It's been so lovely being single, especially in a place like Manhattan. There are so many things to do, and so many kinds of people to do them with. Last month, most nights were spent gallivanting around the city with my girlfriends, or meeting a man for dinner. What could be better at 27?
From the time I was 15, I've always been in a serious or pseudo-serious relationship. It's probably because of my parents even though they had their problems, they had the ideal marriage: companionship, support, everlasting love. That kind of intimacy is difficult to find nowadays, and I think I've searched for it with nearly every man I've dated.
"Dating" has taken on a different meaning for my generation though, specifically women in their sexual prime - that is, women in their 20s and early 30s. For many, dating is too much commitment for comfort; it's like being married. Studies show that the majority of young women today aren't searching for future husbands like they once were. Instead, they prefer the term "hooking up." From kissing to consummating, a "hookup" is the buzzword for everything and anything physical, yet casual.
In this month's issue of The Atlantic magazine, the article "Boys on the Side" looks at the current landscape of this "hookup culture." Author Hanna Rosin writes, "For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future."
As my girlfriends and I read last month for book club, this sexual culture is mourned by Caitlin Flanagan in her new book "Girl Land." In "Girl Land," which touts itself as "a lively social history ... and a rousing reminder to parents to protect their daughters," Flanagan suggests that it was only by sitting on her bed, staring off into space, reading Judy Blume books and stroking her cat that she was able to survive the perilous time of transition from childhood to adulthood with her morality intact.
Like several other critics, Flanagan misses an earlier time when fathers protected "innocent" girls from losers and predators. The central argument of this soda-fountain nostalgia is that women have been effectively duped by a man-made sexual revolution (possible because of birth control and legal abortion), which has really left them even more exploited and vulnerable than before.
Older generations tend to agree.
My mom is as progressive and as feminist as one can be, but she's also an RN. "I've seen what this type of (promiscuous) behavior can do to women," she said. Sex aside, she believes that young people don't get a lot of relationship training. Dating, for all its shortcomings, allows a couple to practice true intimacy. It allows a person to truly connect with someone. "It's scary how superficial people are today," she said.
I agree: due to the Internet, my generation can accurately be defined by its superficiality. I think that's the main reason I prefer dating to hooking up. Even now that I'm single, I'm much more interested in getting to know the same man over several dinners over casually hooking up with many men.
But on the flip side, for the first time in history, single young women are more successful than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have college degrees and tend to make more money. I think the hookup culture enables them to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don't derail education or career.
Additionally, one of the most notable influences in the past 20 years is the dramatic decline of rape and sexual assault.
Between 1993 and 2008, the rate of such crimes against females dropped by 70 percent nationally. When women were expected to be financially dependent on men, leaving an abusive situation was much harder for them. But now women who in earlier eras might have stayed in such a relationship can leave, or even kick the men out of the house.
Women have achieved a great deal more power, and that makes them a lot harder to victimize.
It's pretty great being a woman in 2012 we have the freedom, the confidence and the knowledge that we can always depend on ourselves.
Whether one decides to hookup or date, I don't think any of this women's progress would be possible without the hookup culture.