Kathleen Parker
Maybe I'm not as old as I thought I was, she said gleefully. After reading the findings of a new report about college relationships - "Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right" - I'm feeling downright frisky. Near as I can tell, only the terminology has changed since I was a college student, um, a long time ago. Let's just say that I voted for George McGovern for president, my last official act as a "young person." That is, before taxes, children and the maturity that comes from paying one's own bills. According to the report, a joint project of the Institute for American Values and the Independent Women's Forum, young people today are either "hooking up" or "joined at the hip." In other words, they're engaging in casual sex without commitment or getting involved in intense, serious relationships. So what's new? And who's surprised? The offspring of the free-love generation are doing what their parents did. And, as a matter of fact, what more than a few of their grandparents did. Those World War II boys and gals weren't just practicing their two-step during furlough. What's also not different is that these same young folks (the young women anyway) still want what most women have always wanted - a committed relationship and marriage. Eighty-three percent of the survey respondents agreed that "being married is a very important goal for me," and 63 percent agreed that "I would like to meet my future husband in college." The survey interviewed only college women and claims to be the first nationwide study to document "hooking up," defined as "when a girl and a guy get together for a physical encounter (from kissing to the deed) and don't necessarily expect anything further." Except, the problem is - as it always has been - many of the young women do want something further and wake up the next day feeling like used laundry. This is not the stuff of revelations. The rules may change, as generations keep having to learn for themselves, but human nature remains essentially the same. Women desire commitment because it goes with the biological consequences of their actions. Men always have and always will enjoy the casual stopover as long as there's a willing partner. Birth control and abortion may have made it easier to divert biology, but there's not a pill out there that can permanently erase the spiritual/emotional yearning that goes with our most intimate act. Those are the real rules, and women ignore them at their own peril and that of their future children. Here's an example of today's female's confusion. Sixty-one percent of the survey respondents said that a hook up makes them feel "desirable" but also "awkward." They feel awkward in part because they don't know what comes next. After sex, what's left? Exactly. Back in the pre-1970s days of dating, sex was a peak event that followed more than the exchange of names and usually signaled a "relationship." Today's young women say that after hooking up, they don't know whether they're a couple, or girlfriend and boyfriend, i.e. a sexually exclusive relationship, or what? What they are is in denial. They're hooker-uppers, that's what. The definitions are clear, but women don't want what they've implicitly agreed to. Men nodding here. One recent Princeton graduate summed up the goods as well as anyone could: "The whole thing is a very male-dominated scene. Hooking up lets men get physical pleasure without any emotional connection, but for women it's hard to separate the physical from the emotional. Women want the call the next day." Feminism is partly to blame for this confusion. Men and women may be equal, but they're not the same; sexual freedom is never as free for the bearer or aborter of children, no matter how much spare change women squeeze from men's pockets. Meanwhile, there's a reason for emotions, which usually correspond to some fundamental, even unconscious, physical need; likewise there's a reason for social conventions that lend order to those emotions. There's also a reason that certain aphorisms become clichés. It's because they work and are so true that nothing else serves as well to make the point. Consider that an apology in advance for the only rule that really counts when it comes to male-female relationships: No man is going to buy a cow if he can get the milk for free.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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