Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sex in the Meritocracy

Kate Taylor has a long piece in the Times on the sexual scene at Princeton. The basic thrust is that students hook up instead of having relationships because they are too busy getting ahead to have time for love. One says:
I positioned myself in college in such a way that I can’t have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I’m always busy and the people that I am interested in are always busy, too. And I know everyone says, ‘Make time, make time.’ But there are so many other things going on in my life that I find so important that I just, like, can’t make time, and I don’t want to make time.
So she has a hookup buddy, a guy she doesn't like and avoids unless she wants to have sex.

The most striking images to me are these young, ambitious people too busy for romance, and the crucial role of alcohol in fueling these interactions. Everyone's introduction to the hookup scene seems to come while drunk, often in circumstances where consent is a fuzzy concept.

Not everyone is like this; Taylor found a diversity of views among Princeton women, from the eager embrace of hooking up as a way to keep options open to a profound distaste for the whole thing. One of the anti-hookup women was "Catherine," who is holding out for real romance. Taylor writes,
In Catherine’s view, her classmates tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed that getting too attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman’s marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career.
And the things is, these women are not wrong. If you want to rise to the top of our meritocracy you really do have to work very hard, be willing to move across the globe as opportunities arise, keep your options open, and spend your time networking and studying instead of getting to know one special someone.

Which just sucks. Can it really be a good thing for a society if the route to the top means avoiding, not just marriage and children, but any sort of romantic involvement? And what kind of life is that?

2 comments:

David said...

Every time I hear one of these stories about hookup culture, I'm struck by how devoid of eroticism it sounds. There's just nothing very sexy or even hedonistic about it, as far as I can tell. I'm puzzled as to why they bother.

Which is by way of saying that the story you tell harmonizes completely with the kind of monastic careerism that I already found pretty strong at Yale when I was there. There may be sex, but there's no sensuality. It sounds even stronger now. The most disturbing thing it seems to me is our meritocracy has become cookie cutter affair. It'll be interesting when the whole world is run by these unhappy people.

Katya said...

I read that article too, John, and I have to admit, what struck me most about the article was not the sex issue but the impression I received that none of these people were hanging around with friends spending hours... talking with friends.

To me, a valuable aspect of my college experience was the hours I spent with my friends in conversation. And not just because these extended conversations gave me a warm, fuzzy, appropriately liberal arts like experience. These long conversations laid the basis of life-long connections and relationships from which I continue to benefit, personally and professionally, to this day. Miss those conversations in college and pretty much you're SOL for the rest of your life on building that form of connection platform.

The article--personally, I read this sort of article and roll my eyes--not only does such a life sound "devoid of eroticism" as David describes, but it also sounds unlikely, dull, and rather like a Penthouse Forum letter circa 1985 (which is approximately the last time I read a Penthouse Forum letter). I know some people do live scheduled lifestyles along the lines of the young woman featured here--but they are outliers, not averages, or... they represent people living through a "phase."

Is it really humanly possible to retain a regular sexual schedule as described in this article for more than a period of, say, 18 months, before one of the parties bores of the arrangement?