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RIPLEY: A matter of taste

Hooking up, like all romantic arrangements, can be messy — but liberating

He had his hands on my hips as he led me upstairs, a trek I had taken already half a dozen times. He locked the door to his room behind him as he closed the door. He kissed me — a kiss that was starting to feel familiar. And in the moment right before I expected him to reach for the top button on my shirt, he stopped abruptly and said,

“Doll, we’re clear right? It’s just casual sex.”

It was the verbal summary of all the non-verbal communication that had taken place in the month since we’d met — the cheap drinks at night, the hasty exits in the mornings, the fact that he never texted earlier than 10 p.m. One thing was for sure: nobody was fooling anyone. And I kept coming back.

Forgive me for using such a personal example, but there is a point to it, I assure you. It has been argued that hook-up culture creates communication issues between people, that the inability to distinguish between the prospects of a relationship and the prospects of a casual sex partner leave us frustrated, defeated and broken.

But my story was a lesson that communication does not have to be absent in a casual sexual relationship. All the important signals were there, starting at the beginning: I went to a frat house, drank bourbon-Pepsis and played kings. I flirted. And then I bounded upstairs with a charming and charismatic boy that had been a stranger only hours before. I’m not ashamed of it. And I knew from the beginning that such a venue did not warrant an expectation for any further interactions, even though there were more than a few.

I’m not saying that my experience holds true for everyone. Open and direct conversation can certainly be lacking, but that is a separate issue, independent of the so-called “hook-up culture.” The shortcomings in the communication skills of our peers comes from the replacement of personal interaction with electronic media and also from the fact that, simply, it is sometimes hard to say what you mean and mean what you say.

To say that more traditional methods of dating are straightforward and cut-and-dry oversimplifies the nature of human relations. There are plenty of people that still try to follow the more “old-school” path — go out for coffee first, sit down and have a conversation, send a text at the end of the week to see what’s going on — but there is still the potential for many questions to be left unanswered. Sometimes there just isn’t any chemistry; we find that a person isn’t quite what we saw in our first impression, and we are unsure of what to say to end something that hasn’t completely started. So sometimes, we just don’t say anything at all.

My story was also a lesson that even when the communication seems perfectly clear in the beginning, minds and hearts can be changed. Even in a world where casual sex is commonplace, we have not lost the ability — despite our best defenses — to fall in love. I knew not by what force it happened, but when I finally told him I was moving on, he said, “I don’t want to lose you,” and proceeded to try to convince me to carry on a long-distance relationship with him when he went to grad school in Indiana.

I didn’t go for it.

Some of us want to settle in for the long run; some want to slake our desires without getting tied down. And some of us don’t know for certain what we want, and in the process of figuring it out, there are disappointments. We all suffer from the capriciousness of the human heart, no matter what kind of value or stigma our society places on sex. But at least, in the midst of the so-called “hookup culture,” we have the freedom to satisfy our hearts in whatever ways we choose — whether it is pursuing a relationship or pursuing physical satisfaction while remaining duly committed to no one but ourselves.

Historically, men have always had the luxury of either taking a wife or taking what they want from a woman and leaving, and they have been able to get away with it. But now the playing field is leveling. Women have just as much right to pursue sex for pleasure as men do. But in order to take full advantage of this freedom with the maximum amount of reward, we all must be honest about our trajectories and our goals. We must be conscious of the non-verbal signals we receive and aware of the contexts we are in. And above all, if we want to be free from having to justify the choices we make, we must respect the choices of others.