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April 20, 2009

Giving Up on Hooking Up

Women have come to famously mark the start of a relationship—whether it moves beyond that or not—with a sexual act—a "hook-up."

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Photo Credit: Simon McConico/istock

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Ask someone if they know anyone who's given up on hooking up and they'll say, "what do you mean?!"

As a generation of 20-somethings (some in their teens and 30s...), we've come to famously mark the start of a relationship—whether it moves beyond that or not—with a sexual act—a "hook-up." Sometimes that means actual sex, but everyone's definition is different ("I define hooking up as beyond kissing. Usually some nudity and general "handsy-ness is involved." said Lisa Lenner, a 25-year-old, LA-based entertainment assistant).

But within the dominant sexually-casual culture of "generation me" is a group of people who said, "sure—me—I've given up on hooking up."

They're easier to find than you'd think and, maybe not surprisingly, their reasons for saying "no" are far clearer than most people's reasons for saying "yes." They used to hook up—some of them chronically - but now they've decided they want out of the game. They forfeit but in their opinion, they win.

Here are three of their stories.

"I feel a little weird saying this, but I was starting to get concerned about the number of partners I was racking up."

Kerry Bishop* is a 26-year-old marketing associate living and working in Chicago. After a serious, two-year relationship she was ready to re-enter the dating scene. "You know how some people with strict parents go crazy when they finally have the freedom of college?" she said, "Well, I followed a similar trend."

Bishop felt she'd missed out on the college dating and hook-up scene. "I mostly looked at any hookups as fun experiences and a way to feel good and have close human contact without any commitment," she said.

But after a year back in the ring, Bishop realized what she really wanted was another committed relationship. That's when the discomfort over the number of partners she was "racking up" set in. She decided that if a relationship was her goal then she needed a better system for choosing whom she'd engage with on a physical level.

"I now have instituted a 3-week rule," she explained. "After meeting a guy, I wait 3 weeks before I will hookup with him. This way I have time to evaluate how many times I see him or how many times he calls me to figure out what his feelings toward me are. I can also judge my own feelings so I don't act impulsively."

Since establishing this rule Bishop has hooked up with considerably less guys. Nothing has turned into a long-term relationship quite yet, but she reports that it has yielded far more second, third, and fourth dates than casually hooking up ever produced. Says Bishop; "I'd say I feel perfectly satisfied with my decision. That's not to say that at the time that I was casually hooking up I wasn't also 'satisfied.' I think it's a matter of shifting interests, wants, and needs."

For Bishop the decision to stop casually hooking up was directly related to her choice to start seeking a committed relationship. Hers is a common revelation—that hooking up isn't "working"—it isn't helping discern what's real a connection and what's just physical.

"Basically, my feeling is that I am protective of my sexual health."

In the dozens of people interviewed for this piece Claire Chase was the only person to mention her health and safety. "Strangers freak me out," the 25-year-old television exec's assistant said. "Even when I've really wanted someone in the usually drunken moment, I start to think about stranger danger."

To Chase the risk isn't worth the reward. In fact, as she explains, echoing Bishop's thoughts, the risk sometimes makes the reward—for her that's being in a relationship.

"I think hooking up early adds weight to a potential relationship," she said. "You want it to be more and mean more because you gave it up, and now that you've done it you might as well do it again so it's easier to be strung along because it's physical from the start, not necessarily emotional."

Considering the risk of STDs, even with protected interactions, and the overall safety issues involved in going home with someone who's essentially a stranger Chase found herself saying, "what is it worth?"

Chase is looking at hooking up from an ends means perspective. The means—that hook up—don't justify her desired ends. This of course requires that she have specific "ends" in mind—in that way she's like almost every person interviewed. She is looking to be in a relationship. And in her opinion, hooking up too quickly is a divergence from that goal.

"Women are more interested in a guy that can control his hormones than someone who is hooking up every weekend."

Brian Andrews is a straight, 28-year-old male working as a marketing executive at a mobile technology company in Manhattan. He is the flying unicorn of the dating world—a well educated, confident male with a few solid relationships in his past now dating regularly in an effort to find someone who might be the last one.

For Andrews, the decision to not hook up has very little to do with him. The way he sees it, it's about her.

"I genuinely try to avoid hooking up with anyone I don't see at a potential relationship with. I think most women would see it as a sign that I'm interested in them for a relationship, so I don't want to send the wrong signal." He assessed the landscape and as any successful marketing executive would, Andrews found his point of differentiation with his target market—it's not expecting or making sharp moves to hook up. Women love it.

"The other reason I'm proud of not hooking up so easily," he explains, "is because when I finally do meet the woman I'll spend the rest of my life with, I don't want her to have to think about me with a dozen other women. I don't want to think of her with a dozen other guys, so you could say it falls into to the 'do unto others...' category. Although there really isn't anything religious about my decision on this. I think it has more to do with basic respect than anything." Does it take a lot of self-control and a working knowledge of how many is too many beers? Yes. Andrews doesn't claim to be a saint.

Ultimately his answers to the question 'why did you give up hooking up' is another question -- "How interested would you be in a guy that you know hooks up every time he walks into the bar?" he asked, "How would that make you feel the day after you hooked up?"

Male, female, gay, straight, in a relationship or single—everyone wants to talk this issue through. Can one find true love in the hook-up hiatus? Tell us your take on the issue by commenting on this story below.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.

Read more from Jessie Rosen at 20-Nothings.com


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