The “Thing” About Hookup Culture


According to the Oxford Dictionary, a definition of “thing” is “an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to.” It’s a simple and logical definition for such an ambiguous word, right? Essentially, a “thing” is something one simply cannot find a name for. Seems harmless enough. Now think of it this way: A “thing,” noun, is a relationship that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to. This definition, again, is both simple and completely logical. This word, once harmless, has become toxic and confusing, yet we constantly and voluntarily use it.

“Thing” isn’t the only word associated with this definition, though. Some others include “hanging out,” “talking,” “going on a walk,” “Snapping,” and more. All these words and phrases are immensely ambiguous. They have no meaning until we give them meaning in the realm of relationships and hooking up; even then, the mentioning of these words is still vague enough to suggest only that two people are involved. The individuals who are actively in the “relationship” don’t even know what their own engagement entails. Is it exclusive? Is it continuous? Is there a future? These questions are often not answered or addressed by “couples” (and I use that word lightly) until a while after they’ve been involved in a “thing.”

Not just as Milton students, but we, as GenZ, are petrified of commitment. According to the American Psychological Association, the age that people marry and have children has drastically increased. The words “dating,” “boyfriend,” and “girlfriend” are employed significantly less than they were for our parents’ generation because we are dating significantly less. We would rather be in “things” than in meaningful relationships. We would rather “go on a walk” than on a date to the movies. We would rather “Snap” than talk in person at school.

Due to the lack of communication and definition in relationships, anyone involved in hookup culture is susceptible to the degrading of their mental health. The American Psychological Association also states that, “both men and women who had ever engaged in an uncommitted sexual encounter had lower overall self-esteem scores compared with those without uncommitted sexual experiences.” When we involve ourselves in hookup culture, especially at Milton, it’s hard for us to avoid “uncommitted sexual encounters” as that is how most relationships begin. You start by “Snapping” then you “go on a walk” then you continue “talking” and “hanging out” until you are lucky enough to reach the level of finally defining the relationship as dating. These encounters may not be “uncommitted” per se, but the commitment behind them is undefined. It can take a toll on anyone’s self-confidence and stability not knowing whether you are playing the same game as your partner or how your partner feels about you.

At Milton, we love to communicate with our “significant others” through handlers. You want to know if your partner wants to be exclusive? Why ask them yourself when you can have a friend ask their friend who is friends with the person you’re “with”? It’s so much easier that way! Why doesn’t everyone do that? The use of handlers takes even more of a toll on the mental health of individuals involved in the hookup scene because they eliminate the emotional engagement behind communicating directly with a significant other. Hearing your partner’s expectations in your relationship from someone else makes the sentiment, or lack thereof, impersonal and stale.

Involving yourself in hookup culture is a choice, but it is crucial to be aware of the harsh realities of how Milton and our generation as a whole have transformed hookup culture. When you are intentional and wise about your actions within the hookup scene, you can tailor your experience to cater to your own desires. According to another study by Psychology Today where 23 college freshmen were interviewed about their experience with hookup culture, many of the students were satisfied with their experience. Some had been in relationships and fallen in love, while others enjoyed the casual Tinder hookup, but they had all been satisfied with the way they had chosen to approach and take advantage of the hookup scene. The only unavoidable aspect, in my eyes, is the ambiguous labels which we assign to developing relationships.

By increasing communication within relationships, eliminating handlers, and clarifying the language behind these labels through changing the terminology we use to refer to new relationships, we can make hookup culture more personalized, accessible, and empowering for our whole student body.

Milton Paper