"You’re the anti-hookup culture girl, right?”
For a month or so last year, my frat party conversations were dominated by a popular opinion column I wrote last Valentine’s Day. “Is finding Mr. Right at Penn all wrong?” cited concerns about the prolific hookup culture at Penn. A year’s worth of insight later, I have come to realize that the problem is much deeper and more complicated than meat market style casual sex. Our generation is missing genuine, serious connections. While this problem is not limited to Penn students, it is often exacerbated by our competitive and transactional culture. Rather than causing our lack of substantive and long-term relationships, hookup culture is a symptom of a larger problem.
If one thing can be said of our generation, it is that we are exceedingly casual. Jeans are considered fancy, we replace virtually every phrase with abbreviation or slang (lol such a slay), and we consider handshakes to be an outdated ceremonial procedure (dap me up). It’s safe to say that this shift has affected the way we approach relationships as well. With dwindling attention spans and increasingly self-centered and present-focused outlooks, most of our connections have become superficial, short-lived, and dangerously transactional.
As the first generation coming of age with social media and extreme oversaturation of technology, this stripped-back and instant gratification oriented culture is unsurprising. Dating apps from Tinder to Bumble and even Hinge have capitalized directly on this. Over 74% of millennials and Gen Zers use dating apps, spending approximately 2 hours a week swiping. With the limited access to information and intimacy on dating apps, they lend themselves to the unique phenomena of the modern age: catfishing, ghosting, and the like. People are able to start and end entire interpersonal romantic relationships without having to ever confront their partner face to face. The days of love where you’re “screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain,” to quote Taylor Swift, seem to be fading.
Dating via social media is not only superficial due to a scarcity of information, but also from the lack of commitment that it encourages. A University of Texas study found that people were more willing to make their relationships work when they didn’t have alternatives, therefore indicating that when a perceived better offer is available, people are more likely to abandon their current partner. Psychologists have applied this to dating apps — making the number of optional partners virtually limitless has exacerbated the commitment issues imposed by the “or better offer” phenomenon.
In theory, this unlimited number of potential partners should make it better for people to find their soulmates — that is the philosophy behind dating apps after all. However, the opposite seems to be true. 75% of Gen Z is single and our close generational peers, millennials, are getting married at lower rates than any generation before them. This is accompanied by an increase in shorter ‘on-again, off-again’ relationships, as well as the notoriously common situationship (a staple at Penn). While these types of relationships often guarantee less time investment, a lower perceived risk of being hurt, and the availability of alternative options, they more often than not strip people of the opportunity to develop substantive connections. Without emotional investment and commitment, ‘relationships’ become transactional: vehicles for sex and instant gratification until the next best thing comes along.
This issue isn’t limited to our romantic relationships either. Despite our greater desire for mentorship than previous generations, Gen Z is wanting for mentors. This is unsurprising when I think of my peers at Penn. When I cite the close relationship I have with one of my professors, I am struck that the first reaction from my peers is, “wow, they are going to write a great recommendation letter!” Rather than developing deep connections with those from whom we have so much to learn, our self-centered, superficial, and casual generation perceives our interactions as first and foremost transactional.
Relationships of convenience often characterize our friendships as well. It is a regular occurrence to hear complaints of social climbing, lack of substance, “sceney” behavior, and general social superficiality at Penn. While I have been lucky enough to meet some of the best and most supportive friends of my life, these accusations are not unfounded. Everyone has experienced it in some capacity or another, and millennials and Gen Z have been broadly accused of less empathy than our predecessors.
The recent “Sex Survey” from The Daily Pennsylvanian shows just how much this is affecting our sexual activity as well. A third of students do not feel satisfied with their sex lives, with many citing hookup culture and an absence of “sustained romantic connections” as reasons for their dissatisfaction, proving how our mentality about relationships is clearly flawed. Further, the survey asked about “best sex stories” and quantity of partners, rather than anything about preference for sex in committed relationships or romantic history, and this is indicative of our continued glorification of casual and often transactional sex.
The reality is, despite being the most sexually fluid generation, a status that is colloquially regarded as empowering or progressive, we are struggling greatly with intimacy. Until we begin to develop deeper, more substantive bonds with the people in our lives, romantic interests or otherwise, we will continue to lack vulnerability, intimacy, trust and, ultimately, love. So, unless you want to receive candy conversation hearts that say “Let’s Be Casual,” we need to rethink how we approach relationships.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Conn. Her email is email@example.com.