Can Friendship Help Heal Hookup Culture?

A Federalist article with the provocative headline “Why Men and Women Can Never Be Just Friends” recently went viral for claiming that men are only interested in women’s friendship for amorous reasons.

A thoughtful response by author Gracy Olmstead argues that actually, men and women can be friends, but our hypersexualized culture has prevented them from developing deep opposite-or-same sex friendships.

For men, Olmstead notes, the fear of seeming effeminate or needy can prevent closer connections with both men and women. For women, too often, “discussions of romance monopolize most conversations, to the detriment of shared interests and activities”—as if female friendship were primarily a vehicle for processing male-female interactions; a stopgap until love is found.

Friendships Needed Now More Than Ever

The irony is that deep, comprehensive friendship is needed most in a time when fewer young adults are married. Everyone needs emotional closeness, someone who will take time for them, who will listen about job or family struggles, or even just hear about the great new show they’re watching.

For single young adults, this role will only be fulfilled by friends who will still be there after romantic relationships have ended. Increasingly, even those romantic relationships are brief, physical, and emotionless. One writer talks about “pseudo-relationships”: the mutant children of meaningless sex and loving partnerships. Two students consistently hook up with one another—and typically, only each other—for weeks, months, even years. Yet per unspoken social code, neither party is permitted emotional involvement, commitment, or vulnerability.

It’s well documented that both men and women don’t actually enjoy this “hookup culture,” with most wishing for committed relationships instead of casual sex. Yet as long as the young adult social scene prizes sexual conquest with emotional distance, men and women will follow the script set before them, hoping it will one day lead to true intimacy.

Friendships Offer Emotional Intimacy and Healthy Connection

Olmstead agrees that when emotional needs are really being met, it can prevent single men and women from seeking intimacy through casual physical experiences.

Maybe part of the answer to the unsatisfying ennui of the hookup culture is an increase in friendship. Women with women, men and men, and men and women, together. Where emotional involvement, commitment, and vulnerability are welcomed. Where women can encourage each other to expect more from their relationships; where men can find value outside of sexual conquest; and where men and women can get to know each other in a way that transcends the physical.

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