"It is now pretty well understood that traditional dating in college has mostly gone the way of the landline, replaced by 'hooking up' -- an ambiguous term that can signify anything from making out to oral sex to intercourse -- without the emotional entanglement of a relationship."
Women involved in this offhanded enterprise once were "more interested in romance than in casual sex encounters." No more. As the Times found from "lengthy interviews with more than 60 women" at the University of Pennsylvania, personal success seems to trump all other considerations at the elite schools that serve as pacesetters for American higher ed.
"I positioned myself in college in such a way," one woman told the Times, "that I can't have a meaningful romantic relationship, because I'm always busy, and the people that I am interested in are always busy." And so one night earlier this year, she confessed, "she texted her regular hookup -- the guy she is sleeping with but not dating. What was he up to? He texted back: Come over. So she did. They watched a little TV, had sex and went to sleep." She told the Times she didn't even like him.
The article goes on in this vein for quite a long time. Male-female relationships don't count for much on campus these days. What counts is professional drive, ambition, career satisfaction, staying perpetually busy. Sex equals hookup: brief, impersonal. One woman explained to the Times that "her classmates tried very hard to separate sex from emotion, because they believed getting attached to someone would interfere with their work. They saw a woman's marrying young as either proof of a lack of ambition or a tragic mistake that would stunt her career."
A new world is in the making -- one intensely personal; a world of Self. No wonder growing numbers concede to those who claim it the right to form any kind of attachment that suits them -- heterosexual, homosexual, fertile, childless.
Single, as well -- determinedly detached, save from those they unavoidably encounter along the pathway to success or mediocrity.
It has to be said that the University of Pennsylvania isn't the world. Nor is the Times the world's certified interpreter.
The styles and views of the elite drive chiefly the elite. On the other hand, haven't the elite always made it their mission to inspire the earth's grosser, more dim-witted corners?
In the hyper-connected world of the 21st century, styles and outlooks and assumptions spread as fast as Twitter can carry them. It takes nerve to buck trends seen as chic and modern -- and easy. For decades family relationships -- always the bulwark of civilization -- have weakened under the impact of divorce and serial monogamy.
"For many people," writes Mary Eberstadt in her new book, "How the West Really Lost God," "'family' is ... at least in part, a series of optional associations that can be and sometimes are discarded voluntarily depending on preference."
It's clearly no way to live, unless we decide -- as no society ever has done -- to define "living" as membership in the Whim of the Month Club; just a succession of inner feelings and social pinpricks.
Injury to the family as an institution has never been defined as a capital crime, but it could be said to have fatal consequences: the death of cultural coherence and social order; the demotion of the human being -- whether male or female -- to the estate of despair and loneliness.
Then there's the future to consider.
What comes of droughts in childbearing is the drying up not just of numbers but of energies, abilities and faith in the value of everything we do.
Faculties and student bodies at elite universities are supposed to understand such things. It may be we need to redefine "elite" as morbidly self-satisfied, out-of-touch, silent and dead at the very core.