Searching for Mr. Right Now
A new book says that more young women aren't looking for long-term love.
March 16, 2007 — -- On a Saturday night in Washington, D.C., 23-year-old Evi Lalangas and her 21-year-old sister, Tina, are ready to hit the town. Tonight's location? Adam's Morgan -- a hip, young D.C. neighborhood known for its bustling night life.
On this particular night, Evi and Tina grab their stilettos and their friends and head out the door in hopes of finding Mr. Right -- that is, Mr. Right Now. These ladies aren't looking for boyfriends, but they're open to the idea of hooking up.
"When you're hooking up," said Evi, explaining her feelings, "it's 'I want to feel good right now, and this is how I'm going to feel good. I'm going to kiss. I'm going to do this and that because I want it right now and don't care who you are. We want some sort of self-satisfaction."
According to Evi and Tina, "hooking up" is broadly defined. They say it can range from kissing to making out to having sex. It's often with a stranger and, if there were any thoughts of this tryst leading to a relationship, think again.
"[Hooking up] means there's no emotional element," said Evi. "We hooked up, I'm physically satisfied, and I went on my way."
So, just how prevalent is this culture of hooking up? "I think it's rampant," said Tina. "Everyone does it," said Evi. "In our age group? I think everyone. I think we would honestly consider someone weird if they didn't hook up."
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Laura Sessions Stepp has written a book about this phenomenon titled "Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Love, Delay Love, and Lose at Both." The book explores what Stepp said is an alarming trend among young women.
"The final piece of it among many … is their ability to be in a relationship once they want to be in a relationship," Stepp said. "How do you learn those things like respecting each other, having trust, communicating, solving problems?"
In researching the book, Stepp followed a handful of college and high school girls during a school year. Tina appears in the book under the the alias "Nicole," and is quoted describing one hookup: "The sex wasn't great," Nicole admitted later, but that's not why she had spent the night either time. "I wanted to prove I still had the upper hand. I knew he could get a lot of girls, and I was playing his own game …"
"That's correct," said Tina, when asked about that passage. "Yeah. Beating him to it. Because if you beat him to it, you're the one who kicked him out, you're the one who's emotionally detached, you don't give him time to burn you."
Tina's story illustrates the source of Stepp's worries. "Young women were telling me about hookups," she said. "They had become attached, they felt hurt, they felt used, they weren't feeling any passion, any joy in the sex they were having."
But, according to Stepp, Tina wasn't emotionally detached. She said, like almost every girl who hooks up, she was in denial and ended up getting hurt.
"That is when I thought," said Stepp, "there is something wrong here. There is something amiss here. They are not getting all that they could out of their relationships."
Stepp worries these experiences will lead to troubled relationships later in life. And she calls on girls to change their behavior.
"Girls need to preserve their power, not give it away," said Stepp. "Girls are doing themselves no favors by giving it away."
Some professionals, however, disagree with Stepp's viewpoint. Deborah Tolman is a Harvard-trained psychologist and a professor at San Francisco State University. She said Stepp's views are based on bad assumptions.
"I think the whole book is premised on the idea that there is something wrong with these girls," said Tolman. "And whenever we see girls acting sexually in an overt way, in a proactive way, we get panicky. We are very anxious about women's sexuality, still, in this society."