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On savagery, romance, and hookup culture

Survey results on college students’ use of dating apps reveal that we’re all still romantics at heart

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For the longest time, I was under the impression that most men my age were only looking to hook up, or as the kids say these days, “smash.” I don’t think that assumption is entirely untrue. However, according to a new survey of 3,500 college students and their uses of dating applications like Tinder and Bumble, 91 percent of students surveyed are not primarily using the apps for hookups. 

There were a number of other interesting related findings, like one in three women say “no” to hooking up on the first date whereas only one in 10 men say the same. I was curious though about this idea that not everyone on Tinder was looking for quickies, despite popular belief. 

Students reported using the apps for a variety of reasons. The most popular goal across most dating apps was “entertainment,” followed closely by “casual dating” and meeting friends. The least popular goals across all apps were receiving “nudes,” hooking up, and boosting a user’s ego.

This particular portion of the study regarding students’ wide range of goals for using dating apps demonstrates a desire for real and intimate connections among college students. In my opinion, this desire for connection both goes against the notion of “hookup” culture and is a result of it. 

In a Medium article titled “The Unspoken Problem with College Hookup Culture,” Katie Klabusich discusses the work of Lisa Wade and the notion that hookup culture, particularly among young adults, has destroyed our capacity to engage in healthy relationships. Within hookup culture, which Wade defines as “string-free” sex, students find themselves using sex to connect with others through incredibly unhealthy ways. 

“Students say they are ‘depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed’ in part because of the additional pressure and emotional toll of forcing themselves to treat partners poorly to prove that their sexual activity is string-free,” Klabusich writes. 

To sum it up, Wade cites a participant in her research who described his experience with relationships as “the blase Olympics.” Like Klabusich, I found Wade’s work to be incredibly familiar. In my experience dating in college, I have also felt an extreme pressure not to care too much, if at all. The rules of hookup culture told me that if I wanted to protect my feelings (and ego), I had to care less about any interaction than the other person did. I had to care less about the other person than the other person cared about me. This type of behavior is popularly recognized as being “savage” (thanks Rihanna). 

As a result, I found myself in too many indifferent — and sometimes hostile — situations that left me feeling bored, frustrated, and desiring a real connection. Perhaps that is why I, too, turned to Tinder and other dating apps — not to hook up, but to hopefully find a meaningful connection with someone and have experiences that would leave me feeling appreciated instead of used and abused. Clearly, according to the aforementioned study, I am not the only one looking for meaning in my relationships. 

Now, you may be thinking “yeah yeah okay, but did it work?” The answer is, “well, kind of.” I’ve definitely come across some bad guys but I’ve also been on a number of fun dates, developed a few relationships, and made some good friends.

That being said, people should err on the side of caution when using Tinder and other apps. Another portion of the study found that 36 percent of female participants, 14 percent of male participants, and 60 percent of gender non-conforming participants reported harassment while using these applications, which I can believe based on my own experiences.  

The survey does not clearly define what the terms “entertainment,” “friends,” or “hookups” actually mean. Hooking up can mean anything from meeting up for coffee to full-blown sexual intercourse, and that range of activities can be accomplished between strangers as well as established partners. 

Even the term “friend” has recently undergone a radical shift in my personal lexicon. Regardless of loose definitions, the key takeaway from this study is that despite the influence of hookup culture, which tells us not to care about each other, most of us still do care and are looking for other caring souls as well. 

Reach writer Mayowa Aina at Twitter: @mayowaaina_

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