“It is exhausting getting drunk every weekend and going to the suite and trying to hook up with Matt,” Katie Bell ’17 declares, a bit exasperated, at the dining table of her townhouse. “I don’t want to do it anymore.”
Soft tea lights droop on the wall behind her head, she drinks some kind of pale ale, the anticipation of the oncoming weekend is just starting to stir the relaxed Thursday night atmosphere in Townhouse 101. The warm, yeasty aroma of beer is redolent but masked by the slow burn of an illicit candle.
After about a bit, Katie gets up, grabs her jacket, and puts a can of beer in her pocket.
“Okay, bye guys,” she says, tucking a stray lock of her cropped brown bob behind her ear and giving her friends a small wave.
“I’m going to the suite,” she says as she exits through the front door. The “suite,” a metonymic title for Hulett 307, is the location of a tonight’s social event of choice. It is also the residence of her current hookup, though the boundaries of their relationship are undefined. It’s also the place she was bemoaning just a half hour earlier.
On the walk over, Katie has a bounce in her step and she talks quickly, as if she’s just chugged an energy drink of anxiety and excitement.
“I don’t know if we’re going to hook up tonight. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t,” she chirps.
Her tan skin is freckled from a recent spring break excursion in Mexico and she glows against the bleak dregs of a slushy North Country spring. But it’s not just her appearance that casts a light. Katie, a Kappa Delta Sigma sorority sister, avid hiker, and trained Advocate, is reliably optimistic and generally cheerful. Her room is a collage of inspirational quotes in scrawling handwriting and photos with friends and family. If anyone can brave college hookup culture and not become a cynic, it should be Katie.
Upon entering the suite, it’s a game of who should notice whom first and how quickly one should acknowledge each other. The air feels beer sticky. Katie cracks the third can and accepts when someone offers her another to keep in her pocket.
“Wow, there are kind of a lot of people here,” she observes under her breath. She’s not drunk, but, nearly three beers in, it’s unlikely she’d pass a breathalyzer test. Perhaps it’s upon completion of the third that she feels comfortable enough to slide into the group conversation that Matt is partaking in.
According to gossip around the dining table at Townhouse 101 the next mid-morning, Katie and Matt “hooked up” after the party. The definition of “hooking up” varies depending on who one asks. Sometimes it’s a spontaneous makeout session on the dance floor of a seedy college town bar. Sometimes, as is Katie’s case, it’s sex. The kind of sex that seems casual, but, upon analysis, is the product of a careful social ritual in which alcohol plays a crucial role.
“We kind of talked about what we want from this, and we both like each other and we both like seeing each other, so I think there’s a pretty good chance I’ll see him again,” Katie announces to her housemates. She seems confident – on the cusp of a fun, promising weekend with someone she enjoys seeing.
On Saturday evening, Katie hasn’t heard from Matt and it’s nearing the bewitching hour for partying. Katie and Matt didn’t text or meet up during the day, but this isn’t unusual. Intentional, sober encounters are not part of their casual arrangement. It must either happen by a semi-contrived chance while drunk, like on Thursday, or via late night text message once inhibitions are inebriated and the uncertainty and anxiety of reaching out to another is numbed and abated by the fuzzy cushion of alcohol.
Java’s interior is coated with psychedelic student artwork, undulating patterns of saturated neon swirls that ripple and glow under strobe lights and seem to intensify in the presence of live music.
It’s the place to go for head-banging, bouncing, twirling, and general jiving late into most Saturday nights during the school year. The feel-good, loosey-goosey vibe is conducive to a kind of elated state, apparent in the faces of the gyrating crowd, but Katie is distracted.
“I texted Matt, but he didn’t answer,” she shouts to her roommate over a killer keyboard solo. She’s scrutinizing the mass around her, as if trying to make appear with a determined gaze, the one person she’d like to see.
She ducks out in the middle of the show to head home with a couple of her housemates. Matt doesn’t text her back, nor does he make an appearance at the venue.
“We kind of talked about our expectations. I told him that I find him attractive and that I want to see him, but I never wanted a serious relationship,” Katie emphasizes the word never, as if wanting a serious relationship and a meaningful connection with another person is too reprehensible to admit.
“Maybe he thinks I’m getting attached, I don’t know. But we don’t even really speak to each other unless we’re going to hook up!” Her frustration mounts as she parses through the complexities of their ambiguous relationship.
Their arrangement wanders in no man’s land. Casual sex, a concept that is purported to imply a carefree and easy non-relationship for both parties involved. It’s glamorized in popular culture as an exciting past time for America’s hip, young, sexy, collegiate youth. But for Katie at least, it’s wrought with uncertainty and annoyance, which eventually grows into a distaste that breeds dislike.
“Matt isn’t worth it,” Katie admits a few weeks later while talking candidly with some girlfriends. It’s another Thursday night and she’s right, Matt probably isn’t worth it.
“But it’s fun… there’s an expectation,” she pauses, reflecting on her experience in the hookup culture. “A kind of hope that you’re gonna see this person that finds you attractive and wants to be with you, but then it just ends. How does anyone have a relationship? What are these guys looking for?”
The unanswerable question lingers with Katie in limbo, both trapped by the exhausting task of trying to find out.