It’s a Date

In the second chapter of her book Hooking up, Kathleen Bogle describes the history of how the dominant intimacy script shifted from dating to hooking up. She begins by responding to calls from various media outlets for a return to a more conservative sexual morality, which usually involve condemnations of hookup culture. She points out that dating is also a recent phenomenon, and that it replaced what came before it just as mush as hooking up replaced dating. The point of this chapter is to detail the transitions in intimacy scripts that led to dating, away from dating, and to hooking up.

First she describes the conditions for intimate partnering prior to the twentieth century. Romantic love played little role, and families largely arranged marriages. Economics and politics had much more determining power than sexual attraction. After the industrial revolution, romantic feelings gradually began to gain significance.

At the outset of the twentieth century, the dominant script was the “calling’ script. Calling entailed a man who was deemed financially qualified to marry visiting the house of a woman who was considered respectable. The woman’s mother was present nearly the entire time and played a significant role in assessing the eligibility of the man. However, many women lacked the wealth to be able to entertain men in their homes. As a result, the dating script emerged, offering women from families without significant financial resources a way to engage in the courting process with men. The man and the woman would pick a place to spend time together outside of the home.

Bogle then explains that the dating phenomenon did not stay confined to the lower class for a very long time. Rebellious upper class youths also began to go on dates. The advent of the automobile as well as society’s increasing receptivity to women in the public sphere aided the rise of the dating script as well. Bogle cites a study that describes the difference between the new dating script and courtship as dalliance relationships versus search for marriage partners.

Most dating took places on college campuses. Men were mostly looking for sexual favors of some kind, casual relationships they could enjoy before settling into their post graduate careers. Women were interested mostly in status and having money spent on them. This turned the campus social dynamic into a competitive scene. Both men and women were interested in being seen in public on dates with people of the opposite sex who had high social rank.

When World War II came around, men became very scare, so the dating script changed somewhat. Now men and women were interested in a status called “going steady,” which meant dating someone exclusively for a long period of time. As “steadies,” as they were called, became more open to increasing levels of sexual intimacy, a youth culture began to emerge that was increasingly tolerant of sexual expression.

In the 1960’s, hooking up began to emerge. Progressive ideas about sexuality and increased availability of the birth control pill made it easy for college students who met under the influence of alcohol at parties to have casual sexual encounters. Students began pushing against “in loco parentis” laws that allowed universities to prevent students having casual encounters. Feminism also played a large role in the rise of the hookup scene. Before feminism’s impact on American society, it was difficult for women to enjoy sexual encounters casually without being labeled a “bad girl.” Feminism helped promote the hookup scene because it helped women to believe it was ok for them to enjoy themselves sexually.

One of the things that bothered me about this chapter is that it seemed to treat the hookup script as though it hasn’t changed since it originally emerged. I would have liked to see the same level of detail in describing phases of the hookup script as there were for the dating script. I don’t know exactly how I’d divide it up though. Can you think of where you would draw boundaries if you had to historically divide up the hookup script into different sections?

This reminded me of the work we did with identities to some extent. I remember feeling surprised that “homosexuality” wasn’t always just a static thing; it used to be a behavior before it was an identity. I feel the same way about intimacy scripts reading this. Without history the present tends to feel feels absolute and necessary, where when you understand the history often it feels more arbitrary and accidental.

To my earlier point: think about articles like this:

There’s absolutely no way the pre-internet hookup scene should be treated as continuous with the post-internet, post-smartphone world. There’s just too many cultural artifacts like this that have made too big of a splash. I think the internet has increased people’s tolerance toward sexual expression, but also (and this is very personal opinion-y) dramatically reduced people’s emotional maturity regarding sexuality. Again, I’m not the PHD, so I can’t say exactly how I would chop the whole history of the hookup script into pieces, but I do think the Internet would be a good place to start. What are some other historical landmarks that fundamentally changed how hooking up works?

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