The Atlantic has a piece out by Leslie C. Bell titled Women in Their 20s Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Wanting a Boyfriend (H/T Free Northerner). Ms. Bell takes issue with Hanna Rosin’s assertion in Boys on the Side that young women are entirely satisfied with the hookup culture. Interestingly both Bell and Rosin agree that hookup culture is being driven by the choices of women, they just disagree on how comfortable young women are with the results. As is typical for this kind of article, neither offers any actual statistics to back up their assertions.
Given the lack of data it isn’t possible to state for certain what is going on here, but my personal guess is that both are right to a degree. Given the Sexual Market Place (SMP) power position young women hold they are the ones in the position to demand hookups, “relationships”, or marriage. Since hookups are the order of the day it is clear that this is what young women are demanding. As to the point of contention, my own sense is that early 20s women are by and large quite happy with the hookup culture while late 20s women are increasingly uncomfortable with it. Either way, those young women who are uncomfortable enough with the hookup culture always have the option of electing for something different. It isn’t until their mid to late 30s that they will find that men are now the ones in a position to set the frame of the SMP.
What neither author noticed is that young women are comfortable with hookups because they assume that LTRs and ultimately marriage will be theirs for the taking once they tire of hookups. Flings/hookups are fun, and even (feel) empowering when a woman is young and in the SMP power position; each new encounter is further proof that she holds the veto power over men. However, when the men are the ones doing the vetoing empowerment turns into a never ending round of rejection. Instead of having men pursue her she finds herself being passed around, if not passed over.
Ms. Bell quotes a woman named Katie who at 25 is right on the dividing line between early and late 20s. Katie is torn between her desire to demonstrate girlpower and her fear of ending up alone; she worries that her focus on higher education and career will ultimately limit her romantic prospects:
She felt deeply ashamed by such thoughts, worried that they signaled weakness and dependence, qualities she did not admire. To put such a high premium on relationships was frightening to Katie. She worried that it meant she wasn’t liberated and was still defined by traditional expectations of women.
Part of the problem is the message parents are sending to their daughters:
Many feel ashamed about being too relationship-oriented in their 20s. Parents warn, “Do you really want to settle down so early?
What neither the young women nor their parents are taking into consideration is that young women who decided to ride the carousel in their 20s are already starting to have great difficulty finding a husband when the time comes. What young women are doing by voting with their sexual power for hookups and flings over LTRs and marriage is changing the way men are approaching sex and relationships. When they finally are ready for LTRs and marriage they are finding that the prospective husbands they expected to be in a holding pattern for over a decade are hard to come by.
Men in their early 20s are observing that marriage and girlfriends aren’t in the cards, and this reduces their incentive to work hard to demonstrate provider status. Their female peers are too busy hooking up with cads while misguidedly trying to signal their own provider status. In short, the grooming process for grooms is vanishing.
Eventually the reality that an entire generation of women can’t devote their most attractive years to casual sex and then marry in their very late 20s or 30s will sink in. Not all women will find this impossible, but it is highly unlikely they will be able to marry at the rates they are expecting. This sense of certainty is what kicked off the entire process, so once reality fully sinks in we will start to see women in their 20s react to this latest round in the sexual revolution.