Hook Up Hysteria, Abstinence, Absolutism and Snap Judgments

(Here’s a post I wrote 2 years ago and forgot to publish).

You don’t actually have to read the original article,  but the complaints on CNN  about the alleged outbreak of hookups are more insightful (and funny).

I had taken Matt to be making fun of the way these articles about the “hookup culture” are set pieces that have been written the same way for decades. The articles always take the same same basic phenomenon (college kids having sex with people they barely know while drunk), wildly overstate its prevalence, and write from the perspective of (invariably female) students who aren’t interested. Invariably the article presents the “hookup culture” as some novel phenomenon, despite the fact that people have been writing the same article for decades.

The “date” is dead as a phenomenon on college campuses, but there are scads of students who engage in romantic, non-hookup dating. Invariably these articles ignore those couples in favor of interviewing (female) students who complain that all the guys are interested in is hooking up. The possibility that the interviewees are unrepresentative is never explored.

This article is a perfect example of the genre.


This is one ridiculous piece of journalism. It makes me think back to the tripe that the Vanderbilt Hustler used to put forth back before I recently graduated, I reference the Hustler because Ms. Boyle used to write some of the most jaded and noxious columns in the editorial section, and this piece wreaks of that similar stench. Raging at Vanderbilt? I went to Vandy, I was in a fraternity, and I drank and partied quite a bit, most undoubtedly more than others, but Vanderbilt is one of the more tame campuses you are likely to find. Furthermore, the hook-up culture is pervasive. That they would pick a small private school where the average cost of attendance is over $50,000 per year as a microcosm of university life is ludicrous. Next, that they would reference one student taking a stand against hooking up and incorporate "true role models" like Lady GaGa, illustrates the short-sighted nature of this article. Who the heck cares what someone chooses to do or not do? It’s none of my business. All I know is that decrying the hook-up culture on college campuses does nothing to put an end to it. There’s drinking to be done in pretty much any college, and drinking promotes bad decisions. However, it’s a lifestyle that some, like myself, chose, and to tell you the truth it’s really pretty lame to hear this tired old rhetoric time after time. Seriously, what utter garbage


The report states: "An April 2010 study from James Madison University in Virginia revealed more college women tend to want a relationship out of a hook up compared with men who prefer to stay independent." Note to James Madison University – you actually needed to conduct such a study to find this out??!! Note to everyone else – make sure you don’t attend this university!!


Of course the article most certainly not written by a dude….


If you find inspiration from Lada Gaga to maintain your celibacy, YOU’RE A COMPLETE IDIOT. Period.


Wow imagine going to school to learn….wow!!!!


this poor girl just committed social suicide

no she didn’t. haven’t you seen any John Hughes movies? she’s going to hold out. the cool jock is going to try to woo her. then he’s going to change his ways and they’re going to fall in love.


Dating can be expensive, especially if you’re a guy and you have traditional women expecting you to foot all or most of the bill. If women want to go on dates, about they invite us and pay for it. As a college student living on a budget, I’d rather spend my five bucks at a frat party and get laid. As long as you’re protected, it’s a lot of fun. For every chick who gives up on hooking up, there are thousands more who welcome it. Gotta love freshman girls.
Plenty of time to go on awkward dates and $80 dinners (appetizers, main course, wine, dessert for 2) after college when we actually have jobs (if we get lucky with this recession).


I’m deeply, deeply disappointed that the link to Lady Gaga declaring her celibacy is dead.


Over the years I’ve grown sick of these kinds of articles and the false morality they profess, as well as interviews with alleged experts. I think an article can and should be written about the topic, but you can do without delving too deeply into lurid  details and  actually offer  insights about what dating on campus is actually like. I have less of a problem with abstinence per se than those who are promoting it and shouting down those who refuse to see things in black and white.  Abstinence is not really an abstract decision but something arising from your situation and the people involved. The problem with “abstinence” is that people tend to regard it as a good in and of itself. But of course it’s not intrinsically good (except for ministers and monks).   It’s not a bad thing either; I regard it as neutral.

I once faced a dilemma about a dating profile on eharmony.  A woman’s profile was moderately interesting (and curiously, one of the few without a photo). But her profile sounded more interesting than 75% of the others on eharmony. She was 33 or 35 or 37 or something like that, and she specified in her profile that she was dedicated to the idea of “No Sex Before Marriage.”  The question become: should I respond to this ad?

I hemmed and hawed. Frankly, the thought of  meeting a woman who refused the very idea of  sex before marriage did not particularly bother me  (I mean, I had already been celibate for quite some time, so a year of no-sex dating would not be an undue burden). On the other hand, I had complex views on the subject and merely because I agreed to contact her/go out with her did not imply that I necessarily agreed with her point of view: it would merely mean  that I would be willing to make an exception in her case. At the same time,  her statement of principles would compel me to state my own principles prematurely. I could easily anticipate a first date consisting only of a discussion of why she promoted no-sex-bef0re-marriage and why I had reservations about it.

I didn’t want to have that kind of conversation, especially on a first date. It  was (to put it crudely) a dick-shriveling topic. It took the excitement out of the romantic pursuit; it turned the focus away from attraction and romance towards religion and condemnation. Practically speaking, I probably talk to lots of women who are determined not to have sex before marriage; they just don’t wear this belief on a sign!  The fact that this woman on eharmony was announcing it on her profile meant that she was establishing it as a filtering mechanism towards all future husbands. Maybe her intent was simply to ward off casual dating, but it served also as a signaling device. If the woman had absolutist positions regarding sex, just imagine what her positions would be about politics/art/career/ the environment.

Frankly, if I had met this person at a party and I never knew about her beliefs, I might have gotten to know her better. Who knows? That’s the  thing about online dating. In many instances, I acknowledged that my own criteria weren’t correct, but sometimes you have to make snap  judgments.

At college I dated a lovely girl whom I surprised one day …. lighting up a cigarette!   She had been hiding her habit from me because she thought (accurately as it turns out) that I was very anti-smoking. It’s true. I almost never would view a smoker as a potential life partner. But when I discovered her subterfuges, I realized that my unspoken rule about smokers just didn’t matter in this case.  This girl  was a great person in every other respect; it would be folly to exclude her from my affections just for that . (As it turns out, her religious beliefs made her oppose premarital sex as a matter of principle, so I guess abstinence  really does exist on campus).

Online dating is one example of the follies of snap judgments. But there are many instances where initial impressions mislead. Looking for a job is a classic case of this. A perfectly qualified person can have a lousy interview or lack sufficient number of  buzzwords on the resume, and still turn out to be a great employee. I’m currently hiring voice talent for an audio play, and frankly, I’m not sure whether my criteria for choosing a candidate will result in the best qualified candidate getting the job. In fact, they all look good in their own way.

Two years ago, I decided that I would no longer apply for any technical writer positions in the fossil fuel industry.  I had been reading a lot about climate change and remain convinced that the fossil fuel industries were contributing to the problem in a huge way. But now that I have set my core principle of values, how do I implement it? Practically speaking,  I find that many kinds of companies in Houston are embedded with the oil and gas industry in some way, and it  is often  hard to draw the line. What if a company merely provided software for the fossil fuel industries? What if a company merely provided IT services? What if a company were providing safety inspections for an oil rig and needed someone to write the safety manual? What if  a company designed software which could be used by oil companies, but also on many other kinds of projects? What if a law firm wrote and reviewed leases for oil companies, but that was only about 40% of their business? These are real-life examples where the ethical dimensions are not clear cut.

The problem comes when your discriminating principles don’t allow exceptions or flexibility.   I almost never read genre fiction; frankly I find science fiction to be a bore – although I’m occasionally surprised. Intellectually, I know that a certain percentage of writers in any genre are doing amazing things; in fact I almost delight in stumbling upon someone in a genre who is actually writing outstanding things. Literary genres are a marketing construct; do I really despise “chicklit” as much as I assume? (For the record, I greatly enjoyed Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City”). Legal thrillers, spy novels, YA. I don’t know what these terms actually mean – and I guess my problem is more with the low ambitions of people who write for these genres. At the same time, we need labels to separate things into different piles, or else we would go insane!

When you buy something like a cell phone, you are dealing with a known set of features. The options may be ridiculously complex, but essentially we all know what 2 MB Camera or “free weekend minutes” mean. But when you are selecting a book or an employee or a romantic partner,  you are dealing with a infinitely complex set of features.  I haven’t read Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice yet but it’s hard to deny his central argument that  the endless number of options can be paralyzing for the consumer. Instead of giving him more freedoms, they give him more stress. 

The irony is that most of these differences are minor. Often when I buy software or devices, I end up agonizing over features or specifications which I rarely notice or use after I make a purchase. I need to buy a laptop, a subject that I am generally familiar with.  But there are dozens of brands and dozens of cost-reducing or cost-increasing features which I need to sort through.   I need to read customer comments  and also consider how this laptop might run in Ubuntu. I also  need to consider where exactly I will buy this product and the general reputation of the brand (and distributor).

Then again, I can simply visit a local computer store and buy something. Ugh!  I have $800 to spend. What’s the best thing in the store? I can take the thing home in 2 hours, and as long as I don’t fret too much about better and cheaper products for sale at other stores, I’ll be fine. I like how online stores   use faceted Search  to let the user feature out certain products (“8 gigs or more” or “Between 100-150$”). At the same time, this sort of precise filtering leads manufacturers to cheat a little. So a laptop may have 8 gigs of RAM but have a crappy CPU (something the consumer wouldn’t know enough to look for).  I can go onto a Slashdot page and hide all the results which were ranked 3 stars or lower. This basically guarantees that all the comments I see are interesting and relevant. But it also means that I am missing a lot of insights because – let’s face it, the best comments rarely get the karma love they deserve.

Taking shortcuts is necessary because frankly we rarely have enough time to consider our options as closely and carefully as we would like. Maybe it was for the best that I chose to filter out smokers on match.com; I didn’t want to face the time burden of distinguishing between smokers who were not health conscious and the rare pretty and liberal and generally health-conscious woman who still smoked but was trying to quit. I was once dismissed by a match.com woman who wrote a polite but pointed reply saying, “My ex was a clueless playwright. I have no interest in dating artistic types anymore.” 

Ouch. I guess it feels different to be on the receiving end of a snap judgment. I have been trying to promote an author’s ebook and I find curiously that many decent critics rarely review ebooks or even indie-produced ebooks.  It must be a book by a well-known publisher. Is that fair? No. (Indeed, I would argue that that it makes these people less effective critics).

It’s possible to waste a LOT of time reading a mediocre book. But how allergic are you to mediocrity? If you wanted, you could read nothing but Nobel Prize winners (and maybe National Book Award winners if you tire). Using that criteria exposes you to a lot of interesting and profound literature, but is that enough? It exposes you to only a small number of literary types. You end up missing  so many things, so many different ways of looking at the world.

I used to be extremely fussy about what I read.  But  this fussiness presupposed that my initial impressions (based on packaging and book reviews and literary awards)   guaranteed  quality (or at least, what seems to be quality to me).  A book cover can signal many things about what a book is about, but a bad book cover doesn’t signal anything. Anyway, the ultimate goal of reading is to read a good book, not  something with a good cover or critical reviews.

One curious result of this ebook revolution is that there are now oodles of free and low-cost ebooks, most of which are crap. But there are also lots of high quality free titles out there – as long as you’re willing to look and take  chances. Yesterday I downloaded about 50 free titles from the free page for Amazon. I regularly go to Inkmesh to download the free Nook titles (my preferred device).  Truthfully, I don’t read most of these free titles, and even the ones I read I barely finish. But I’m grateful to have access to these kinds of freebies.

Time, time, time. Everything  boils down to time.  Lately I have been ripping a lot of CDs, both from the library and from CDs I bought. I read consumer guides to music, and even though I enjoy flipping through these things, one can’t regard them as gospel.  For example, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau has reviewed a LOT of music. Most of the albums he assigns an A or A- letter grade to are pretty good, but he overlooks a lot of good stuff (and even mocks them sometimes).

I often will put on hold music CDs  which have been recommended to me by  critics and find them unremarkable. At the same time, I will randomly pick random albums off the shelves and discover remarkable things just as often (see this, this and this)

Dating is supposed to be a serious choice. Hook ups are supposed to represent a failure to exercise good judgment and yes, taste. Alas, I have spent way too much time refining my tastes in all realms, even dating….and am I the better for it? I don’t know. I don’t know.



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One response to “Hook Up Hysteria, Abstinence, Absolutism and Snap Judgments”

  1. jseliger Avatar

    Over the years I’ve grown sick of these kinds of articles and the false morality they profess, as well as interviews with alleged experts. I think an article can and should be written about the topic, but you can do without delving too deeply into lurid details and actually offer insights about what dating on campus is actually like.

    I’m sick of them too: for one thing, their authors very rarely retain the ability to question their own premises and presuppositions. So they end up being pretty bogus—perhaps because parents are their target audience, and parents like little more than to be made hysterical about the State of the Youth.

    I almost never would view a smoker as a potential life partner. But when I discovered her subterfuges, I realized that my unspoken rule about smokers just didn’t matter in this case. This girl was a great person in every other respect

    I’ve dated a couple of smokers, except none turned out to be great people “in every other respect.” One stole my favorite fountain pen.

    It’s possible to waste a LOT of time reading a mediocre book. But how allergic are you to mediocrity?

    I bet this changes over time: As a teenager, not at all. Now, a lot. But along what axes of mediocrity? The writing in Twilight doesn’t rise to mediocrity: it’s downright bad. But many people obviously don’t have an allergy to it.

    Dating is supposed to be a serious choice. Hook ups are supposed to represent a failure to exercise good judgment and yes, taste. Alas, I have spent way too much time refining my tastes in all realms, even dating….and am I the better for it? I don’t know. I don’t know.

    There may also be a gender-based different, on average: It seems like for many men, something is better than nothing, but fewer women appear to subscribe to the same theory.

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