Hookups in the age of Snapchat

By JACQUI NEBER | December 2, 2017

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CC BY-SA-4.0 Roses by Gert Tabak

I wanted to formally interview my peers for this piece, but people aren’t especially open to talking about their hookup experiences on this campus. I had to dig into what my friends thought by asking deep and nosy questions about their sex lives. I had to complicate things by asking about technology. It was eye-opening. Here’s what I learned:

Hookup culture exists, and it’s normal, and it can be dissatisfying, and we all know that. Beyond the obvious, I heard a lot about the intersection between technology and hooking up: the parallels between how you feel about someone and how you choose to communicate with them.

Full disclosure: The person I talk to the most — I mean text all the time, telling each other about our days as we move through them — is my mom. I text all my friends throughout the day too, but I’m always checking in on my mom, and vice versa. I also call my family on Sundays. A lot of people do the same with their parents, and that constant communication is what I presume it’s like to talk to someone you’re in a relationship with.

But when you’re just hooking up with someone, and feelings aren’t supposed to be involved, you only communicate with them when you want something to happen. I’m guilty of this, and you probably are too. And you’re not necessarily going to call. You might text or, more likely, you’re going to send a snap — something that disappears as quickly as it comes into existence.

The impermanence of Snapchat as a means of communication is something everyone on campus seems to understand. My sources spoke to the ability to keep secrets through snapping people instead of talking to them through other platforms.

It makes sense, even if I’ve never realized it: You can have a meaningful conversation through chat, but once it disappears, it feels like all the sentiment between you and the other person does too.

One of my friends defined Snapchat as the “root of all evil” when it comes to keeping things casual, keeping people at a distance and keeping things a secret. This is because you can send whatever you want as a snap, and it will disappear. You blink, and it’s gone. For better or worse, there’s less meaning there and less consequence to your words and whether or not they translate into action.

You can keep secrets from a hookup partner and even keep that partner a secret from your friends. There’s a toxicity here that feels very specific to social media and very specific to a culture that has existed for decades before social media did.

Snapchat is only one platform of communication in the arsenal available to college kids who want to see each other after being out on Fridays, Saturdays or Tuesdays. You Snapchat your hookups to hook up, but you’re not texting them throughout the day. You’re not constantly updating them on your daily life.

You could spend months with someone and never get to know them beyond what you discuss in person. You could feel like you really know someone but eventually discover that you do not.

How you feel about someone can parallel what you use to talk to them — and it often does — but sometimes it’s hookup culture itself that controls how you communicate. You might still stick to Snapchat if you’re developing feelings for someone, because that is what campus culture deems normal and appropriate. You might want to text someone throughout the day but not know how to communicate with them in the daytime.

You might be prone to overthinking things, like me, and find casual communication hard when all you want to do is talk about things that actually matter and talk about them even when you’re not together in the same room. You might stand in your own way in taking something from a hookup to a relationship, just because you’re afraid to talk to the other person.

I had to talk to a lot of people to realize that as much as technology complicates hooking up, the biggest villain in hookup culture is fear.

The technology you use can parallel how you feel about someone. Two people could feel trapped in the claws of a form of communication that perpetuates a feeling of insignificance and disappearance. I don’t have a solution to this, because it has definitely happened to me.

Methods of communication present us with stereotypes for their usage that are hard to break. I think getting past them is about courage. It’s saying what you feel and doing what you say, whether that means making moves to turn a hookup into something more or making sure your hookup stays a hookup. Every experience can be valuable if you let it be valuable. Every person, too, is valuable. It just requires courage to break barriers and show them that they are.

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