I am delighted that Jonathan Dresner and Ralph Luker, the Arch-Cliopatriarchs, do the job of sifting through the New York Times for me. Jonathan alerts me today to a lengthy piece in this Sunday's New York Times magazine: Friends, Friends with Benefits, and the Local Mall. It's another reasonably readable analysis of the sad and confused state of adolescent dating and mating patterns.
As I wrote last Monday, today's youth are increasingly likely to conclude that serious relationships are an impediment to (rather than a vehicle for) one's personal growth. Today's article, by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, seems to concur:
Most of the high-school students I spent time with said they expected to meet the right person, fall in love and marry -- eventually. It's just that high school, many insist, isn't the place to worry about that. High school is about keeping your options open. Relationships are about closing them. As these teenagers see it, marriage and monogamy will seamlessly replace their youthful hookup careers sometime in their mid- to late 20's -- or, as one high-school boy from Rhode Island told me online, when ''we turn 30 and no one hot wants us anymore.''
Brian, a 16-year-old friend of Jesse's, put it this way: ''Being in a real relationship just complicates everything. You feel obligated to be all, like, couply. And that gets really boring after a while. When you're friends with benefits, you go over, hook up, then play video games or something. It rocks.''
I'm sure it does rock, Brian. For the boys. Relationships that meet girls' emotional needs are a relic:
''It would be so weird if a guy came up to me and said, 'Irene, I'd like to take you out on a date,''' said Irene, a tall, outgoing senior. ''I'd probably laugh at him. It would be sweet, but it would be so weird!''
Irene and her friends are not nerds. They are attractive and well liked, and most have had at least one romantic relationship. If that experience taught them anything, it's that high school is no place for romantic relationships. They're complicated, messy and invariably painful. Hooking up, when done ''right,'' is exciting, sexually validating and efficient.
Of course, this is a disaster for the girls, even though they are loathe to admit it:
Many teenagers told me they were hurt by hookups -- usually because they expected or hoped for more. But they often blamed themselves for letting their emotions get the best of them. The hookups weren't the problem. They were the problem.
When Irene was 15, she hooked up for a while with a boy (''We basically became friends with benefits,'' she says) who never came around to asking her out officially, as Irene secretly hoped he would. In the end, she was devastated. ''Since then, I've become really good at keeping my emotions in check,'' she says. ''I can hook up with a guy and not fall for him.''
Pardon me, Irene, if I don't see that as a triumph. Neither does Pasadena's own Dr. Drew Pinsky:
Dr. Drew Pinsky, co-host of ''Loveline,'' a popular, nationally syndicated radio program that has some two million listeners and that was featured on MTV, doesn't buy it. ''It's all bravado,'' he says. ''Teens are unwittingly swept up in the social mores of the moment, and it's certainly not some alternative they're choosing to keep from getting hurt emotionally. The fact is, girls don't enjoy hookups nearly as much as boys, no matter what they say at the time. They're only doing it because that's what the boys want.''
I've long been a fan of Dr. Drew, who has found an engaging way to promote counter-cultural values of love and responsibility in the midst of an increasingly callous and exploitative adolescent world. What we are failing to grasp is that in many ways, the sexual revolution has resulted in a dramatic victory for teenage boys. If you could show this article to teenagers in, say, 1954, and ask them whether they would want to live in 2004, which sex do you think would show more enthusiasm at the prospect? I have no doubt that most boys of that era would be salivating with delight at the thought, while most (perhaps not all) of their female peers would be horrified.
I'm grateful that ours is a more honest culture than that of fifty -- or even twenty-five -- years ago. I'm grateful that we can have candid discussions about human sexuality that were not possible two generations ago. But I am convinced to my core that the current state of sexual mores among the young represents not a triumph for feminist principles, but a triumph for predatory masculinity. Even as young women become the majority on most college campuses, the scarcity of men perpetuates a "hooking-up" culture because young men are confident that they (in the harsh but truthful expression of another era) don't have to "buy the cow" (make commitments) because they can "get the milk" (sexual gratification) for free.
I grieve for the Irenes. I grieve for the girls who give up on their romantic dreams before they are old enough to drive a car, and who pride themselves on becoming "really good at keeping their emotions in check." That's not progress, folks. It sure as hell isn't any kind of feminism with which I wish to be associated. It makes me very angry, and very sad.