As with just about every other slang word or phrase in my vocabulary, I don’t remember the first time I said that so-and-so had hooked up. If I had to guess, I’d say it was somewhere in my mid-teens, which is when (ahem) the term first properly started to have personal relevance. For those unfamiliar with the phraseology, it essentially means that the object met, kissed, hung out and/or had a one night stand with someone. The connotative emphasis is on casual (but usually sexual) interaction, while the term is both standard and non-judgemental. As far as I know, it’s been around since at least the nineties, but apparently some people are only just getting a handle on it, as per this curious op-ed in today’s New York Times: The Demise of Dating.  I say ‘curious’ because, right up until the final three paragraphs, it seems like the writer, one Charles M. Blow, is onside with both word and meaning, or at least an impartial observer. It turns out he isn’t. And that startled me, because I’d more or less assumed that hooking up was a pretty understandable phenomenon.

Blow’s complaint is both simple and, in the context, nonsensical: that instead of training to date, young folks nowadays have lost the ability to get to know one another. This seems to be a fairly unintuitive conclusion, especially given Blow’s earlier assertion that hooking up takes place mostly between friends: that is to say, among groups of people who already know each other. Despite acknowledging that this is a modern reversal of the dating structure he remembers from college, Blow fails to link the reversal to a changed social reality. When he talks about girls tiring of hooking up sooner than boys because ‘they want it to lead to a relationship’ and later realising ‘that it’s not a good way to find a spouse’, he is parroting gender stereotypes more closely aligned to the 1950’s than today. The idea that girls might be looking for neither spouses nor relationships seems alien to the writer, as does any notion that men might desire these things, too. One can readily see why Blow needed the concept explained to him; but even so, his understanding still falls short.

Personally, I think it’s a sign of progress that people no longer train to date; and in fact, the word date itself feels dated, or at least decidedly American – another hangover of Blow’s (I suspect distant) youth. I don’t recall that I ever dated: instead, I hooked up or went out. The whole idea of dating as a means of getting to know the opposite sex smacks of an era before co-ed friendships were the norm, wherein partners couldn’t be drawn from one’s existing circle of acquaintances, but had to be sought – and interviewed – externally. In reality, such a concept of dating has been fundamentally usurped by mixed friendships in an era of sexual liberation, such that when friends hook up, the ‘dating’ part has effectively already happened.

Random hook-ups are also common, but hardly a point of contention, unless one objects to premarital shenannigans. Ultimately, both Blow and his source, Professor Bogle, seem unintentionally antiquated. Kudos to them for grappling with a changed world, but despite trying for objective analysis, both end up reconfiguring the concept against their own, older ideals. Hooking up is here to stay, friends – and that, I think, is a good thing.

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