Should I Spend My College Years Hooking Up Or Looking For Mr. Right?

Young couple kissing in a nightclub

There’s been a lot of talk – including talk on this blog – about hookup culture. Is it empowering for women to embrace their sexuality, have fun, and not worry about commitment? Is it hurtful to women because they’re denying their own feelings, wasting their time on dead-end relationships and turning into the very men that are so often decried in this space?

Yes and yes.

This New York Times article didn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before, but it did a very thorough job of presenting both sides of the argument.

The author took a look at students at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, and reported what you already suspected: smart and ambitious college kids have a sense of drive and perspective that is somewhat uncanny.

I only wish more women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s understood the value in being patient and letting a man reveal his character over time, instead of jumping into marriage based on desire, passion and fear.

“Many privileged young people see college as a unique life stage in which they don’t – and shouldn’t – have obligations other than their own self-development.” The article continues, “Some women also want to wait to see how men turn out as they advance through their 20s. A., for example, said that she did not want to settle down until she could choose a partner knowing that his goals and values were fixed. “‘I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great – you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. “That sounds terrible. I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”

To say that this is wise is an understatement. I only wish more women in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s understood the value in being patient and letting a man reveal his character over time, instead of jumping into marriage based on desire, passion and fear.

In fact, some of these 19-year-old Ivy League women sound very much like ambitious middle-aged men who want to have all the trappings of a relationship without all of the obligations of it. “Even if they did meet someone they were interested in, some women said the logistics of a relationship were just too hard. Some described extracurricular commitments – running debate tournaments for local high school students, or organizing Model United Nations conferences – that took up 30 to 40 hours a week, and came on top of going to class, doing homework and, in the case of less-wealthy students, work-study jobs. Some relationships ended, or never got off the ground, simply because schedules didn’t align.”

Personally, while I’ve always enjoyed hooking up, it was never the end goal. I would like to think that most people feel the same way, at most points in their life. Sex may be something that you have to scratch an itch when you’re too busy, but if you find the right person, you don’t let it slip away. By the same token, what are the odds of finding your soulmate when you’re 21 and you’ve never even tackled the real world? Pretty slim. Hmm…maybe these girls are onto something.

If you still haven’t prioritized your love life in your 30’s, and still favor random hookups because you’re too busy for love, you may be in for a rude awakening.

But the article doesn’t really want to concede that point. The last two pages of the piece focus on women with alternate points of view. One is a virgin who is inclined to save herself for marriage. The other is someone who has opted out of hookup culture after getting her heart broken. This, in and of itself, is perfectly fair. However, I’m not positive that the conclusion this young woman draws is entirely correct:

“In Catherine’s view, her classmates tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career. That might mean having to pass up certain career opportunities, for geographic reasons. But Catherine thought that her peers underestimated how hard it was to find the right person to be with – as hard, perhaps, as finding the right job.

‘People kind of discount how difficult it is to find someone that you even remotely like, let alone really fall for,’ she said. And losing that can be just as impractical and harmful to yourself, if not more so, than missing out on a job or something like that. What else do you really have at the end of your life?’ “

Catherine would be 100% correct if she were 30. But at age 20, with so much change ahead of her? I think that if she had the capacity to enjoy experimenting, falling in and out of love, and making mistakes without thinking it was the end of the world, she’d be a lot happier. You don’t have to figure it all out when you’re in college. But if you still haven’t prioritized your love life in your 30’s, and still favor random hookups because you’re too busy for love, you may be in for a rude awakening.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.

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  1. 1
    Jackie H.

    Hmmm….It’s almost a Catch-22 situation…College is the time where a women will have the most access to so-called “good catches” and that opportunity should not be squandered in random relationships aka hookups; however, I don’t necessarily advocate looking to get married right out of college…I think it’s a delicate balance. Be smart. If you want to get married someday, recognize that college is a good time to make those connections that could lead to a potential mate…on the other hand, don’t be so obsessed with that that you end up making immature decisions and not exploring a little bit…

  2. 2

    As a Penn alum I was quite amused when this article came out; things haven’t changed 🙂 Of my college friends that got married right after school, one couple is still together ( admittedly the sample size was not very large). College was a mix of relationships and hookups for me, as were my 20’s. Now, in my thirties, I’ve found many more relationship oriented men than I did when I was younger. Im clear on who i am and what i offer and what i prefer and Ive no doubt I’ll find a guy i can build a happy family with. I’m pleased with the way my life has turned out so far. If I had stayed with any college boyfriend I’m fairly certain we would either not still be married or I’d be unhappily married and just slogging through. Hookup shouldn’t be a dirty word.

  3. 3

    I feel like I am in a unique position as a woman in her early 30s who partook in hookup culture in my 20s-it didn’t kill me emotionally, I am still friends with many of the men I hooked up with and it gave me something when I didn’t have time for a relationship!
    I viewed my twenties as a time for me and my growth. I had lots of fun, went to tons of parties, moved around and took one in a lifetime opportunities. Most of my friends concerned themselves with marrying before they hit 29. They have children and husbands now but didn’t get much life experience. I am single now but have experiences they envy. I am 32 and have been very serious about dating since I was 29, I am attractive and still have options, especially among men who took their twenties and early 30s as a time for personal growth.

  4. 4

    College is the best time to find your future mate. You will never have  that many  similar aged,  educated men/woman in one place again. Im not advocating getting married right after college, but most (75%)  of my friends met their future spouses in college.
    Have your learning experiences and bad relationships in college. Its much easier to recover and pick up the pieces at that time with no responsibilities and commitments. Once you are out in the world with your career and other things in the way, a relationship setback is much more damaging.

  5. 5

    How old are you?
    I know only a small handful of married friends who met their spouse in college, like 2-3 and I have an exceptionally large social network of well educated professional friends. Most who are married met their spouses in their late 20s and early 30s.
    As far as never being among that many similarly aged/educated people. Depends on where you live. I live in a large metropolitan area with 20 colleges in city proper, another 20 outside of it. Most young people graduate and stay in the city so I believe its a large network and higher quality than college.

  6. 6

    I wonder how this would apply to mature students such as myself. I am in my 30s and went back to get my bachelors. I know of one woman who had a baby and is living with her boyfriend and going to school part time. Not sure how old she is but I am guessing she is in her 30s as well.
    I feel I have a lot to offer. I went back to school because I want to get into Statistics as I was an Administrator and kept getting laid off so I want a better paying job with hopefully more stability.
    Plenty of adults go back to school and considering how our economy has changed, being a life learner may very well be the norm where people are always going back to school to upgrade their skills.

  7. 7

    It’s become painfully obvious to me I don’t understand the world anymore.   The big debate about women in college is, should they look for a husband or hook up, not what is a good field of study to get into, what are the up and coming careers, etc.   A series of no strings attached relationships and meaningless sex is personal growth.   I am completely out of my element in today’s world.

  8. 8

    How is it folk ignore the catastrophic socio-economic consequences of a “hookup” culture – 1MM+ abortions a year, ~45% illegitimacy rates, 50%+ divorce rates, fewer and fewer marriages, and STD rates that make the eyes water. All of these things negatively affect women FAR more than men. Women are not men when it comes to sexuality. Try to make it so and you Very Bad Things (sadly for women). Oh, to answer the question, yes, women should choose looking for Mr. Right (or Mr. Right for the next year or two) over “hooking up,” when in college.

  9. 9

    Before the internet, people used to meet their spouse most often through study (college/university etc) or work.   It would be interesting how it is now.
    I have a 10 year old daughter, and I have been thinking what advice I would give her on boys.   She is already curious – sex is all around – in movies, advertisements etc, and – if we believe Freud – in little children’s heads from the day they’re born. She will hopefully go to university one day, and I honestly freak out from reading about the experiences some of the girls in the original article share. At the same time – she will be a young adult at the time, and young adults tend to look down on their mother’s advice…
    What I intend to tell her (honestly  I wish I could delay this conversation) is that 1) sex is a natural and healthy experience, and it can be very pleasarable for both men and women 2) with the wrong person it can range from lousy to  terrible to dangerous  3) she has to be very selective in her partners due to personal safety, danger for STDs but EQUALLY IMPORTANTLY in order to preserve the potential to really have a pleasarable experience which truly  flourishes in conditions of emotional intimacy  with the partner, and  4) there is a reputational cost a girl pays for being known to sleep around and it is in her favor to avoid this.
    Would this be valid for kids her generation? Will she  even care to listen? She is a very smart and sweet kid, but I know for sure she will have to go through her own mistakes as  a part of growing up. God help us.

  10. 10

    I feel pleased I wasn’t brought up and educated   that healthy sex was part of lovemaking in a loving relationship with two consenting adults who cared and loved each other. And to have more respect for mysellf to not get invollved with   men who wanted to use my body for instant gratifacation and that would be putting myself in danger. And that men who wanted to hook up with women and use them for sex were not good men and avoid like the plague.
    I only had boyfriends whilst in my college years not hookups. And wasn’t wanting to get married when that young.

  11. 11

    was not wasn’t

  12. 12

    None of the women that I know who were slutting around in college cared very much about themselves or their bodies.   They had low self esteem and were looking for attention–any kind of attention.   If a woman wastes her prime years hooking up, she must realize that when she gets to my age (37), there will be a lot less men available than in her 20s.   I have never slept around, and I still haven’t met the right guy.   Maybe I should have slutted it up while I had the chance?   Who knows?   I know that I would feel terrible about myself if I had been having one night stands throughout my younger years.   Sex either means something to  you, or it doesn’t.   You get good at whatever you practice, and I don’t think there’s much of a point to practicing promiscuity if you’re long term relationship minded.

  13. 13

    We call it being evolved when we can have sex with others but we gave no genuine feeling for them.   That’s a society at its cultural zenith. It worked pretty well for Rome.   Of course that was then and this now and we would not fall like Rome did because we are more evolved than they were.   One thing about the laws of sowing and reaping: they don’t care what era it is, they still work the same.

  14. 14

    Hook up doesn’t always equal sex ( intercourse or oral). Sometimes it’s a good make out/ heavy petting session, particulary when talking about college kids. Surely we aren’t all going to hell in a hand basket for that 🙂

  15. 15

    I am not opposed to hookups as much as the article’s description of how young women nowadays go about it.   Did you guys click on the link and read the actual article?: “Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk. One girl, explaining why her encounters freshman and sophomore year often ended with fellatio, said that usually by the time she got back to a guy’s room, she was starting to sober up and didn’t want to be there anymore, and giving the guy oral sex was an easy way to wrap things up and leave.”   It goes on to describe several examples of unclear sexual assault and rape statistics.  
    I am not opposed to women exploring sex or delaying serious relationships until later in life.   But the actual culture described in this article smacks of uninformed women doing it cavalierly and insanely nowadays with alcohol and peer pressure.   They talk a big talk but it doesn’t sound like they are able to stand up for themselves when in the actual situation.   That is not empowerment that is asking to be taped.   If you are hogging to engage in potentially risky behavior you should do it sober and without peer pressure to fit in.

  16. 16

    And what’s the 800lb gorilla in this room that no one is addressing?
    A woman’s declining fertility after a certain age.
    [OK, ducking for cover now.]

    1. 16.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sorry, Drew. You’re my friend, but I gotta give you the smackdown. First of all, 18-21 year old girls should absolutely NOT be on the prowl for a husband. No one should get married until their brains have matured (around 25-26) at the earliest. More likely, they shouldn’t get married until their 30’s, which is when most people have enough life experience to figure out what’s important in a partner. And, you’ll be surprised to know, Drew, that if a woman tried to get pregnant every month for a year at age 38, she’s got an 82% likelihood of doing so, which is virtually the identical percentage she would find if she were to try at age 30. Fertility drops significantly around 40. But that is a lifetime away for college girls who should not have to worry about finding husbands, but rather being independent, experimenting with alcohol and sex, and getting good grades.

      And before you disagree with my fact (funny how people do that when it doesn’t suit their narratives/preconceived beliefs), here’s a quote from the article (which I will be linking to on this blog in a week): “It found that with sex at least twice a week, 82 percent of 35-to-39-year-old women conceive within a year, compared with 86 percent of 27-to-34-year-olds.”

  17. 17

    @ J #14:
    That’s a semantic distinction, and it varies.   Some people consider hooking up to be sexual activity, some people think just making out is hooking up.

    As far as college being the best time to meet your spouse due to the similar aged, educated etc. reason, that’s not necessarily so.   College students often still don’t know what they want from life.   Getting married to your college sweetheart doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with the same life goals.

  18. 18

    @LC well I guess you missed out on the “slutting around” and still are single, so your hypothesis seems a bit off no? Also hooking up doesn’t mean lots of one night stands that include intercourse. Hooking up can mean a wide variety of things but it does infer casualness. You can casually sleep with someone for an extended period, or fool around and not have sex, you can make out with random guys at parties. Maybe being chaste doesn’t equal women deserving a husband. Marriage isn’t something you merit from doing everything the way that society tells you to. Your sexual past has literally nothing to do with your relationship present.

  19. 19

    @ Julia I disagree on two points:
    I consider this blog to be a pretty good bellwether of culture at least on a general level. Given that, I would submit that society cheers on the hook up, whether it stays on first base or steals home. Sex is all over our media and being sexually pure is considered prudish and outdated.
    With regard to your point about your sexual past not determining your future, that topic had been addressed more than once on this blog and we all seem to want it both ways.  

  20. 20

    My Israeli husband says this country is really screwed up about sexual attitudes and the women he knew all had sex for pleasure’s sake and none of this “feeling used” that everyone talks about. I tell him that sex is different for women, that it makes us more attached, biologically speaking, and he says it’s just cultural mores.  
    It’s so hard to know if women are hooking up to feel empowered and take charge of their sex lives or for “low self-esteem” insecurities. I hope that it’s the former.
    And as one commenter said, I hope they go to college for education.

    1. 20.1

      Girls feel pressurized by the men, becasue there is simple rule most og the females go to college to find a partner.As your husband described, sexual attitude is different in US. I think this planet has less virgins. One is a virgin who is inclined to save herself for marriage. The other is someone who has opted out of hookup culture after getting her heart broken.  

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