (read: how it f*cked up my dating life).
She pleaded with me to see things differently: That the right partner wouldn't hold me back, but allow me to flourish. That having someone on my team mattered. I understand that now in a way I didn't then. (And I'll add that it's nice to be in a relationship with someone who likes cooking you dinner, because hard-chargers like myself often forget to eat.)
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg disabuses us of the notion that you can't succeed and have a relationship. She writes, "I don’t know of one woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions."
She adds: "And contrary to the popular notion that only unmarried women can make it to the top, the majority of the most successful female business leaders have partners. Of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, twenty-six were married, one was divorced, and only one had never married." Keep reading...
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