Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that inexplicably puzzle me. I have never understood why people without current love interests are so hostile toward the day. As someone spending her 19th consecutive Valentine’s Day single, I can honestly say I have never felt self-conscious or particularly more aware of my relationship status specifically because it was Valentine’s Day. Regardless, since love is technically in the air, I thought I would take this time to talk about all the loving, healthy and mutually beneficial relationships I see here at Duke—and then I realized, this is Duke. Ain’t no one got time for that.
So, instead, I’m going to talk about hook-up culture. Duke students LOVE talking about hook-up culture. We love talking about how much we hook up, our perpetual disdain for hooking up and our reoccurring participation in the process nonetheless. But, while college kids love talking about hooking up, which can confusingly refer to anything from making-out to sex, the outside world seems even more obsessed with it than we are. Since coming to college, I’ve repeatedly read about the moral depravity and crippling narcissism that plague my generation. It seems like reporters and researchers alike are consumed with trying to determine why college students hook up.
Personally, I think it’s simple: Hooking up is awesome. It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s a human being whose emotions you’re not obligated to be considerate of afterwards! This is college, after all. We’re supposed to make out with strangers. We’re supposed to have no-strings-attached fun. We’re supposed to be selfish. That is what we’re told is making the most of our time here. But, if it’s really all that great, why don’t people seem happier?
To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with men and women consensually getting it on with whomever they please. I am not trying to discredit the plethora of my peers who truly thrive under this system. And there are a lot of positive arguments that can be made for the sexual exploration that hook-up culture facilitates. So, if taking home a different male and/or female every weekend genuinely makes you happy and fulfilled, then that’s awesome. You do you, and anyone else you want to, too. But from what I’ve seen, heard and experienced myself, I don’t think that’s the case for everyone.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationships here at Duke. I have always prided myself on the quality and strength of my friendships and my ability to forge bonds that extend beyond the superficial exterior. And I’m lucky. I have some pretty incredible people in my life. What I lack, though, are meaningful relationships that extend past the platonic.
And sure, I can ramble all day about how I’m too busy, how it’s not a good time, how I don’t like Duke guys, how I tried the boyfriend thing last year, how the very word “boyfriend” makes me want to vomit …There are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to stay entrenched in the comforts of remaining uncommitted. But the fact of the matter is this: I am almost 20 years old, and I have never had a serious relationship. I don’t know how to function in a romantic partnership. I don’t know how to connect—physically, emotionally, mentally—with another person. An arguably fundamental part of being human, the ability to love and be loved, is something I know absolutely nothing about.
This isn’t meant to be an obnoxious rant about being lonely and wanting someone to cuddle with. I stand by the notion that I am a strong, independent woman who listens to Beyoncé and doesn’t need a man to be happy. Where my concern lies is that, in exchange for meaningless trysts and protection from being hurt, we are missing out on the very real benefits of human connection. There seems to be this unspoken consensus that after college, after we get into grad school, after we establish our careers, after we become the epitome of what society deems successful, that is when we’ll find someone we care about. But learning to care, to be vulnerable, to trust—that’s something that’s important right now. That is paramount to our development as people. Relationships do exist at Duke, but they are not the accepted norm. Instead, we have hook-ups, arbitrary “things” and people who are “just talking.” We don’t define our interactions because doing so means we care, and caring exposes vulnerability. We are pressured by a culture that tells us relationships are a waste of time, and, so, we engage in meaningless encounters that, while fun, are incredibly unfulfilling for a lot of people. And I think it’s a shame that we feel ashamed if we want something more.
Being vulnerable doesn’t make you weak. Wanting a relationship doesn’t make you desperate. And if you are lucky enough to find someone you care deeply and passionately about, it doesn’t mean you’ve settled. So this Valentine’s Day, I hope that whatever or whomever you decide to do, whether it’s for keeps or just for a night, you are doing what makes you happy. We all deserve to be happy.
Michelle Menchaca is a Trinity sophomore and the editorial page online editor. Her column runs every other Thursday.