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The Other Problem with the Rise of Hookup Culture

The rise of hookup culture has long been a peg for all kinds of fears about gender relations and modern life, and Friday’s New York Times piece about the women driving hookup culture was no different. After a year of interviews with University of Pennsylvania undergrads, reporter Kate Taylor came to the conclusion that women, not just men, are driving the hookup culture—and it’s because they’re too busy and ambitious for traditional, formal relationships. 

In his response for The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argued that long-term relationships—even if you don’t end up married to the person—are crucial tools of self-education. As an example of the kind of support offered by romantic partners, Friedersdorf recounts an anecdote in which his girlfriend enlightened him as to the hurtful power of an angry email. “It's a lesson I wouldn't have gotten to hear if she hadn't known me well, cared about me, and been invested in me,” Friedersdorf wrote.

But nothing about this situation is unique to a romantic relationship. The fight in question could just have easily been between two close friends, with Friedersdorf still learning the same lesson. The original Times story and the responses miss one of the most interesting aspects: Amid all this busyness that’s stopping us from meaningful intimacy, where does friendship fit in?

While it’s unclear if friendships are actually on the decline, it’s easy to imagine that those most focused on their careers might let them slide by the wayside—and this isn’t without consequence. In addition to the intrinsic importance of maintaining deep, lasting friendships, loneliness comes with its own set of problems, as a Times wellness piece argued in May. According to a host of studies, loneliness can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, cognitive decline, and even early death. These findings were echoed in Judith Shulevitz’s cover story last month.

College is also one of the best times to make life-long friends, as Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro told the Times last year. She identifies “proximity, unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other” as the three conditions “crucial to making close friends.”

Do the women who’ve replaced more traditional relationships with hookups rely on friendships more heavily for intimacy, or were those also pushed to the side in their high-powered lives? If this is the case, they’re missing out in more ways than sex-oriented articles seem to realize.