After writing this column for a year and half, I sometimes feel like all the great topics have already been covered, and I’m out of ideas and washed up in my prime years. I sound like I’m having a sex columnist mid-life crisis, of sorts. All it takes to shake myself of this is to complain to my friends until I have their attention. This is how the process begins. They start throwing ideas out, which I promptly shut down. Then the magic happens, and they start asking me questions. I respond and follow up with my own questions, and then, boom, just like that, we’re in a full intellectual discourse on the dynamics of age and power in hookups at Colgate. Now I know what I’m writing about.
College is the first time that the hierarchy of class years really opens, and the social norm becomes hooking up with people of all different ages. I know at my high school that dating typically occurred within the same grade, the only acceptable deviation being a guy one grade above a girl. Most of my friends have echoed this sentiment. As far as having “plenty of fish in the sea,” this mentality essentially limited you to about five fish, depending on the size of the sea. Colgate is pretty small, as far as seas go. In order for a hookup culture to thrive here, people across grades have to be sexually available to one another. Otherwise, there would be too much overlap and things would get weird, fast.
While there are definitely way more fish available in this sea, there’s some bizarre social construction going on that needs to be discussed. I tried to map out what I called the “Age-Hookup Structures” of Colgate, and the first thing I noticed was how heteronormative they were. The majority of hookup access points – a.k.a. parties – occur in heterosexual-dominated spaces, and so our warped view of how age plays into hookup culture is first determined by the assumption that straight hookups are the norm. Now, for the break down: first-year guys can hook up with first-year girls, occasionally sophomore girls; first-year girls can hookup with any grade, but it’s considered weird if these hookups occur with upperclassmen; sophomores of both genders can hookup with any grade and it would be considered normal; juniors and seniors of both genders can hookup with any grade, but getting with first-years is taboo for all and a no-no for senior girls. Okay, that was a lot. Take a second, catch your breath.
There’s a lot wrong with that picture. I don’t have solutions for how to make it better. I wanted to point it out because it’s something blindly accepted and internalized by a majority of participants within Colgate’s hookup culture. Anyways, not to get philosophical or anything, but Socrates did say we should question everything.
Before I forget, there’s something else I wanted to point out. Hooking up outside of your class year appears to be the gold standard. Why? What is so appealing about people who are less directly our peers?
Glad you asked. It boils down to a truth about hookup culture that I came to in the conversation that inspired this article. The most desirable hookup partner is the one most separated from our immediate social circles. Hookup culture is designed to serve the need to be invincible, the opposite of vulnerable. We buy into the concept of emotional detachment to protect ourselves. To ensure the most return on investment, we take it a step further. We protect ourselves from drama within our social lives by separating them from our sex lives. We compartmentalize.
This reminds me of the John Mulaney joke, “anyone who’s seen my dick and met my parents needs to die.” By separating friends and hookups, you ensure that no one person has both seen your dick and met your parents. No one in your life sees the complete picture, so you are safe from being completely known, understood and consequently, vulnerable.
So, we like hooking up with older and younger people because we compartmentalize as a method of self-preservation. We think if we keep things separate, they won’t get as messy or hurt us as badly. It’s hard to say how well this works in practice, or if we’re actually happy avoiding our vulnerability.
At least I don’t have to deal with anyone who’s seen my dick and met my parents while I’m having this midlife crisis.
Contact Kate Hinsche at [email protected]