It’s a Saturday night. Three friends prepare to go out as the last of the day’s sunlight creeps below the trees on the edge of campus. The bass of an upbeat pop song pounds in their ears from the Bluetooth speaker that is perched on the windowsill. Sophie makes a face in the small mirror on her dresser while applying mascara to her upper eyelashes.
“Jenna, can you pass me the vodka?” using her free hand to grasp the bottle from her friend, Sophie dabs her last lash.
Jenna twirls around the room in a new dress and Nicole sits on the bed, nonchalantly sipping on a mixed drink while she scrolls through her phone. The girls talk about their plans for the evening.
“I’ve been waiting for this Java show all semester!” dances Jenna around the room in anticipation.
“And this mixer will be a fun way to start,” Sophie adds.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll even make it to the Ticker!” Nicole chimes as the other girls shrug in hesitant agreement. The conversation eventually but briefly turns to boys.
“Sophie, have you talked to Caleb lately?” Nicole asks, looking up from her phone.
“I mean, I hooked up with him on Thursday, but I haven’t talked to him at all since. I saw him in the pub today, but neither of us said anything. I’m not really sure if he’s interested.” The conversation quickly moves on and the girls plunge into the darkened streets, bottles of liquid courage stuffed into their jacket pockets.
The next day, in the same room as the night before, it is now a distinctly different atmosphere. The loud, upbeat bass has been replaced with soft acoustic guitar.
The mid-day sun shines through the cracked window as the sounds of students on bikes and passing cars drifts inside. Sophie perches on the bed, legs crossed, a mug in her hand with a green tea bag dangling from its edge.
Across the room, Jenna sits on the other bed and Nicole lies with her feet draped across Jenna’s legs.
The girls seem more reserved and relaxed. But they are comfortable and open to talking about a topic that is both widely controversial, yet completely unavoidable on the St. Lawrence campus: hooking up.
“If I come back and my friends were like ‘what’d you do?’ I would say we just made out,” says Jenna. “But if it was anything more, I would say we hooked up.” Her assertive answer is interrupted with childlike giggles.
“Really?” Sophie interjects, “I would say anything from making out to having sex counts as a hook up.”
“It’s a purposefully ambiguous term. It lets a hookup be anything you want it to be,” says Nicole.
This is key to understanding hookup culture as a phenomenon at St. Lawrence. In a general sense, the term is defined by a lack of communication between both parties about what the expectations will be post-hookup.
Do you exchange numbers? Do you say hello when you see each other? If you feel connected to the other person, do you let him or her know how you feel?
“People try and play the game of who can ignore each other the most, who can be less interested,” says Jenna, and then she pauses before adding, “That’s what you’re supposed to do, it would be embarrassing if that person was uninterested but you were interested and they knew that, you wouldn’t want them to know that.”
The other girls nod in agreement. “It happens a lot. And then girls are deemed crazy,” adds Nicole.
Yet another aspect of this vagueness and lack of communication is that everyone seems to have an idea about how others talk about hooking up.
“Boys like to congratulate each other,” Nicole asserts.
“A lay is a lay to a boy,” Jenna says.
“Yeah, and girls are just sluts,” Nicole adds.
Mike and Greg, two seniors at St. Lawrence, poke their heads into the room.
“I think hookup culture is awesome,” Greg grins. “It’s fun.”
“I don’t know about that. I’ve never really engaged that much. But I don’t really talk about it either. So, most people probably just think that I do,” Mike says about his own experiences with hookup culture, and the boys leave.
This misunderstanding about how others engage with hookup culture helps keep it ambiguous and seemingly prevalent, yet the truth of hooking up remains in the dark.
Although hookup culture seems to dominate the lifestyle and the conversation on campus, it seems that most students are left with more questions than answers.
“It’s a thing everyone thinks everyone else does,” says Nicole. Later in the day the girls sit in Dana, watching the other students pass by their table as they munch on pasta and salad.
“Oh, did you see her on SLU Makeout from this weekend?” Jenna asks the others, referencing a girl that just walked toward the salad bar.
“Yes!” says Nicole. “I never would have expected them to hook up.”
Instagram accounts such as SLU Makeout dominate typical Sunday conversation as these three girls and other SLU students pass the account’s newest features around the brunch table at Dana, or lightheartedly tease their friends for their documented make out that is now publicly viewable for the entire St. Lawrence student body.
With these types of interactions on display for anyone to view, it makes it seem as though hooking up is the norm. In reality, this is by no means the case, and these generalizations are anything but absolute. There are students who choose not to engage in hookup culture at all, or instead find themselves in a committed relationship, or any other version of in-betweens.
In fact, the number of SLU students who do not participate in the act of hooking up is so much greater than many would expect. According to a study done by sociology professor Arielle Kuperberg, only eight percent of students hooked up without going on a date or being in a relationship, while over 26 percent had never hooked up at all.
As the Women’s Resource Center here at St. Lawrence says, these numbers are fairly accurate on our campus as well. And yet hooking up continues to be an important conversation topic.
“It’s all anyone talks about,” says Nicole. And the three girls don’t see this changing.
“We’re fascinated by hooking up,” says Sophie.
“I don’t really see it as a horrible thing, though,” says Jenna. “Even with everyone talking about it, I still feel comfortable with my decision either way.”
Sophie nods. “When I hook up with someone, as long as it is my choice, I feel comfortable with my decision. And if I decide not to, I don’t feel judged either.” The other girls nod in agreement. They leave Dana– glancing at the girl seen earlier on SLU Makeout– smiling to each other.
*To protect the privacy of the participants, all of the names have been changed.