Monday, June 21, 2010

Thoughts on "Hookup Culture"

Many articles have been written about Hookup Culture. Like many written-about things, most people who feel the articles refer to their own culture will tell you that the new buzzword is all stupid hype- that it's not a real thing.

But nothing with the word "culture" in the title is a "real thing" because no cultural phenomenon is really tangible. "Hookup Culture," like "Infomania" or "Boy Crisis" is an attempt to describe something that was not directly created and has no quantifiable measurement.

I taught myself a lesson after college. I taught it to myself with the thought that I would use it when I further pursued an expensive degree in cultural studies, and I thought that it would make me one of the greatest theoreticians of all time (before I realized that just about anyone feels like the greatest theoretician of all time at some time or another, and that study often distracts you from applying your analytical skills to your own life). 

The lesson is this: When you analyze a topic, don't ask why it exists. Ask what functions it serves.

So that's what I'm asking now. What are the functions of Hookup Culture?

These are the functions that I can think of. Please feel free to add more and to argue these.

- makes the desire for sexual adventure more palatable to those who may otherwise be squeamish about it

- uses a clinical term to distract from emotions that may occur during a sexual situation

- replaces the older phrase "sexual conquest" and other dominant/submissive terminology in narcissistic discussions of sexual encounters - lightens the sense of narcissism

- takes constant desire for attention from the opposite sex - eg "mommy issues" and "daddy issues" - and repackages it as a desirable commodity

- lets women know that they shouldn't feel lonely after sex with someone they don't know

- takes men's potential loneliness after sex with someone they don't know and buries it even deeper into the ground 

- responds to a world that is threatened by overpopulation and rampant spread of STD's by further mystifying the details of sexual arrangements, making all contemporary sexuality much easier to swallow

- speeds up the process of getting to know a person - is very useful to those who do not have enough free time to go on dates and confusing to those who do - lends an air of urgency and decisiveness to any sexual encounter

What does Hookup Culture mean to you? What functions do you think it serves?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Is 26 the new 22 for guys?"


After you have read my blog, you no doubt have several thoughts on the neurosis that plague me. :) But since you did recommend that I write to you, I figured- "what the hell?" I am going to copy and paste part of an unpublished blog I didn't feel quite right for my blog, but perhaps it will work for yours.

Is 26 the new 22 for guys?
I remember when I was 21 and 22 and I thought- just five more years and the boys with have grown I am older, supposedly wiser, and still disappointed. Like all of my 5 year plans, it never actually counts down...its it still 5 years away. I am now convinced that a man must be older than 30 to be mature enough to date, enter into a relationship willingly, and stay in that relationship in a healthy way.

Mr. Ball-less (the very recent ex) has commitment issues and isn't ready for a GIRLFRIEND. I wasn't asking him to Wife Me....just introduce me as his girlfriend and maybe let me meet his friends. I wasn't asking for the world here- just a common courtesy. We decided months ago to be exclusive...and he told me he loved me...and I believed him...but he just couldn't have a "label." 26 years old and afraid of the big "GF."

I believed a lot of things he said... again, when he said he LOVES me and that he would never let me leave him because he would stand in my front yard with a boombox above his head everyday until I took him back. I believed him when he told my brother, "Dude, you never have to worry about killing me for hurting your sister because if I ever hurt this girl- I will kill myself." I believed that he told his coworkers that he has never had more fun with anyone in his entire life than me. I believed him when he told me that I am the coolest girl he has ever met in his life AND that everytime he thinks of me he "gets a half chub" (that was a bit drunken, and crass...which is why we were so perfect) I believed him when he said that there is no one in the world he would rather be with than me and that being "with" me is the best thing he has ever experienced in his life...

Now, I keep hearing all these stories about guys who realize their mistake and come back...and as optimistic as that sounds- I don't believe them? He will still be a schizophrenic 26 year old with commitment issues. I believe he will miss me- fucking DUH! I was the most fun person he has ever been with and the coolest girl he has ever dated (just quoting him here...not tooting my own horn...much). But will he realize that he fucked up and try to make it better?

So what do YOU think? What are the odds of the Return of the Prodigal Son?

Mademoiselle Haute Mess
from (yep- you plugged yours, so i'll plug mine! *wink*)

Dear Mademoiselle Haute Mess,

Your description of your situation is very evocative and I can tell that it began as a blog post, and I thank you for sharing it.

In full disclosure, when I began writing this response, I had just gotten out of a relationship less than 48 hours before. The way it ended resembled the end you described, but with myself in your position. I will do my best to use my experience for your benefit and not forget that the point of this post is to help you, not to just air my own story.

The problem of 22-year-old 26-year-olds is not as uncommon as you might think. Because of how often our pop culture feeds us the idea that men are "immature" and "commitment-phobic" by nature, it is tempting to chalk this situation up to the inane platitude of "That's just how men are."

Nearly any generalization about the sexes covers up an innate fear that most of us seem to have these days: the fear of the vast unknown that lies inside every individual.

My ex-girlfriend told me that she could not get over the fact that she missed out on her teens and early twenties due to consistently having boyfriends from the age of 15 and being in one long relationship from 19 to 24. She wanted freedom. I'd experienced that freedom before in a way that she had not. If it were as unfamiliar to me, I would probably crave it as well. I still don't know if we have an innate craving for that freedom or if we just want it because our culture constantly markets singlehood to us, but we all do desire it at some point.

The topic of freedom is a very interesting one. The question of "What does freedom mean to this person?" tends to lead to some of the best answers you can find in life. It applies to love, sex, politics, business... like I said, life.

I went on a bit of a tangent there. My point was this: many people would take a look at my ex and say, "She has issues." But many people would take a look at your ex and say, "He's just a guy." But he has issues. He clearly does.

Some people say "commitment issues," or "intimacy issues," but I like to call them Freedom Issues.

I feel like the best I can do here is help you see how this guy did what he did because he's a complicated mess- not just because he has a penis.

I can think of three primary things that give a man Freedom Issues.

1) He's burnt out on being associated with another person. He dislikes introducing someone as his girlfriend because it makes him think of his own history of being introduced as someone's son, someone's brother, some bigger kid's sidekick... and so on. In life, it's been hard for him to feel that he's standing on his own. He's comfortable being attached to another human being because it is familiar. But it hurts him, too. To him, freedom means not being associated with another human being.

I really don't know how common this is, but I know a few people who have this issue and I suspect that it is not uncommon.

2) He was popular with women very early in life. Maybe he was one of the first boys in his class to grow muscles and lose his baby fat back in middle school, and he only got more popular when he joined the football team in high school. He experienced that thrill of popularity that seems to be strongest during youth. No matter how successful he is now, life still hasn't lived up to the excitement he felt during his early peak.

Think of how much popularity meant between the ages of 12 and 17 (roughly). When you're not the person everybody wants to fuck, you think to yourself, "Isn't there more to life than being the person everybody wants to fuck?" But when you are the person everybody wants to fuck, there is little reason for you to look at the situation critically. Some do realize that there is more to life than the currency of popularity despite being popular themselves, but some become so used to it that they value themselves with that same currency long after it ceases to matter in the eyes of most people.

This manchild is perhaps the most commonly-known type of manchild out there. Sometimes I think that it is because our culture considers these men "normal" that we are left with the cliched idea that men "don't grow up" and "can't commit" and "can't keep their dicks in their pants."

Imagine a woman spending her twenties and thirties trying to relive the days when she was 16 and everybody wanted to fuck her. Many people would call her a slut who was out-of-touch with reality. Many people would notice that she was desperately clinging to something of questionable value. Apply that same reasoning to a man and... voila! Now you have reality.

3) He was unsuccessful with women into his teens and perhaps even well into his twenties. He is one of the Tiger Woodses of the world. He is the opposite of #2. While the #2's were banging the girl #3 had a misguided crush on, #2 resigned to the fact that he'd never be an alpha male. Chances are, he finally did manage to get a girlfriend - probably one who began as a close friend he had a long-term crush on- some time in his teens and it was a big deal to him. It was an even bigger deal to him when they split up, because he realized he was ill-equipped to meet more women. Perhaps he continued like this even into his early twenties.

Then, one day, he made a discovery that men often make: it's not actually that hard to attract women! Sometimes, if you don't say anything incredibly pathetic or stupid, they might actually - surprise! - make a move on you! This guy is conflicted: he's identified himself as a Lloyd Dobbler for most of his post-pubescent life, but now he's made the discovery that, to reach girls who are in their mid-twenties, you don't have to call their fathers and ask permission to take them to a dance, and that sometimes they actually like it when you chill the fuck out and don't play them Peter Gabriel outside in the rain.

This guy has an urge to make up for all the years he lost. He thinks of the #2's of the world and, even though for years he has believed that he is a better man than they, he secretly (or not so secretly) wants to feel like one of them.

He's had a girlfriend before. He hasn't had options before. Having options is new and its novelty has not worn off.

Is 26 the new 22? For some of these guys, it is.

Considering their sensitivity and intelligence, you might expect that men in the #3 category would have discovered their own ability to attract women in college, but that is often not the case.

You might think that, once released from high school, they became free of their high school baggage. But no. When many of these guys encountered the freedom of college, they chose social circles and subjects of study that supported their older ways of thinking. They fail to see that the brooding cave they into which they retreated as teens was just as much of a prison as the stifling high school social scene. For these guys, it was not until after college that they ever learned how to function outside of their cocoons. In this case, 26 resembles 22 on account of arrested development.

Your ex-guy, despite being a headache, sounds like a pretty romantic person, and here's one thing that's common to nearly all romantic people: they scare themselves. It is very likely that, when he said "I love you," he actually scared himself, and that caused him to back off.

Sometimes, early into a relationship, a man realizes that he wants to hold on to a woman and then subsequently realizes that they are not officially together. He panics as he realizes that she has no major reason not to sleep with another guy. Sometimes, he just says, "I really like you," and leaves it at that. But sometimes, he says, "I love you," or "I'll never leave you."

If these romantic/possessive declarations do not freak out the woman and she complies, then this immediately guarantees him the security he craves. It often freaks him out later, however, as he realizes the commitment that he got himself into.

I hate to use a shallow and reductive metaphor like this, but it makes some sense in this situation: Sometimes, saying "I love you," is like making an impulse buy. Sometimes, men see George Foreman Grills at Home Depot and think, "Damn! I don't have that!" and then they immediately buy it. Then they take it home and realize that they don't have the energy to put it together, and will have to do some work to clear out the patio, so they abandon it for a while.

What freaks guys out about commitment is sometimes just the fact that they no longer have the freedom to get with other girls, but sometimes it's also little things. Like the fact that they will have to increase their level of thoughtfulness and attentiveness. That they might, for instance, find themselves helping a girl build a closet, and that merely buying her candy or flowers won't cut it any more.

Re: Will this guy come back? Whether or not this guy wants to come back right now is not important. What is important is the best way for you to handle the breakup.

Sometimes, the best way to handle a breakup where you were on the losing end is not to merely tell yourself to give up and forget about it, but to actually tell yourself that you can get them back.

If you wonder to yourself "Does he want me back?" the worst that can happen is that you'll start to believe that he does want you back without seeing any true evidence of it, you'll wait for him, and then he won't come back. That would suck.

If you constantly tell yourself, "Get over him, get over him, get over him," the worst that can happen is that, in the midst of all the trying to get over him, you'll hold in emotions that may have been used in a more productive way. That would suck, too.

But if you get over him with the intention of using your newfound confidence to get him back, the worst that can happen is that you won't get him back and, this time around, it won't hurt you the way it did when he broke up with you.

We've all got our own ways of getting over people. Jumping into another relationship ASAP is not one of them. Forcing yourself to hate the person who hurt you is not one of them. Meeting new people is good.

Doing the things that comfort you when you're alone is good, but be very, very conscious of how much time you spend alone (when you're alone, confidence can turn into heartbreak pretty quickly).

Spend a lot of time around your friends, but be careful around friends who, in giving you advice, will attempt to use your situation to toot their own horns. Don't spend too much time around the friends who say, "Oh, you must be so hurt... Don't go out tonight, stay with me and cry!" and don't spend too much time around the friends who say, "Guys all suck, forget about it, be single with me forever," either. Stick with the friends who help you harness your sadness in a way that genuinely strengthens your friendship.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"I can't help but think that guys are so simple - that maybe we are just creating this complex analysis to make her feel better and what the truth really is is that he is just being an asshole and didn't want to give up partying to be with her."

Okay I am in need of some advice. So I am having to take care of my best friend who just got dumped by her boyfriend. They started dating two months ago and everything was going perfectly until he wouldn't quit smoking pot (which - at the beginning of the relationship she told him was a deal breaker and he told her that he wanted to quit because she was more important to him than pot. She never asked him to change, but she did warn him up front that she didn't like it). They got into a huge fight and he broke it off with her. Well really he told her they were on a break - but has taken their relationship off facebook and completely quit talking to her.

So here is my question: She is obviously distraught as they both fell for each other quickly (I love you's were thrown around prematurely if you ask me). He just graduated from college and is having to find a "real job" and is having a hard time with transitioning from the party lifestyle of a college student to a more grown up life style. Her and I both think that he broke things off with her because, although he was attracted to her and liked the idea of her, when the reality set in - he couldn't handle it. And instead of continuing to hurt her - he just decided to end things. Are we looking to much into it? I can't help but think that guys are so simple - that maybe we are just creating this complex analysis to make her feel better and what the truth really is is that he is just being an asshole and didn't want to give up partying to be with her. What do you think?

-My Friend's Got Issues

For the record, I made up that moniker, as the writer didn't supply one. I know I could have done better but MFGI will suffice.

This message is divided into two somewhat separate parts.

1) The Relationship

In short, your friend should move on.

I think that your friend knows that... but that's not what she needs to hear.

Many of us - or many Americans, at least - hold the misconception that blunt is *always* good and is always what the person in need of help needs to hear. It's not true. On account of the overpresence of bluntness in our culture, many other Americans tend to hate bluntness so much that they retreat into the realm of Maybe, I guess.

I suspect that what your friend needs to hear is neither the negative and blunt Get over him, nor the vague and passive Wait it out and see where his heart takes him, but something more.
Here's what I think of this guy. I don't think he's an asshole. I think that he's confused and complicated. I think that he can change and all that. But I'm not sure that it would be worth it. If your friend truly wanted to remake and remodel him, she should be grateful that she got an easy exit out of what might have been a long-term but painful relationship that exhausted her mind and soul.

I'm going to repeat/rephrase something that I said in there because I think it's pretty key. They say that people can't change, but they actually can. The problem isn't that they don't change; it's that changing them is usually too hard for it to be worth it.

Think of training a pet. Yes, I know it seems wrong to compare a person to a pet, but it's actually not that inaccurate. To change Sparky, you have to behave in many counterintuitive and exhausting ways. You have to refrain from petting him when he's not performing acts of obedience. You have to click the crazy clicker thing every time you give him food and then eventually phase out the crazy clicker thing if you ever want to get across the message that, Yes, Sparky, you will be fed, just not at the dinner table, so stop putting your head on my lap.

And so on. Changing a person is like that, but harder, since people have a much greater range of thoughts and emotions than dogs do. If she wants to change a person, she should come to terms with how difficult it is, and I don't know if she has.

I get the impression that your friend does not really want to think of the relationship as finished. It's hard to do that. And you can't force it.

I can think of a relationship I was in that was similar to the one your friend was in. It was similar because it too ended with a tentative This is too much for my poor little self to handle, I need a break, rather than an assertive This is not working.

The way I handled that situation was that I thought to myself, I need to do something cool and independent with my life so that the next time she sees me, she'll want to come back.

Because, as many people will tell you, an ex will probably not want to get back with you if they sense that you've been thinking about them for the entire time that you've been apart.

So I got back into some old hobbies and started a new one and met other girls. I saw my ex again and tried to get back with her and she rejected me. But at this point I didn't care. My genuine attempts to make her feel like I was a catch who she'd want to get back with did not make *her* feel that way, but they did make *me* feel that way, and I did end up getting over the hurt in the process.

So basically, I'd encourage your friend to invest in herself, to think of how much she has to offer to men, to see other men, and other things of the sort. I'd tell her that in her process of "getting over" her current tentative boyfriend, she'll actually *increase* her chances of getting back with him at the same time that she increases her options in life (as well as her ability to enjoy those options).

2) Marijuana

I have this to say about weed: to tell someone to stop smoking weed is comparable to telling someone who is not an alcoholic to stop drinking. Weed is a misunderstood drug. Telling someone to stop smoking it is not the same as telling someone to stop doing cocaine or stop smoking cigarettes. Cocaine and cigarettes are genuinely addictive and thus are things that most good people would actually like to stop doing.

Good people feel empowered when they overcome physical addictions. But weed, as is the case with alcohol for non-alcoholics, is not physically addictive and is the kind of thing that most people do more casually. To completely abstain from participating in a hobby that many people enjoy in moderation does not feel empowering as much as it just feels uncomfortable.

On the subject of addiction, I'll say this: In the case of physical addiction, the addiction *is* the problem. In the case of psychological addiction, the addiction *masks* the problem. If a person is addicted to weed, they are addicted psychologically, which means that the drug is not the problem. If your friend's boy has that serious of a problem, then refraining completely from smoking weed won't even solve it.

I smoke weed but I am far from addicted. Sometimes I smoke several times a week. More frequently, I will go for weeks or even months without smoking it. If all the weed in the world disappeared, I'd be very disappointed, but I'd survive, and eventually I'd stop missing it. But if someone told me never to use it, it would be like telling me never to use facebook. I use facebook way more than I smoke weed, and, while I don't smoke too much weed, I do use facebook too much. When I go for a long time without using facebook, it's refreshing. But if a girlfriend told me to stop doing it, it wouldn't feel right. Every time I saw somebody else using facebook, I'd feel a strange sense that my personal life was being invaded as I thought of the person to whom I promised I wouldn't use that pesky social networking site.

In the end, I think that your friend's heart can be mended by doing the same things that would increase her chances of getting back together with this boy- ie taking care of herself and not patiently waiting for him to come back.


Telling someone you like to smoke less weed= good idea

Telling someone you like to quit smoking weed completely = not so good idea

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Since the last post, two things have changed.

Since last post, two things have changed.

1) I have a girlfriend.

2) I have received no new letters.

Both of those things have contributed to me updating this less.

Number Two makes a difference for obvious reasons. Number One has just made me think a little differently.

I'll put it this way: I went from thinking, "I'm good at this," to, "I'm actually clueless," to realizing that just because I'm not excellent at relationships doesn't mean I have no good advice to offer others.

For much of my life, I've been able to come up with the right things to say - not just the most comforting things, but the things that challenge people in the right ways - to many people with more experience than myself. I haven't changed too much- it's just that I'm now discovering more than ever how incongruous a person's ability to give helpful (I'm attempting to eliminate the phrase "good advice" from the English lexicon. I don't believe that advice has inherent value. Only varying degrees of helpfulness.) advice can be with their ability to take good care of themselves.

That incongruity used to floor me. When confronted with it, it used to make me think one of two things, depending on the situation:

1) I'm an idiot and my opinions are worthless! 

2) Since I'm smart, if things don't work out the way I thought they would, it must be the other person's fault!

Both are wrong. But like most wrong things, they are very easy to believe.

I guess what I believe now is this:

1) Most advice is worth listening to, but only about 15% of what most people will tell us will be helpful to our unique situations, and if all of us, both when we're in the advice-giving role and in the being-advised role, accept that, then we will probably learn a whole lot.

2) Being clumsy in a relationship doesn't disqualify a person from giving advice to anyone else. If that were the case, most psychiatrists would probably get fired.