Welcome to the first installment of Ask Wesleying, an advice column about any and all things Wes! Have a question about life at Wes? Submit it to get it answered in Ask Wesleying! You can find all of the Ask Wesleying columns here.
This week’s question is about something that’s on many people’s minds with the start of Local Co-op:
Why are all of my hookups always in line for co-op RIGHT when I get there? Why are they all friends? Why is co-op pickup scheduled such that I can’t go home and change into a cute outfit beforehand so that all of my hookups see how hot I am in co-op line? UGH!
Local Co-Op, Local-er Hookups
You can read the answer to this week’s question below the jump!
Dear Local Co-Op, Local-er Hookups,
This question is such a mood. First off, I want to affirm that co-op pickup is most definitely one of the best places to see and be seen at Wesleyan. Other places like this include ‘Swings brunch, the package line during drop-add, and Freeman Athletic Center pretty much any time there aren’t classes going on. I personally love that Wesleyan is a small school, but along with our 8:1 student-faculty ratio comes the inevitability of running into former hookups, professors of classes you skipped, or just people you don’t particularly want to see while you’re nursing a hangover at 1 PM on a Sunday.
Because there’s no way to realistically avoid every person you’ve ever slept with at Wes, the challenge is to figure out how to handle the interaction without melting into an awkward puddle every week. If you’re anything like me, 5-7 PM on a Wednesday (aka Co-Op Pickup O’Clock) is a time that you’re most likely to be gross/sweaty/frazzled/in the sweatpants you pulled on at 8:45 am before you ran out the door to attempt to make your 8:50 in the CFA. I get it. In my mind, there’s two ways you can handle this:
- Get up early on Wednesdays, do your makeup/hair/whatever makes you feel pretty, put on a cute outfit, and spend the day primping and checking yourself in the mirror until 5 PM, when you wow your hookups with how attractive and put-together you look, or
- Acknowledge that your hookups probably aren’t paying that close attention to you anyways, go about your Wednesday as usual, and wow them at co-op pickup by radiating confidence and self-esteem that show you are calm, cool, and collected, and that you’re a real Wesleyan student who has better things to do than carefully stage a moment when your hookup might see you and think, “dang, they’re so hot, I definitely want to text them to hook up again!”
Both are totally valid choices, but I’m pretty sure working toward the second one is healthier in the long run. You won’t always be able to plan for running into a hookup and looking hot (like I said, Wes is tiny!), so practicing feeling good about yourself when you know you’re going to see a hookup will help you handle the times when you’re totally unprepared to run into them. Alternatively, you can become the most-hated member of your co-op group and just refuse to take a turn picking up co-op. Also definitely valid, but not recommended (for their sake, and yours).
Finally, while I’m fairly certain that you sent this question in a half-joking manner, I also want to address something I’m reading between the lines in your question that’s prevalent not just in the co-op pickup line, but across Wesleyan. That’s right, it’s time to talk about ~~~hookup culture~~~ (and not in the weird, shame-y way your parents/every editorial board of a major newspaper/sex-negative misogynists talk about it).
Wesleyan (like many places where young people are in close proximity with little adult supervision) has a hookup culture. This culture is not necessarily all good or all bad, but people definitely have opinions about it that tend to dominate the conversation. A typical discussion about Wesleyan’s hookup culture might go something like this:
Person 1: Ugh I hate hookup culture! Why doesn’t anyone date here???
Person 2: I know! I’ve been hooking up with this person for a few weeks, and I think I ~caught feelings~ so I guess I have to end things.
Person 1: Yeah, I mean, they might think you’re super clingy or weird or something if you said you wanted to date.
Person 2: Exactly! Plus that’s such a commitment, I don’t have time for that. Now I just have to figure out if I can just let things fizzle out, or if I have to actually sit them down and end things…
Person 1: You’ve only been hooking up for a few weeks, I think you can just stop texting them and wait to see if they hit you up first before you decide if you have to say anything.
Person 2: Hmm I guess that works, plus then if I change my mind, they’re still an option. Just don’t let me drunk text them this weekend, okay?
Person 1: I promise I will confiscate your phone if you even look like you’re trying to text them!
Person 2: Good! Now I just have to avoid them for a while… but we always run into each other at co-op pickup! *sigh*
Sound familiar? I’ve been involved variations on this conversation so many times, it’s hard to think of a specific hookup my friends and I were even talking about. Now, I’m not here to say hooking up is bad or good, but it’s definitely worth recognizing that hooking up comes with certain social pressures and norms that make it into this big thing that everyone seems to have an opinion on.
One of those pressures is the pressure to be the more ~chill~ one in a hookup. In a recent Boston Globe article, this dynamic is articulated as “whoever-cares-less-wins.” A section of the article reads:
Lisa Wade, a sociology professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles, says today’s students view romantic relationships as a distraction from preparing for their future careers. They think relationship sex is taxing, while casual sex is easy.
“Caring isn’t just absent, it’s off-script. It’s not allowed,” says Wade, who studied diary entries that were submitted weekly by 101 students for her book American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus.
In this competition to care less, Wade says, men have the advantage. They are able to embrace traditionally masculine traits, seeming disinterested and detached, while women can’t. And this notion doesn’t apply just to heterosexual relationships.
“We still see that kind of sexism where we value the masculine more than the feminine,” she says. “Even in queer communities, you absolutely see that still playing out.”
An article from Vanessa Grigoriadis ’95 in the New York Times also delves into the question of hookup culture. Grigoriadis writes about how the culture of consent has changed along with hookup culture since her time at Wesleyan. While her piece sometimes feels gratuitous or overly nostalgic with its flowery descriptions of students and locations (and it almost certainly over-generalizes the way students think about/talk about/engage in consent and sexual activity), Grigoriadis also hones in on a dynamic that is central to hookup culture at Wesleyan: the relationship between consent and caring. The way Grigoriadis sees it, caring is not just the one-sided “having feelings” that Wade observes, it’s a mutual compassion for participants in a sexual encounter. She writes:
As much as you may read about the angry cries of “social justice warriors” in current news, today’s students discuss sexual assault in a completely new way. Their primary concern is sexual ethics. Debates about what is consensual and what is not, what type of sex is fair and what is immoral, are essential to life at Wesleyan, I learned during visits to the campus a few semesters ago. “There’s a difference between illegal and unethical,” Chloe, a neuroscience major, told me, firmly. “Life is not about doing whatever you can do. It’s about not doing what is traumatic to another person.”
What few older people see in today’s “P.C.” students is their overwhelming urge to be kind to each other.
What these two articles have in common, and why I’m spending so much time on them, is that they both have to do with communication. At the end of the day, most people don’t take issue with hookup culture itself, but with the ambiguity that often goes along with it, which can exacerbate social pressures that leave one or both participants unsatisfied, or worse, hurt.
To illustrate this, let’s go back to the hypothetical dialogue above. In this scenario, the problem is not really that Person 2 has feelings for their hookup, but that Person 2 is unable or unwilling to communicate their desires to their hookup. Certainly, this lack of communication is influenced by the “whoever-cares-less-wins” mentality, which is pervasive in our hookup culture here at Wes. With the encouragement of Person 1, Person 2 then continues to perpetuate this norm of not communicating by essentially ghosting their hookup. In all of this, a simple conversation between Person 2 and their hookup about what they each want out of the relationship (because yes, hooking up is a type of relationship, even though it’s not monogamous dating) would eliminate a lot of stress and potential hurt feelings.
Basically what I’m trying to say is this: hooking up is not inherently good or bad, it’s just one of many ways to intimately interact with other people. If hooking up is what you want, the best way to get that is by communicating that desire to (potential) partners! If traditional is more your style, don’t settle for hooking up and hoping that your partner will read your mind and initiate a monogamous dating relationship–ask for what you want! If your desired relationship changes, let your partner know! If you’re happy not participating in sexual intimacy with other people, that’s fine too!
Sex-positivity (another campus buzzword) is not just about saying that everyone should be having lots of casual sex all the time, it’s about affirming that whatever decisions you make about your participation in consensual sexual activity are valid and good! The first step to changing our campus hookup culture to being a truly sex-positive one is by cultivating a norm of communication around sexual desire that goes far beyond the bare-minimum of consent (which coincidentally is the mission of Students for Consent and Communication, a great group on campus that does all sorts of work around these issues, including organizing Take Back the Night each spring).
So, Local Co-Op, Local-er Hookups, instead of worrying about stealthily signalling your interest to hookups via carefully-curated outfits or a nonverbal aloofness, maybe it’s time to try using your words and being straightforward about what you want! It might be just the thing you need to stop worrying so much about what your hookups think of you and having more time for the things you actually want to be doing, like actually hooking up (or not!) or making a mean veggie scramble with your co-op haul!