There are many bones to pick with the Times’ latest article to analyze millennials, hook-up culture, the end of courtship, the decline of Western Civilization, etc. “Sex on Campus” profiles a string of girls at UPenn who have eschewed traditional relationships in favor of casual hook-ups. These girls are at Penn for their BAs, not M-R-Ss, and their casual, calculated approach to sex without romantic entanglement will no-doubt lead to a lot of pearl-clutching and head-shaking from readers of a more traditional ilk. (Can someone please check on the Princeton mom this morning? Maybe get her some smelling salts?)
Not that I mean to be glib about the topic: while I’m definitely in favor of young women placing their self-worth in their resumes and academic standings rather than relationship statuses, there is something bleak about the prospect of a generation completely dismissing the idea of love. Sure, marriage is something that can come later in life — but surely love, being in love, is something best suited for, best enjoyed by, the young? But no matter. Every generation is entitled to make its own approach to sex and dating, just as every (older) generation is allowed to cluck and express concern.
The real cause for dismay in the article was this statement, uttered by A. (The author’s identification of sources by their initial lends a distinctly Gossip Girl-esque air to the whole article.)
“Ten years from now, no one will remember — I will not remember — who I have slept with,’ A. said. ‘But I will remember, like, my transcript, because it’s still there. I will remember what I did. I will remember my accomplishments and places my name is hung on campus.’”
No. No, Little A, I’m afraid that’s not quite true.
Maybe no one else will remember who you’ve slept with. And hopefully (rightly!) accomplishments of the non-sexual variety, your transcript, your favorite professor, will take precedence when you think back to your four years on campus. But you’re not just going to forget who you’ve slept with.
Because sex, casual or fraught with emotion, isn’t that forgettable for most people. It doesn’t mean that, in retrospect, each drunken hook-up will become laden with a significance you didn’t at the time understand. But you probably will remember, that guy in the parking lot after your friend’s open bar 21st, the nice dude named — Jason? Jackson? — who wore flip-flops all winter who tasted like tequila, that older gentleman from Study Abroad who was the worst kisser ever, who insisted you chug a liter of water after you guys hooked up, because it was important to rehydrate.
Most people remember, in some way, in some sweet, or pained, or vague way, the people they hook up with, just as they remember their friends, the clang of the cafeteria, the topic of that A+ paper, the poster on the wall of their freshman year dorm.
Because it’s college, and college is about class, and grades, and resume building. But it’s also your life, four years of your life, and as much as you dedicate yourself to ambition and striving and getting ahead, as much as you excel at that aspect of it, you can’t divorce yourself completely from the other things.
Hooking up casually may be less emotionally involved than a relationship, but just because it’s casual doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because you aren’t in love, and you think you don’t care, doesn’t make it not count. Even if it’s detached in the best possible way sex can be detached, it’s not possible to dismiss the experience entirely.
And however you choose to paint your collegiate life: the high school boyfriend you stay with long-distance, the steady smattering of hook-ups: it does matter. It does affect how you’ll continue to date, or build relationships, or think of sex, long after college, into your twenties and thirties.
Most likely you won’t look back to your college sexual and romantic experiences with too much chagrin or regret.
But almost certainly, you will remember them.
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