One Beautiful Essay Finally Puts the "Hookup Culture" Myth to Bed

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

So-called millennials may be 80 years old before we can shake the biggest myth about us: We're all about that "hookup culture." Much ink has been spilled about this generation's proclivity for half-hearted dating, emotionless sex, casual relationships and endless flaking. Intimacy and love are foreign words to those in hookup culture, the narrative goes. The booming popularity of Tinder and its branding as a "hookup app" doesn't help. 

But it's about time those mythical narratives got the boot, and the New York Times might be able to help. On Thursday, the New York Times' much beloved Modern Love column announced the winner of its College Essay Contest, a submission that will earn $1,000 and be published in a special Modern Love column. 

It will also act as a much-needed voice against the hookup culture myth.

Columbia University sophomore Jordana Narin's winning essay is called "No Labels, No Drama, Right?" and it centers on her relationship with Jeremy, someone who came into her life at age 14 and has lingered, sometimes on the periphery and sometimes smack dab in the middle of it, ever since. 

"We stayed in touch for the rest of high school, mostly by text message," she writes. "Every time his name popped up on my phone, my heart raced." (Sound familiar?)

She and Jeremy never quite made it to "boyfriend and girlfriend," and their relationship never moved beyond occasional connections. But that tenuousness didn't reduce the relationship to a hookup; on the contrary, Narin writes, "while we're hesitant to label relationships, we do participate in some deviation of them. But by not calling someone, say, 'my boyfriend,' he actually becomes something else, something indefinable. And what we together have becomes intangible." The emotional connection was nameless but nonetheless real.

"While we're hesitant to label relationships, we do participate in some deviation of them. But by not calling someone, say, 'my boyfriend,' he actually becomes something else, something indefinable. And what we together have becomes intangible."

If that doesn't sound anything like the media's descriptions of hookup culture, that's because it's not. Not only is a generation's proclivity for rampant, unattached sex statistically unfounded, it also overlooks the deep emotional bonds we're forming, something Narin expresses beautifully.  

"From what I see in college students' stories," Modern Love editor Daniel Jones told Mic, "the term 'hookup culture' is too broad and simplistic to describe the behavior of a generation. Many still talk about hooking up just for sex while others are in or seek committed relationships, and some are looking for a new way of making emotional and physical connections that stops short of something more serious."

That doesn't mean millennial romance doesn't have its pitfalls and discontent, as Jones said, particularly when it comes to the cult of "chill" and the resistance to labels

"In Jordana's essay, she was able to articulate the potential consequences of label avoidance in a way that struck our readers as being fresh and true, particularly in how a lack of labels can lead to a lack of accountability and closure," he said.

But they're consequences that can be addressed if we start talking about them. An essay read by millions isn't a bad place to start.

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Ellie Krupnick

Ellie is Mic's editorial director of lifestyle. A former style and fashion editor for The Huffington Post, her writing has also appeared in Women's Wear Daily, HarpersBazaar.com and the Twitter feeds of British royal fans everywhere.

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