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April 21, 2024

Hookup culture: empowering, isolating or both?

By KATHERINE GILLIS | February 14, 2019


I am, as my mother would say, a “sensitive person who feels things deeply.” She’s not wrong. I have atopic dermatitis — a fancy medical term for “sensitive deep-feeler.” When I’m upset, a rash breaks out on my arms; when I’m stressed, I get bacne that looks like a topographical map of a piece of pizza. Even when I try hiding my feelings, my skin betrays me. 

I’ve been single for quite a while now. Dating at college in the digital age seems weird and gross to me. Tinder is this weird combination of middle school dance and Ancient Roman bathhouse, and it’s hard for me to meet people in real life because I throw off a sexless aura and dress like I’ve been electrocuted. (Also, I think, because I refuse to get a “gayer” haircut.)

My first relationship was a chaste-ish, sodie-pop kind of romance. I remember driving home one night when she told me she had a “serious question.” I thought it was going to be something about how you know when you’re in love, or maybe to the prom. She stopped the car and said, “So what does virginity mean to you?” 

I was a little shocked. I am very old-fashioned; I love wool sweaters and talking about sex makes me want to vom a little. I can’t remember what I said; I think it was “I dunno, fingerblasting?” Everything worked out because I had a very patient and understanding first love. I have no idea if I will ever get that lucky again. 

When I got to college, I wasn’t really worried about sex or dating. I figured that stuff would all work itself out, that I would maybe meet someone at a party or a poetry slam or something. When that didn’t happen, my confidence dwindled until I finally concluded that I was destined to be a premature gray-braid (a term I have coined to describe my middle-aged, lesbian-bed-death future), working at the public library and carrying my NPR tote bag to the community garden on Thursdays. I resigned myself to spinsterhood at 19.

Recently, a friend said something about the narratives we create for ourselves to make our lives more interesting. I started thinking that maybe I had created a narrative of myself as the bald guy from adult cartoons who eats and drinks too much and can’t get a date. But that’s not me. I might feel things strongly, but that doesn’t mean I have to shut down those feelings, or eat them or drink them or pretend they’re not there. It can be really lonely not to have a partner, but it can also be really isolating to participate in hookup culture. It can feel really good to know that you haven’t compromised, and it can be really liberating to find pleasure in someone without the need for a commitment. 

I’m still single, and that’s chill because I don’t think it matters for me as much as it used to. My narrative can be that of the Southern Gothic spinster or the ingenue looking for love, or that of the friend who just finally learned how to cook an egg. Whichever way I choose to frame my life, at least I finally got my bacne under control.

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