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What not to do to make a lasting relationship

Dr. G. David Moss | Friday, September 16, 2011

As many of you know, when it comes to gender relations on campus, the phenomenon called “the hook-up” reigns supreme. A hook-up has a wide definition, from kissing to sex, and everything in between. Back in the day when I was an undergrad, the hook-up meant that my friend, who worked at a fast food restaurant, threw an extra hamburger or French fries in my bag free of charge. Although different, there is still the underlying concept of something freely given and received with no cost or commitment. Of course, in both situations, there is a cost. We just choose to ignore that cost in order to maintain the fantasy of self-importance. I was told by a reliable source that most hook-ups on campus begin at parties where alcohol is present. The music is tight, lots of people dressed to party (especially during Halloween), alcohol is freely flowing and there is plenteous grinding (which some mistake for dancing). There is no official invitation to hook up. It just sort of happens. You know, the chemistry is right and “s/he was so into me!” Sometimes the couple will move to a private setting, and at other times they will continue the hook-up in full view of those attending the party. On many occasions the determining factor becomes how much alcohol has been consumed.

Researchers have stated that the hook-up has turned the dating/relationship world upside down. In the past, couples first dated before there was any physical intimacy. Now physical intimacy leads the way and the dating/relationship building comes later, sometimes. Researchers have found that most hook-ups do not turn into lasting relationships. It is presumed that one of the goals of a hook-up is sexual pleasure, and studies have shown that this actually happens … but more so for men than women. As relationships grow in long term commitment, however, the sexual pleasure for women begins to match the sexual pleasure of men. This result supports the well known fact that individuals in monogamous relationships typically report higher levels of sexual satisfaction. As a person with 18 years of marriage and six children, I can personally attest to the high levels of … but I digress.

Unfortunately, the research also shows the presence of a double standard in terms of negative perceptions of the individual after the hook-up occurs. Whether we like it or not, women who frequent the hook-up culture receive labels like “slutty,” “less than dating material” and “damaged goods.” Men, on the other hand, may be labeled “manwhore,” but by and large they escape the social stigma that women face. In many cases, men are “high fived” for their prowess and “stud-nificance.” So what is the payoff for women to hook-up? Recent research is revealing that women are getting a boost in self-esteem as a result of the hookup. Many women report that they feel “cute” when they get male attention. I would be curious to hear what Notre Dame students think about this result. So in terms of sexual pleasure and social acceptance, the research supports the conclusion that hook-ups are designed and organized around meeting the physical and social needs of men. This is not to say that women do not receive physical pleasure from a hook-up, it is just reported at a lower level than men. Of course, this could be different on our campus.

As I considered the hook-up culture’s symbiotic relationship with alcohol, I became convinced that this social movement is rooted in the fear of intimacy. When I presented this idea to a group of Notre Dame students, an astute male in the group quickly summarized that the fear of intimacy is closely related to the fear of rejection. With enough alcohol in our systems and having secured the glance of longing from the object of our flirtation, we quickly proceed down the road of physical intimacy. There is no need for messy conversations about past history, current likes and dislikes, future goals or one’s purpose in life. There is no knowledge of commitments made during spiritual growth retreats, fears of another broken heart or the fact that physical intimacy means different things to me than it does to you. Keeping things on the surface and blurred by alcohol means that physical intimacy can proceed without the opportunity for us to intentionally decide whether or not this activity is in our best interest, or in the best interest of our partner. We are able to ignore our rational thought process (which helped us get admitted to Notre Dame) in favor meeting an immediate need. The truth is, however, that the hook-up can never meet our true needs because we never bring our true selves to the activity. It is just another detour that keeps us from accepting the vulnerability required for authentic relationship. In many ways we become objects whose sole purpose is to satisfy the sexual needs of the other … don’t they have inflatable toys that serve the same function?

Dr. G. David Moss is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and the Interim Director for the Gender Relations Center. He can be contacted at gmoss@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.