A Communion of Anxiety: Hookup Culture and the Impossible Horizon of the Future

Jan 15, 2021 by

by Timothy P O’Malley, Public Discourse:

What if religious and conservative higher education ceased speaking about marriage and family life as an accomplishment and began to treat marriage and children as that which enable human flourishing and a meaningful future?

In the conservative world, hookup culture is often understood primarily as a symptom of sexual excess. Because young people do not place a high value on sex, they will have as much of it as they can with as many partners as possible. In this narrative, every young person is Samantha from Sex in the City, pursuing intercourse as a leisure activity.

The intrinsic connection between sex and love has been severed for my students. Sex is just as often the opening salvo, facilitated by dating apps like Tinder. Almost every young woman has had an experience in which the first communication they received from a potential male suitor was an unwelcomed invitation for sex.

Still, through teaching undergraduates over the last ten years, I have concluded that sexual excess is not the primary cause of hookup culture. Rather, the root of hookup culture is a paralyzing, anxiety-ridden fear of commitment. The hookup is intentionally ambiguous. A student gets a text message on a Friday night, “Hey, you awake?” What does this message mean? Does it mean that there is someone out there in the world who thinks about me when they are going to sleep? Does it mean that said person wants to meet up for a late-night liaison? If the recipient of that text message participates in enough of these liaisons, will the late-night texter become a boyfriend or girlfriend?

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