The fact that young adults prefer to hook-up instead of date, and the ensuing hand-wringing that this brings, is old news by now. But in the Sunday New York Times, Kate Taylor posits that in recent years there has been a shift in hook-up culture, as ambitious young women have come to see it as “a functional strategy for today’s hard-charging and ambitious young women, allowing them to have enjoyable sex lives while focusing most of their energy on academic and professional goals.”
“They saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends (never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their 20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s.”
The story has its flaws, including its use of Ivy Leaguers to make a larger point about women today and the absence of men’s voices. Though the most notable flaw was how women’s sexuality was, once again, framed as something to worry about. (For more on this read Anna North’s fantastic piece over at Salon calling for an end to “women’s stories.”)
Still, the Times story did a good job at showing us how and why relationships have become so tangential for some hard-charging, ambitious women. These women see college as a time for personal-growth and investment, and don’t want to waste it on some time-sucking boyfriend. One student, who explained her preference for casual sex as part of an awareness of “cost-benefit issues and trading up and trading down, so no one wants to be tied to someone that, you know, may not be the person they want to be with in a couple of months.”
Now I don’t care if these young women ever find a boyfriend or, as the Princeton Mom would recommend, a husband at university. But I do worry about whatever equation is its they are using that puts friendship, sex and love at odds with personal-growth and investment.
Because no matter where you end up, at that bank in Hong Kong, editing a magazine or in the White House, insight into human nature and connection will always come in handy. One doesn’t need one partner for this, just the belief that taking that gamble that is getting to know other humans, whether you sleep with them or not, will pay off, even if it doesn’t last — sometimes especially so. And, it can be a whole lot more fun doing “specialized research projects” or the “choicest internships.”
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.