My professor asked a class of 217 if we knew what a “one-night stand” was. After the awkward “I-have-totally-been-there-and-done-that” laughter, he proceeded, “I think you guys call it ‘hooking up,’ You know, in my day, it was a single, one-night performance.” There are two social problems here. First, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists the sexual definition for a one-night stand: “a situation in which you have sex with someone once and you do not continue in a relationship afterwards” as the only significant definition, and, second, there is no way that every single person reading this agrees that a ‘one-night stand’ is the definition of ‘hooking-up.’
So, how do we define hookups? And why are they, however we choose to define them, integrated as such a norm in our lives? I’m sure you’ve either used or heard the phrase “Cornell has a really strong hook-up culture.” I think this can fairly be interpreted as a result of alcohol, grinding and *insert type of sexual activity*. The key component, however, is what happens afterwards. The all-round agreed upon defining factors for an interaction to be considered a hookup is that the two individuals must either never talk again (it’s a one time thing with no clear future), or, establish it as a regular interaction without a “relationship” label on it.
Think about your own definition. When a friend comes to you saying “so I hooked up with this guy last night…” what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Before I’d had the enjoyable experience of waking up to my roommate having sex with her boyfriend (not under covers…), my mind went to a steamy make-out session on the dance floor, possibly followed by some kind of fingering or a little oral. As I got further and further into the Cornell community however, I realized that this was too mellow for a hook-up definition for a lot of people. But if that’s the case, then what word do we use for the steamy make-out sessions? This social “development” has unfortunately left us with a huge gap where we’ve had some kind of interaction with a partner, but not enough to label it as a “real” hookup…
But then again, why is it someone else’s business to know what I do with my sexual partner? Okay, I’ll accept knowing that Jane Doe has something going on with John Doe, but why is it so important to everyone else where exactly his penis was during the interaction? Maybe it’s actually better that we don’t clarify beyond “hooking up.”Maybe it’s good, in a way, to allow us to maintain some kind of privacy in a world where through Tinder, Snapchat, other social media and gossip in our tighter Cornell communities, there’s almost no way that this part of our lives remains secret. You’re likely to be seen getting or leaving with someone at a party, while your Tinder profile is readily available to the general Tinder public and their friends (aka 99 percent of campus). Then, everyone in whatever social club you’re in will likely be alerted via GroupMe about the interaction before the end of the weekend. At least, by calling them hookups, you are not “required” to give details about said sexual encounters and can make the conscious decision to allow others to reach their own conclusions.
But there’s one last part to this. Is the reason we’re avoiding details that we want to keep our lives private, or that we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we’re not sure what exactly our own interactions/“relationships” are or mean? Maybe we use the word ‘hookup’ because we just don’t want to take the risk, or the leap of faith to define our own relationship. A hookup isn’t just the action, it’s also a state of being and a state of relationship choice: “I’m a hookup kind of person,” “he hooks up with a lot of girls,” “she’s hooked up with both of them a couple of times.” It saddens me to think that relationships have come to be viewed as so emotionally investing and embarrassing for so many that it is almost shameful to chose that as a lifestyle choice. Sure there are a lot of couples, but there are even more duos that are regularly “hooking up” but refuse to “officially” add the emotional investment.
There isn’t really a way to define hooking up in a way that pleases everyone. But I guess the point is that it doesn’t really matter. Use the term to your advantage when you don’t want to share details, or clarify information to those you want to share it with. Maybe what matters more is why this hookup culture exists. However you think of a hookup, the aspect that remains the same is the instability and lack of emotional investment associated with it. Maybe that’s more of what we need to look into, specifically the fear of having something deeper, and whether using phrases as unclear as our feelings cover up our hope for potentially having something more.
The Duchess is a student at Cornell. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Between the Sheets appears periodically this semester.