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Hook Ups, Sexuality, and Socrates

December 1, 2009

by Patrick Atwater
Hook Ups, Sexuality, and Socrates

What the hell does the phrase mean?  Sure, I can use it in a sentence, and I’m not at a loss when other people say it.   But what does the thing really imply? Urban Dictionary defines “hooking up” as everything from making out to intercourse, which in a sexual context, is to say anything.  The word is an empty vessel through which we can share our exploits without sharing them, into which we can pour our shame without confessing.  It allows us to simulate genuine interaction without actually having to go through the ordeal of being completely honest.

But shouldn’t we be honest, if not with each other, the at least with ourselves?  If you can’t deal with saying “I had sex with some rando last night” or “none of your goddamn business,” maybe you shouldn’t be hooking up.  Just a thought.

A more interesting question, though, is to ask what the phrase says about our sex lives generally.  Is it not indicative of a type of interaction that places more emphasis on simulation than reality?  Half the conversations on a typical Saturday night really don’t deserve the name.  Talking is less an actual interplay of ideas than an exchange of signs, decodable only in a carefully calibrated argot—what some call the game.  The words spoken and the sentences they create matter less than what they represent.  “Want to watch a YouTube video in my room?” is not a genuine request but actually a nifty and socially non-threatening way to ask the other person if they want to hook up.[1]

This raises a question: why is so much of how we pursue each other pretense and deceit?  There’s a reason it’s called the game, but why is that so especially true at the 5Cs?   Why do we grind up on each other in dark rooms, searching for a hint of a connection somewhere, somehow, as we drown in a sea of signifiers? I don’t want to moralize—and really I shouldn’t.  I just think maybe we need to take a collective look in the mirror.

I mean, why do so many of us want a normal dating scene?  And yet why is the only ostensible indication of this in articles written behind the safe ramparts of online discourse?  Why is it creepy to ask someone to hang out in your room when you’re both sober and not when you drunkenly stumble into each other at TNC?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I think I know the root of the problem: being a genuine person is hard.  It’s far easier to hope to drunkenly stumble into someone that you like on a Saturday night than ask them on a date.  You don’t actually have to show initiative, just trust to Providence and the will of Andrew Cosentino.  Of course, any missteps you make can easily be blamed on being drunk.  And any emotion you might feel can be safely siphoned into the linguistic black hole "to hook up."  In short, our sociolingual edifice is more than accommodating.  But there’s value to that harder step.  It’s why Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living” and—I think—why there was such a positive response to Charles’ open letter.  Perhaps all of us—myself included—need to better appreciate how hard it is to forge meaning out of life, and how worthy that struggle truly is.

[1]At least compared to the horribly cliché movie bit.

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