"They saw building their résumés, not finding boyfriends
(never mind husbands), as their main job at Penn. They envisioned their
20s as a period of unencumbered striving, when they might work at a
bank in Hong Kong one year, then go to business school, then move to a
corporate job in New York. The idea of lugging a relationship through
all those transitions was hard for many to imagine. Almost universally,
the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early
Presumably, many of their male classmates feel this way, too: hookups through most or all of one's 20s, then more serious dating, and eventually, perhaps, a serious relationship or marriage. (In the article and in real life, there are lots of college students with very different perspectives, but the "hook up to maximize striving" subculture is the one that I want to focus on discussing.)
My experience at a highly ranked college was far more laid back than what's described by these women, so I won't presume that the experiences of my peers and me offer perfect parallels. But I'm struck by an assumption that seems buried in the approach that they're articulating. As they see it, ages 18 to 28 are high achievement years where credentials, job-seeking, and establishing oneself in a profession are the focuses. So no-strings hookups are preferable for most of those years. Presumably, there's a period of more serious, at least marginally more traditional dating that starts at 25 or 26 or 27. There's a greater investment of time and emotional energy. A desirable life partner is eventually located, culminating in marriage at age 28 or 30.
You've heard the standard critiques of this approach. One holds that hookup culture is immoral, or damaging, or emotionally unsatisfying. Another warns these women that they're gambling by leaving such a small temporal window to find a husband, get married, and have a family. Let's sidestep those debates. I'd like to put forth an unrelated misgiving grounded in my own experiences.
During the decade that began when I turned 18, I had stretches when I dated seriously and stretches where I was single. In my 20s, I lived abroad and moved around the country for my career.
I married at 32.
Perhaps if I'd never dated anyone before my wife, I could've poured that much more time into my career. It isn't a tradeoff I'd make; I had great times dating wonderful people who remain friends, and it surprises me that young people would sacrifice romance for a marginal career edge. And surely there's a limit to how much college resume-building changes one's life trajectory.
More importantly for our purposes, every serious girlfriend I had in the years before I met my wife taught me so much about what I wanted and needed in a relationship and how to give others what they want and need. I always tried to be good to people; and because I was invested in them and loved them, my successes and failures impacted me powerfully, leaving indelible marks. Even looking back, I'm proud of the times when I was a good boyfriend, and regretful or even ashamed of the times when I fell short; and I learned from times when girlfriends made me happy and the times they didn't. Experience, self-knowledge, and wisdom like that can't be gleaned from years of "unencumbered striving." I'm glad that I spent long stretches single, too. Doing so teaches its own sort of independence. But I'd have been so much dumber at 28 if, till then, I'd only had no-strings hookups. I think that most people would be.