In an article published in The Phillipian last week, Caroline Lu presented a culture that we are all too familiar with: “it is socially acceptable at Andover for people to become physically intimate before developing an emotional connection. It is normal for people to ‘hook up’ and then not acknowledge each other the next day,” wrote Lu.
She described how girls at times feel “objectified or degraded,” suggesting that boys have the upperhand when it comes to relationships. We commend Caroline for her bravery and willingness to bring such an issue to the public forum. Her call for students to be “honest [and] ceas[e] to accept treatment from others that is anything less than what [they] deserve” is one we should all take to heart.
Caroline asks for students to “heighten the level of respect we have for one another [and] ourselves.” Self-respect is about being happy with ourselves, independent of other’s opinions, praise or insults. We should not perpetuate a culture that allows students to feel degraded, nor should we feel the need to define relationships by outside pressures or norms. Instead, we should focus on personal standards that allow us to feel confident and comfortable.
Let us be clear. Hooking up is not bad; we are not condemning casual intimacy and advocating for monogamy or abstinence. Hooking up can even be healthy—it is natural to explore as we mature and it can fit our fast-paced lives. For some students, hook-ups with no strings attached is the kind of intimacy they want, actively choose and are happy with.
The problem with hooking-up arises when the few students who choose casual intimacy set the precedent for everyone on campus. For some students hooking up becomes a means of gaining social status, acceptance or attention from both their male and female peers, when in reality, they don’t feel comfortable. Nobody should be insulted or revered for hooking up, nor should anybody feel expected to engage in sexual activity.
Yet in attempting to rid this pressure and expectation, we cannot blame just one sex for the hook-up culture at Andover. Lu writes that girls “pretend” not to be hurt when they feel used and engage in sexual activity to attract or keep a guy, while “keeping things casual and physical is enough to satisfy most teenage boys.” Guys benefit, while girls comply. While this may be true, focusing only on this imbalance stagnates discussion by generalizing that the girl is always the victim and the guy is always an aggressor. When it comes to the cycle of hooking up and the lack of emotional interaction after, both sexes are responsible for continuing and perpetuating the idea that this is OK for everyone. Instead of pointing fingers, we should look at how both guys and girls can do their part.
The natural solution to jump to is that we should all try to commit to one another, as Lu mentions. The shift we need, however, is not our culture becoming wholly monogamous. In a way, that is going in a radically opposite direction as we impose yet another cultural standard. A shift requires self-respect and independently defining our own relationships.
As a student body, we should work towards removing language that objectifies the other sex—commenting on how attractive a girl is or the social status of a guy—from our everyday interactions. This kind of language propagates the notion of certain standards or requirements in our community, hindering both guys’ and girls’ ability to define the kind of intimacy or relationship that they truly want.
In order to define our own relationships, we need to feel that we can comfortably approach others romantically. The hook-up culture makes wanting something “serious” a roundabout process. The current route seems to be a confusing one of he-said-she-said leading to that Saturday night approach at a dance. Long term relationships have risen from this encounter, but the very few cases cannot negate the usual one night affairs. Instead of mediators that often obscure the original message, we need to be more comfortable directly communicating and approaching the person we are interested in. This goes for both guys and girls—we should all work towards being self-assertive but also respectful and receptive.
Yet we face another common block in pursuing relationships we want. The prevalence of hook ups makes it rare for a student to state their romantic, not sexual interest, in another person. If a student wants to be monogamous, he or she should feel just as comfortable taking that route as others do hooking up. After all, we value personal connections in our friendships; why can’t we also accept others when they seek the same in their relationships?
The greater issue behind compliance to the hook-up culture is the self-deprecating attitude on campus. Stress is common at Andover and we often bond by commiserating about work or lack of sleep with each other. Contrary to how we really feel, we frequently put ourselves down and turn our insecurities into a topic of conversation. This lack of visible self-confidence bleeds into the way we treat ourselves and let others treat us. In a relationship, we may end up suppressing ourselves, conforming and accepting dissatisfaction. We should focus on being supportive and encouraging in our personal, academic and especially social spheres. In doing so, we can build self-respect and integrate it to our community.
After four years, we’ve witnessed both the advantages and disadvantages of the hook-up culture at our school. The student body, particularly Seniors, as role models, should demonstrate all forms of healthy relationships with self-respect. Whether hooking up or in a committed relationship—as long as we consider and voice what it is we want and how we want it, we can move away from an imposing culture towards relationships that we define for ourselves.
Nicole Ng is a four-year Senior from Hong Kong. Chia Okorie is a four-year Senior from Bronx, NY.