College students’ social lives include more hookups and casual hangouts than official dates. With new technology and vague terminology, it’s difficult to define what dating is on college campuses today.
“I thought things would be different in college—more responsible and mature—and it’s not,” said Megan Haugh, Michigan State University international relations major. “I feel like it’s just creating a society where it’s easier to hook up with random people.”
The term hookup can encompass anything from kissing to sex, according to the journal article Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review. Students talking to each other about hooking up leave the listener to interpret the word how they will; therefore people never really know how far their acquaintance went with their hookup.
Other vague terminology such as “hanging out” can have different meanings for different people.
“One guy last year kept saying, ‘You want to hang out?’ and I was like, ‘Are we dating? Is this a thing right now?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re sort of together, I guess.’ That’s so weird. You can’t just assume we’re dating,” Haugh said.
Many people think the word date implies a committed relationship, but if there is no clear communication, others are left confused.
Hooking up has become the normal relationship on campus, according to the journal article Hooking Up in Young Adulthood. Some college campuses even host relationship seminars to discuss the topic. Beatty Cohan, a psychotherapist, author and radio host, has given a presentation called “Rate Your Mate BEFORE It’s Too Late.”
Cohan said in an interview that she encourages women to set rules and parameters because they have a stake in what happens.
“If some guy came up to me and said, ‘Would you like to hang out?’ I would say ‘I would very much like to see you, but I would appreciate if you called me several days in advance, and I’d love to go out on a date,” Cohan said.
In that interaction, the dynamic is changed, and the asker now knows what the other person wants is a date.
“How else is the guy going to know that this casual hookup isn’t working, if all the girls are going along with it?” Cohan said.
Cohan said she doesn’t place all the responsibility for starting relationships on men; she is a strong advocate in women taking risks and initiating conversations with people they don’t know.
“We have to put ourselves out there; no one’s going to find us sitting in a dorm room,” Cohan said.
Haugh said she regards herself as old-fashioned—she would prefer that boys ask her out.
“Honestly, if a guy comes up to me face-to-face and asked me out, I’d always say yes to the first date. I actually feel like guys expect girls to ask them out now,” Haugh said.
Generations who experienced casual dating in their youth are sometimes confused by the lack of casual dating.
“I told my mom not to be surprised if I don’t get married. I’ll give her a grand-puppy,” Haugh said.
Although marriage rates are at historic lows, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cohan said she thinks people should stop looking at statistics and focus on their own relationships.
“You look at statistics that start with ‘everybody’s miserable,’ but that’s not true,” Cohan said. “ I think that even though larger culture certainly has changed and is changing, there’s no reason why you can’t find the things that are important to you in a relationship with someone.”
Many students rely heavily on texting, social media and dating apps to get to know their potential romantic interests. Years ago, people had to go on dates to find out a person’s favorite movie or where they went to college. Now, if their privacy settings aren’t strict, a quick search on Google or Facebook can reveal the desired information.
Joseph Walther, a telecommunication, information studies and media professor at Michigan State University, said people romanticize or reject others based on their social media profiles.
“People tend to present themselves online in pretty idealized ways. Sometimes they get an intense spiral of attraction that way,” Walther said.
Although there are a number of studies that suggest people lie online, Walther said none of those studies have demonstrated that people lie more online than they would offline. Walter said that people just display favorable aspects of themselves—like they would in a job interview. He said that people are able to make messages more attractive via texting and chatting.
“Nothing is an accident when you send it. I think you get a lot of uncontrolled communication when you meet face-to-face, and sometimes that can be a disappointment,” Walther said.