Hooking Up, Hanging Out and
Major New Study: Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right:College Women on Dating and Mating Today
Relationships between college women and men today are characterized by either too little commitment (``hooking up") or too much (``joined at the hip"), leaving college women few opportunities to explore the worthiness of a variety of men before settling into a long-term commitment, according to a groundbreaking new study, Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Mating and Dating Today, conducted by the Institute for American Values for the Independent Women's Forum.
This is the first nationwide study to document the prevalence of ``hooking up" on college campuses. The study found that hooking up, a distinctive interaction between college women and men involving sex without commitment, is widespread on campuses and profoundly influences campus culture. Forty percent of women in the national survey said they had experienced a hook up, and one in ten reported having done so more than six times.
Somewhat surprisingly, the study also finds that marriage is a major goal for the majority of today's college women and most would like to meet a spouse while at college. Eighty-three percent of respondents in the national survey agreed that ``Being married is a very important goal for me," and 63 percent agreed that ``I would like to meet my future husband in college." There is little consideration, however, by either these students or the adults around them of how their current social experience might help or hinder them in realizing this goal.
The report found that three-fourths of the respondents agreed that a ``hook up" is ``when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter and don't necessarily expect anything further." A ``physical encounter" can mean anything from kissing to having sex.Hook ups commonly occur between people who do not know one another well or at all, and neither participant, according to widely held campus rules, is expected to try to develop the relationship further. Hook ups can happen in public places, such as a bar or dance, or in dorms, where they usually occur. A notable feature of hook ups is that they almost always take place when both participants are drinking or drunk. Often, a third party will act as a facilitator. For instance a female Rutgers student said, ``[With a hook-up you'll have his] friends [at a party] coming up saying, you know, he wants to hookup with you, you're cute, come to his room."
Women who had hooked up reported a range of feelings, positive and negative, about the practice. For example, 61 percent of college women who said that a hook up made them feel ``desirable" also reported that it made them feel ``awkward." Part of the awkwardness seems to arise from not knowing what comes next. While the widely shared expectation on campus is that a relationship will not develop after a hook up, the study found that many young women nevertheless hope that it will. When asked how satisfied she thought women were with the social situation on campus, a student at SUNY-Stony Brook responded, ``Not very, because they want a stable relationship and they haven't been able to find that and sometimes they get hurt by guys." A Rutgers student observed, ``I think that girls generally do want something more after they've hooked up . . . but there are definitely girls out there that just want a drunk hookup." One young woman, a recent graduate of Princeton remarks, ``The whole thing is a very male-dominated scene. Hooking up lets men get physical pleasure without any emotional connection, but for women it's hard to separate the physical from the emotional. Women want the call the next day."
If ``hooking up" is characterized by too little commitment, relationships described by several participants in the study as being ``joined-at-the-hip" may require too much commitment too quickly. These relationships typically occur when a man and a woman meet and form a bond that rapidly becomes serious and intense. They spend most, if not all, their nights together, eat many of their meals together, study together, share in doing laundry, and more. When some of the women interviewed by the study said they hooked up because they didn't have time for a committed relationship, they seemed to be referring to these kinds of relationships. On the other hand, women who did not want to hook up and preferred a committed relationship instead, sometimes seemed to feel a ``joined at the hip" relationship was their only alternative, and bemoaned the fact that they quickly lost the opportunity to see other people by entering one of these relationships.
Hooking up, Hanging out, and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Mating and Dating Today is the first in-depth examination of college women's attitudes towards sex, dating, and marriage in more than a generation. Led by Norval Glenn, a sociologist at the University of Texas, and Elizabeth Marquardt, an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, the survey was conducted by a distinguished 16-member research team that includes Judith Wallerstein, author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, Stephen Nock of the University of Virginia, and Amy Kass of the University of Chicago. The report was based on extensive interviews conducted on campuses across the country as well as structured interviews with a nationally representative sample of U.S. college women.
The study produced numerous other important findings, including:
Women from divorced families differed in their responses from those who grew up in intact families, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in significant ways. Women from divorced families appeared more eager to marry, and wanted to marry sooner than women from intact families, but were less likely to believe that their future marriages would last.
Women from divorced families are less likely to go to their parents for relationship advice, especially their fathers. Thirty-seven percent of women from divorced families reported hooking up more than six times, while 23% of women from intact families reported hooking up that frequently.
Many college women are confused and frustrated by the lack of rules and clarity on their campuses when it came to sex and relationships. A student at the University of Virginia observed, ``there's definitely some weird do's and don'ts about dating . . . [you ask when] is it officially a date, or when are you officially in a relationship . . . [and] people struggle with do they say they are this guy's girlfriend." One common source of confusion is how to know when you are a couple, or when you have become girlfriend and boyfriend – which means that the relationship is sexually exclusive. Many women said the only way to know if you are actually a couple is to talk about the relationship. This is known as ``the talk." A Rutgers student said the conversation is basically: ``What are we? And this is provoked because, ``You never know what to say . . . and you're like, are we friends? Are we something more than that? You just don't know. I think that happens all the time."
While men appear more passive and take less initiative in pursuing relationships than in the past, men have much of the power in college relationships. After a hook up, the men typically decide if something more will happen. After a man and woman become sexually involved and spend a lot of time together, it is usually the woman who has to ask (and risk rejection) whether they are officially in a relationship. When she asks the question, he decides.
The low ratio of men to women on college campuses today (79 to 100 in 1997) has decreased the likelihood that women will meet a desirable husband at college.
Coed dorms may facilitate the decline of male initiative, ``joined at the hip relationships," and the hooking up culture. While 86% percent of the women in the national survey agreed that ``Coed dorms are a good idea," in our qualitative interviews many women expressed reservations about coed dorms without being asked. A number of women in the study complained that coed dorms seem to take the mystery out of male-female interactions and contribute to the male passivity that some women noted. A freshman at Colby College said, ``[If the dorms were single sex], the guys would be forced to . . . go out and find girls that they like . . . and to see them and say `Well, I don't really know her, but I'll just call her up and like pursue this . . . because I'm a guy and that's my job.' " Coed dorms also seem to encourage joined-at-the-hip relationships, since many women meet their boyfriends in the dorm. A Rutger's student said, ``As far as relationships go it's double-time
. . . It's kind of like now you're living with him. . . . [I]f you live in the same dorm . . . then you're constantly seeing him and you're constantly forced to deal with him . . . it has its ups and downs, because you don't really have your space . . . you feel like you've been with the person a lot longer than you have." Finally, coed dorms almost certainly provide a no-holds-barred setting for the hook-up scene. According to a senior at the University of Washington, ``[Hooking up happens] in the dorms . . . that's pretty obvious, because everybody lives together and everybody's drunk all the time."
More than half of the women interviewed in the study (54%) agreed that ``My parents have more influence than my friends on how I think about relationships and men." Many parents are clearly trying to instill expectations and values regarding sex, love, commitment, and marriage in their daughters. Eighty-two percent of respondents agreed that ``my parents raised me with firm expectations about relationships with guys and 74 percent agreed, ``My parents have told me that I should save sex for marriage." Since a surprising number of these college women have not had sexual intercourse (39% of the national survey and 31 percent of the senior women) and most have high aspirations for marriage, it appears that what their parents say and do can have some degree of protective effect.
Based on these finds, the report makes a number of recommendations:
Recognize that older adults, including parents, college administrators, and other social leaders, should have important roles in guiding the courting and mating practices of the young. Women have been left to negotiate a complex time in their lives—full of conflicting needs, feelings, and demands—almost entirely on their own. The virtual disappearance of adult participation in, or even awareness of, how today's young people find and marry one another should be seen as a major social problem and should end.
Recognize that college women typically do not yearn for a series of ``close relationships," but instead the majority seek long-term commitment and marriage.
Support the creation of socially prescribed rules and norms that are relevant and appropriate for this generation that can guide young people with much more sensitivity and support toward the marriages they seek.
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For more information, to receive a copy of the report, or to schedule an interview with one of the authors, please contact Mary Schwarz at (212) 246-3942.
 The 18-month study of the attitudes and values of today's college women regarding sexuality, dating, courtship, and marriage involved in-depth interviews with a diverse group of 62 women on 11 campuses, supplemented by 20-minute telephone interviews with a nationally representatives sample of 1,000 college women. The 11 campuses on which in-depth interviews were conducted were: Howard University, Yale University, New York University, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, the University of Washington, the University of California at Berkeley, and Colby College (Maine).
Institute for American Values