Dating, courtship, and any hope you might have of a functional relationship is dead, at least according to The New York Times, which this past weekend painted a pretty bleak picture of the romantic lives of twenty-somethings. In “The End of Courtship,” Alex Williams describes a world where an evening of boxed mac n’ cheese equals romance, where attraction is conveyed via tweets, and where all of it seems to be happening without the consent of women, who are forced to covet scraps of male attention in the form of 10 pm text messages and group hang-outs that may or may not result in sex but will under no circumstances lead to a relationship.
The article cites a laundry list of reasons for this depressing landscape, both economic and technological, but the fault seems to lie in the hookup culture that permeates major cities and college campuses around the country. Because we came of age by hooking up at parties, the argument goes, millennial women are confused (and in despair!) about how to land a relationship.
To say that women in their twenties are frustrated and powerless to influence the kinds of relationships they want to have is an unfair (and unwarranted) characterization of our generation. We know how to find relationships, but the relationships we’re looking for in our early to mid-twenties aren’t always ones that would be immediately recognizable as functional (or even desirable) by a member of the previous generation.
Watching Hannah Hovarth on Girls, the TV show that anybody over 35 seems to have decided is the mirror-image of how twenty-somethings lead our lives and conduct our relationships, one would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that finding serious commitment is a bit of a struggle. Hannah plays right into the worst conception of hookup culture: we see her falling for and sleeping with a noncommittal guy who barely returns her affection (or her texts).
But that oft-cited example ignores a second character in Girls, Hannah’s roommate Marnie, who is just as emblematic of twenty-something women. Marnie is the girl who finds herself in a serious relationship with a nice, good-looking guy who adores her — and she’s bored out of her mind. She’s found the supposed holy grail of New York men and rejects it for the opportunity to use her twenties on something a little more casual, a little more exciting. It’s the much maligned hookup culture that affords her that opportunity.
The point is this: Hannah Hovarth could find a serious relationship if she wanted one by simply ceasing to engage with the hookup buddy who so clearly doesn’t want commitment, and signing up for an online dating site. And Marnie, who had commitment, who had stability and affection and available sex, rejected it.
We millennial women aren’t victims of hookup culture; we’re complicit in it. When we hook up with guys on their shitty futons after a night of Six Points and dumplings, only to never see them again, it’s not because we feel like it’s the only crumb of romance available to us–it’s because we want sex after our beer and dumplings, too. The hookup culture isn’t some sphere that we got trapped in because twenty-something guys and technology made it so. We, too, are opting for more freedom, more variety of experience, more sex in our twenties. It’s our hookup culture, too.
The Times article cites this example from one twentysomething urbanite as an example of our generation’s dating dysfunction:
“After an evening when she exchanged flirtatious glances with a bouncer at a Williamsburg nightclub, the bouncer invited her and her friends back to his apartment for whiskey and boxed macaroni and cheese.”
Call me crazy (or simply too millennial), but it sounds like Lindsay had a fun night, the type of evening she’ll fondly recall when she’s looking back on her youth in New York City. Which is not to say Lindsay (or anyone else) would mistake this experience for romance. But just because it’s not romantic doesn’t mean it’s a lesser experience. In a millennial dating life, there’s room for both.
Of course, if your goal is more than these types of laissez-faire experiences, but rather a serious, meaningful connection with someone who wants a long-term relationship, the solution is clear: Don’t go home with the bouncer who lures you with boxed macaroni and cheese.
It’s a nuance that millennials understand, and people watching millenials date often don’t: we GET the difference between a hookup and a date. And, for the most part, we don’t confuse the two.
Sure, sometimes the lines get blurry: sometimes we end up falling for someone who simply doesn’t want what we want, and when that happens it’s enough to send us into a Hovarth-like tailspin of angst and self-doubt. But for the most part, we can tell from the beginning if something is leading to a relationship or if something is leading to a hookup. When we get to the point of being serious about wanting a boyfriend, millennials do fall back on traditional courtship methods. Dinner dates. Exclusivity. Romance. And, to a certain extent, online dating: I wouldn’t have a job if enough people weren’t serious enough about seeking a relationship to need a website in order to efficiently do so.
Yes, dating can be frustrating and technology/the economy/those kids these days sometimes complicate matters. But in terms of courtship and our ability to go after the relationships we want, the older generations don’t have to worry: millennials are doing just fine.