Of all the recent inane philosophies and dumb ‘Lifestyle Choices’ to come out of the United States of America in recent years, the prize for the absolutely silliest must go to the concept of ‘hooking up’. The way it works is this: teenagers who deem themselves ‘too busy’ for a formal girlfriend or boyfriend relationship, decide that they don’t actually have to forfeit the company of the other gender completely, and therefore agree to spend a short and designated amount of time with someone that they pick out of a random sample of passers-by and classmates. If the other person is simple enough to agree, then the pair will adjourn to some romantic setting, such as the back seat of a car, and proceed to ‘make out’. This latter idea is even more difficult to envisage, since it seems to cover all manner of physical interaction from kissing and cuddling to ‘going all the way’. Occasionally, to be fair, the young people have access to accommodation, their parents or others, and ‘hooking up’ can take all night. If so, the transaction is seen as somehow more mature and responsible, as there may be less need to rush on the fumbling and more time to say, ‘Thanks and see you around’.
Young people who engage in these deals report that they think of the idea as ‘adult’ and ‘grown up’. If they have parents who spend time with hookers, then they probably have a point. Or if their parents busy themselves with affairs outside the marriage, then too, the concept of hurried trysts in secret places must seem like second-nature. However, the adult world is good at one thing, if nothing else: hypocrisy. While it’s true to say that many so-called ‘grown-ups’ are surprisingly immature in their liaisons and actually do a lot more of what they tell their children not to do than they should, or is good for them, the moral stance is clear: short-term ‘romance’ without commitment is worthless. The aim, for most people growing up in the Western world, is to strive for a long-term, monogamous relationship that will form a stable backdrop to the difficult business of raising children. If the kids don’t get that, or have moved on into a new sense of re-evaluating the one night stand as some kind of serious, innovative or fashionable way of conducting themselves, then one thing is clear: this generation of adults have seriously failed their children.
The young people, reportedly, don’t see that. They see advantages in this way of interacting. The benefits, as expressed by these young people, have to do with creating more time to spend on their studies, apparently. If they cut down on the amount of hours they simply ‘hang out’ with boyfriends and girlfriends, (all that listening to music and drinking milk shakes and frothy coffees), then they can hit the books. If they’re not down the Mall or taking desultory walks alongside the Lake, they will do better in school, (they say). This is curious, because it seems to show that they have picked up yet another message from the adult world, and misinterpreted this too. Just as above, the youngsters seem to think that an affair can be as rewarding and fulfilling as actually living with someone full time, they have taken on board the concept of ‘work hard’ and ‘study’, and re-interpreted that to mean that going out with someone is more of a distraction than an important, (or even essential), part of life. In Britain, thank goodness, it has always been said that University is just as much about meeting people and growing up as it is about research and reading. Parents have even encouraged their children to travel away to a University and not live at home, since it means the kids will learn valuable lessons in independence. When, the older people say, you don the cap and gown and collect your certificates at the end of the course, it’s not just what it says on the piece of paper that counts: it’s also what you young people have learned from each other and about yourselves, and a lot of that comes from finding someone to go out with. Missing out on the highs and lows of relationships over long time-scales is likely to be something that will stunt the emotional growth of kids and make them unfit to parent the next generation. It’s not even a wrong turn on the road of life: the concept of ‘hooking up’ is a blind alley that leads nowhere but the motel of loneliness and heartache.
Youngsters involved in this practice, ever inventive, may seek to justify their behaviour, of course. They say that their illicit activities still enable them to get to know the people they spend time with, (even if the time is limited, rushed and pressured). This is nonsense, too. Just as adult gorillas have a strict social code which means that not all the young males are actually ever involved in procreation at all, the idea that hooking up is fulfilling the same function as a mixer, prom dance, or cocktail party, is to politely ignore the bit that goes on once the lights are out or the curtains drawn. It is this aspect that is so corrosive: it dulls the emotions and clouds the differences between individuals. It used to be the case that young people were a lot more selective about who they slept with, and with good reason: the well known saying is that you have to kiss a lot of frogs in order to find a prince. It doesn’t say that you gain anything by moving beyond the kissing stage. But also, as with gorillas, if you make a habit of sleeping around, you aren’t actually going to meet a lot of people, or very much variety. The number involved in the practice is always going to be less than the total numbers in the class. To hazard a guess, if a young lady chooses to ‘hook up’ on a regular basis, she is never going to get to speak to a geek, ever. The good-looking guys will get all the women they want, of course, (as with gorillas), while the cerebral types will be left waiting.
This is the last, and most telling, point. ‘Hooking up’ does not benefit boys and girls equally. In fact, some analysts might see a similarity between what is happening now and the worst aspects of the 1970s, when marriage was more of an acknowledged aim, and casual relationships were common, but concealed. The losers, in those days, were women, which is why some stood to one side and invented a Women’s Movement. The cynic, looking at recent developments, might simply conclude that fashion has once again turned a full circle and men have yet again emerged the victors. ‘Hooking up’ is, at the end of the day, a young man’s dream – physical intimacy without commitment. Unfortunately, it may well turn out to be society’s nightmare.