A Pepper Grinder Post

The Hookup Culture

I read an on the BBC site recently.  It was about a new app called Tinder.  It shows you pictures of various people of the opposite sex (or, I’m guessing, the same sex, if that’s what you choose) along with the person’s age and a few shared interests based on what you and the potential hookup have publicly shared on Facebook.  If you are interested in the person, you swipe right.  If not, you swipe left.  If both you and the person have indicated an interest in each other, then you are each told that the other person is interested and you get to take it from there.

coupleLike many innovative ideas in the Internet age, this one sprang from the felt needs of the founders—introvert nerds who had trouble meeting women.  I’m not interested in bashing the founders, who I’m sure were just looking for a technological way to do better what was already happening in the culture-at-large.  I have to admit it sounds better to sleep with someone you have a few mutual interests with and who looks cute to you, than it is to sleep with someone you wound up sitting next to while blitzed at a bar.

However, the whole hookup culture disturbs me for a few reasons.

  1. It places even more emphasis on a person’s appearance than there already is.  The culture I live in is VERY obsessed with physical appearance.  If you are a slim, beautiful woman or a well-built handsome man, you are a golden child.  People will be attracted to you, look up to you, and act like you are noble and healthy.  If your appearance does not match the template for perfection and you don’t have enough money to make it match, too bad.  You are out of favor.  If you haven’t already gotten the idea that you don’t measure up to the standards of the gods and goddesses which bombard us in TV, movies, and advertisements, a few weeks on Tinder with no right-swipes should do the trick.
  2. It lets men be wimps.  There was once a time when men had to take a risk to start a relationship with a woman.  The man had to ask the woman out and she might very well say “no.”  Even if she said yes, she might very well refuse to sleep with him until he had married her.  Now a guy is spared this kind of suffering.  He can right-swipe all the cute women he wants in full confidence that the women will never know about it unless they also express an interest in him.  If he hears that one of the women he swiped is interested in him, he can call her up and arrange to meet with no fear of rejection—unless, perhaps, he finds out that she is directionally-challenged and swiped right when she meant to go left.
    In a way, this seems like the ideal situation for men.  They get to hookup with women they find attractive without those anxious phone calls.  The thing is, speaking as a man, I don’t really believe this is good for men.  I think men were created to fight battles and take risks.  Will we lose?  Will we get hurt?  Will we be humiliated?  Of course. But we will also win sometimes, and we will be stronger because of the losses.
  3. At best, it encourages emotional experimentation rather than commitment.  This is not new to the hookup culture.  The idea that the path to an excellent relationship came through trying out many potential partners until you found the one who overwhelmed you with feelings of true love has long been the gold standard in romance literature and romantic comedies.  I must confess, many of my favorite movies are romantic comedies.  The problem is that if feelings of attraction or true love are what led you into a relationship, they can just as easily be what leads you out. This has become so accepted in our culture that I have even heard of marriage ceremonies replacing “until death do us part” with “as long as love shall last.”
  4. At worst, it encourages us to copulate like dogs or cats.  Once again, this is nothing new.  My generation is at or nearing retirement age, but we are the ones who encouraged people, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”  The difference is that now we have technology to track people’s geographical proximity, making apps like Tinder possible.

It is easy to say, “If he wants to and she wants to, what’s the big deal?” The problem is that, like making pop-tarts in a toaster balanced on the edge of the tub while you take a bath, it goes against the owner’s manual.  The Bible teaches that sex, even with no expectation of commitment, creates an irrevocable and exclusive bond between two people which was meant never to be broken.  By having sex with many different partners, we splinter our soul into tiny pieces, just like Lord Voldemort making horcruxes or using the Avada Kedavra curse.

The desire to connect with other people is a normal part of being human.  So is the desire for sex.  But when we make finding a sexual partner similar to ordering coffee on Amazon, we have not made it more special.  We have taken something which was designed to cement and enliven the strongest human commitment of all, and made it into something mundane like eating or using the bathroom.  No matter how many cool apps we have to help us do it, that’s a sad thing.