Would you date me?

It's not uncommon for columnists to bring up the dating issue facing our nation's youth and the quickly growing populace of young, professional adults. Oftentimes people say that "real" dating and long term relationships are nonexistent in youth culture, and that hookup lifestyles are unhealthy and unsafe. The underlying message to nearly all of these complaints is: "people aren't being groomed to get married".

Now, I could easily launch an attack on the oppressive imposition of the institution of marriage, how it creates unreasonable and narrow-minded expectations for people and fabricates romantic fantasies that result in bad relationships and unhealthy marriages. But I'm not. Instead, I want to talk about the binary between "hookup culture" and what I'm going to call "marriage-oriented culture". I strongly feel that if we don't spend more time as a society negotiating these two worlds, those columnists do have a good reason to be worried. People who end up falling into marriage after emerging from a hookup-only culture likely do not know the challenges that come with long-term relationships...and further, they may have not given themselves enough opportunity to discover what characteristics in a partner would be most favorable in the long term.

I first need to defend hookup-culture because it defiantly emerged from a world where public acknowledgement of premarital sex was so taboo it was punishable. The sheer fact that there is now a space where theoretically people can spend time learning about their sexuality and how to pleasure themselves is a good thing.

The problem is, in a world where everything has to be categorized into immediately understood commodities, the "scornful adults" lead people to believe that you can't be in hookup culture AND in relationship culture. And we all believe it, too. We are too insecure to assume people we romantically hang out with could be something more. Sometimes we're even too worried that if we don't hook up quickly, the opportunity for something more diminishes.

But as with most constructivist perspectives on culture, we also have to recognize that if a whole group of people in our dating pool approach romantic encounters in this way, it hard to actually find someone to date. Lots of emotional risk involved and too little chance of finding that someone.

I think that hookup cultures and relationship cultures need to intermingle more than they are, and I think the marriage-minded cynics need to chill out and acknowledge that there can be value to hookups and a variety of other permutations of romantic encounters. But I also think that youth, particularly college-goers (and especially men) need to now ignore the norm that is "hookup-only" and test themselves to explore things like dates, real friends with benefits, and possibly even longer-term relationships. Manontheside recently articulated how hard even talking about this stuff can be. But even though marriage IS a construction, lots of us still want to do it in the future. And that's going to require some practice.

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