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Jewish World Review August 3, 2001 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Opening the dormitory door: College romance in the New Century -- as summer turns the corner and students begin packing up to return to college, parents of what used to be known as "coeds" would do well to bone up on a new study of campus manners and mores just released by the Independent Women's Forum. Focusing on college women's attitudes toward dating and mating, the study presents an unflinchingly close, un-retouched picture of campus life that no glossy brochure or course catalogue ever shows.

In 71 pages, "Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right" (see ) opens the dormitory door on a social scene where the romantic unknown has long been de-mystified by the coed dorm, and where dating has long been supplanted by "hanging out." Today's bright college years are marked by a casual, if anxious promiscuity that drives college women into two main types of liaisons with college men: supposedly unemotional "hookups"--sexual encounters without commitment (or even dinner)--and an all-consuming kind of cohabitation that amounts to being "joined at the hip."

Of course, some things, as they say, never change. Eighty-three percent of these same young, thoroughly postmodern women still consider marriage an "important life goal," with 63 percent agreeing that they would like to meet their future husband in college. Question: Is immersion in this fluid but oddly sterile sexual environment really the best way to go about it?

What comes through the collated results and excerpted interviews of "Hooking Up" is a vivid picture of young women after the liberation of their mothers. They are not so much free of constraints, as they are cut adrift. As the study's authors write, "College women ... come of age in an environment that lacks a culture of courtship, that lacks broadly recognized social practices and norms that help them to place their present desires and experiences in the context of their future marriages. Hooking up, hanging out, and joining at the hip are logical, if flawed, responses to this major cultural absence."

Allan Bloom once observed that "there is much lamenting about the collapse of the family, but practically no attempt to revive romantic rituals that once led to it and underlay it." This is true. Indeed, the social support such rituals have provided in the past has been grossly underestimated. The testimony of "Hooking Up" offers persuasive evidence that the disappearance of these traditional courtship rituals merits some of the same consideration and debate that the collapse of the family receives.

This can begin as soon as older adults decide to return to the realm of dating and mating as guides and supervisors--despite a long tradition of being ignored and thwarted as much as they're heeded. (A good place to open the debate might be with questioning whether coed dorms, i.e. hook-up hang-outs, should continue to exist.) The fact is, the free-fallen conditions described in this Independent Women's Forum study cannot be dismissed as a simple matter of changing taste or fashion. Today's emphatically non-romantic rituals, leading to a chronic numbness between the sexes, are clear manifestations of what happens in a veritable social vacuum.

It doesn't have to be this way.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West