Friends Without Benefits
NOTE: Some of the names and identifying details in this story have been switched.
She wished it to be like the scene in the Lana Del Rey movie for “Blue Jeans”—“hot and slow and epic.” The scene where strangers meet and fall into an effortless proximity, making love in a pool—“and they look so hot and it’s just, like, totally epic.” A boy at her school—she didn’t want to talk about him now; he’d cracked her heart; but “like, whatever.” She’d “deleted him” from her phone. “I was stalking him too much, witnessing him doing joy things on Instagram, and it hurt.”
They’d been instant-messaging on Facebook, and one night he told her he loved her. And then “I found out he was talking to, like, four other chicks.” And now she dreamed to do something to get over it, maybe to get back at him. “I mean, I should have known. All dudes are basically whores.” When he didn’t turn out to be her “true love”—“like Bella and Edward, or Bella and Jacob, you know?”—she determined she had to “lose it to someone,” so why not with someone she would never have to see again? And yet, she hoped it would somehow be like the Lana Del Rey song. “I will love you till the end of time,” it goes.
The man she was supposed to meet that day—the dude from Tinder, the dating app kids were using to meet up—“I know, like, five guys who’ve done it; women use it too, but they pretend like they don’t”—he was lovely and had tattoos on his arms. He looked “James Franco–ish,” but junior. On Tinder you could meet people in your age group. She was 16; he was 17.
Alone in her room, the night before, reading her friends’ Twitter feeds and watching YouTube movies (Selena Gomez and “baby animals being adorable”), she’d began feeling lonely, restless, and bored. “Sometimes I just want to talk to a boy so bad.” So she downloaded the app and began swiping through the pictures of boys in her area. She “hearted” his picture, and within a few minutes he had hearted hers, and then they were instantly texting.
They arranged to rendezvous at a shopping mall in Los Angeles not far from the neighborhood where they lived. “Of course it was going to be a public place. And if it turned out he was indeed some gross old man, I’d just run away.” But there he was, standing by his car, looking almost like his picture. . . . Almost. There was something different about his face—it was “squishier. Like, he was almost fat.” But now here they were, and she didn’t know fairly how to get out of it.
He smiled and kissed her on the cheek. He smelled of Axe Bod Sploog. She was sorry she’d spent so much time getting ready for this. “I even waxed,” she said. He desired her to get in his car, but she knew she shouldn’t. They began walking around the mall, “talking about nothing, nothing. It was awkward, totally weird.” He asked if she dreamed to sit down, but there was nowhere to sit except in restaurants, so they wound up going inwards a Pottery Barn and making out on a couch. Later she posted something on her Tumblr blog about the difficulty of finding love.
“Gotta wheel the bitches in. Gotta wheel the bitches in,” said the teenage boy on a city bus in Fresh York. “Nowadays you can do it so effortless. There are so many apps and shit that just, like, mitt you the ladies. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing, but truly they’re just providing teenagers ways to have lovemaking.”
If you’re inbetween eight and Legitimate, you spend more than eleven hours a day plugged into an electronic device. The average American teenage now spends almost every waking moment on a wise phone or computer or watching TV. This seismic shift in how kids spend their time is having a profound effect on the way they make friends, the way they date, and their introduction to the world of lovemaking.
Kids have always been interested in hook-up, of course; but there have never been more ways for them to express that to one another, at any moment of the day, no matter where they are. They don’t even have to be together, and often they are not. “You can be sitting in class getting a boner ’cause some dame is texting you that she wants to suck your dick,” said a boy in L.A. “It’s kind of distracting.”
As quickly as fresh social media shows up, teenagers seem to find ways to use it to have hook-up, often hook-up devoid of even any pretense of emotional proximity. There’s sexting, and there’s Snapchat, where teenagers share pictures of their figures or bod parts; on Skype, sometimes they de-robe for each other or masturbate together. On Omegle, they can talk to strangers, and sometimes the talk turns sexual. A boy in L.A. told me about a boy he knew who had a PayPal account where he accepted payment for being sexual online with “random guys . . . Two hundred bucks.” And then there is Tinder, where kids can meet each other on their phones. “It’s like Grindr used to be for gay guys, but now kids are doing it,” said a female in L.A. “No one cares about anything but how you look.”
“We don’t date; we just meet up,” another chick in L.A. told me. “Even people who get in a relationship, it usually starts with a hookup.” Which can mean anything from making out to having hook-up. “When you have lovemaking with a fellow, they want it to be like a porno,” said a 19-year-old dame in Fresh York. “They want ass fucking and oral right away. Oral is, like, the fresh smooching.” “The spunk shot in the face is a big thing,” said another doll.
And then there are “texting relationships,” a disembodied coupling that takes place solely on a screen. It can still become very sexual, often very quickly. “Guys you know from just, like, having one class together will be like, ‘Do you like to suck dick?’” said a 17-year-old woman in Fresh York. “And if you say no, they just budge on to the next person.”
“Social media is ruining our lives,” said the lady at the Grove.
“So why don’t you go off it?” I asked.
“Because then we would have no life,” said her friend.
The chicks had been celebrating a bday at the busy L.A. mall, and now they were on their way home; they carried bags of leftovers from the Cheesecake Factory. There were four of them: Melissa, Zoe, Padma, and Greta.* They stopped to sit down and talk awhile at an outdoor table.
They were pretty ladies with long straight hair—two blonde, two brown-haired, all aged 16. They wore sleeveless summer dresses and looked fresh and sweet. They went to a magnet high school in L.A.
Greta, they said, was famous—or Instafamous, having thousands of followers on Instagram. She demonstrated me a gallery of her Instapics; some were of her dog and some were of Greta pouting and wearing “the duck face.” Some of her followers, she said, were “random dudes in Italy and Arabia.”
Melissa said, “I have Facebook, a YouTube account. I’ve used Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine . . . ”
Blendr, another geosocial dating network like Tinder, describes itself as a “free, socially flirtatious chat-to-meet app.”
“I have a Twitter, but I don’t use it except for stalking other people,” said Greta.
They all laughed knowingly.
“I think everyone does it,” Greta said. “Everyone looks through other people’s profiles, but especially being teenage chicks, we look at the profiles of the masculines we find attractive and we stalk the females the masculines find attractive.”
“It’s a way to get to know them without the awkward ‘Oh, what do you like to do?’ You already know,” said Padma.
“You can know their likes and dislikes,” Greta said. “‘Oh, they like this band.’ So you can, like, casually wear that band’s T-shirt and have them, like, fall in love with you or something. Or you can be like, ‘Oh, they listen to that music? Ew. Go away.’”
I asked them how they knew when a boy liked them.
“When a boy likes your [Facebook] profile pic or almost anything you post, it means that they’re stalking you, too. Which means they have interest in you,” said Zoe.
I asked them how they made the transition from social-media interaction to real-world interaction.
“You talk to them on Facebook; you do talk with them,” Melissa said.
I asked if they had beau’s.
“There’s this boy Seth,” said Greta, “and when he liked my profile picture, I knew it was like, ‘Hey, ’sup, you adorable.’ Then we held forearms at a party. We were nice. But the one thing I didn’t like about him was he didn’t go after me back on Instagram. Social media causes soooooo much anxiety.”
They all agreed on that.
“The thing with social media is, if a fellow doesn’t react to you or doesn’t, like, stalk you back, then you’re gonna feel rejected,” said Melissa.
“And rejection hurts,” said Padma.
“And then you’re gonna go, like, look for another person to pack that void and you’re gonna budge on to stalking someone else,” Melissa said.
“That’s how studs become such whores,” said Greta.
“Guys actually take the Facebook-talking situation way too far,” meaning sexually, said Zoe.
They were nodding their goes.
“Like, when guys begin a Facebook thing, they want too much,” said Padma. “They want to get some. They attempt with different damsels to see who would give more of themselves.”
“It leads to major man-whoring,” Greta said.
“They’re undoubtedly more forward to us online than in person,” said Zoe. “Because they’re not telling it to our faces.”
“This man Seth, who is normally timid in real life,” said Greta, “sends chicks messages asking for nudes.”
She showcased me a text exchange in which Seth had asked her to “send pics”—meaning nude pics, a request Seth had punctuated with a smiley face. Greta had responded “Lololol” and “Hahahaha” and “Nope.” “It wasn’t THAT funny,” Seth had texted back.
“He isn’t my bf,” clarified Greta.
“My friend, she was VC-ing,” or movie talking, “this dude she was kind of dating,” Melissa said. “He sent so many nudes to her, but she wasn’t trusting that he wouldn’t showcase the pictures to other people. So she Skyped him and demonstrated him nudes that way. He took a screenshot without her knowing it. He sent it to so many people and the entire baseball team. She was purred about and called names. It’s never gone away. He still has it and won’t delete it.”
I asked if they knew chicks who posted provocative pictures of themselves. They all said yes.
“More provocative equals more likes,” said Greta.
“It attracts more guys and then it makes other chicks think about doing it just for the attention. They’re attention whores,” said Padma, frowning.
“My father thinks all my photos are provocative,” Greta mused.
“I think some damsels post trampy pictures of themselves to display guys the side to them that guys want to see,” said Zoe. “It’s annoying.”
“Ladies call them tramp’s. Boys call it hot,” said Padma.
Greta shrugged. “I call it hilarious.”
In the movie for ”We Can’t Stop,“ Miley Cyrus writhes around on a bed, sticking her culo up in the air. She grinds her butt into the groin of a woman dirty dancing. She writhes around in an empty bathtub, sticking her bum in the air some more. She emerges at the V.M.A.’s dirty dancing into the goods of Robin Thicke, causing an international sensation.
In the movie for ”Summer Fling,“ Willow Smith stares at the nip of a teenage boy while suggesting him her phone number. Willow’s 12. She sings about having a summer fling: “It’s just a duo nights, but we do it anyway.” A boy shoots water into a pool party at which Willow and her bikini-clad friends hop on a trampoline, spreading their gams.
“Of course ladies want to emulate this stuff,” Kim Goldman said one afternoon at her home. Goldman is the director of the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project, a counseling service for teenagers that reaches around 23,000 kids in fourteen schools in the district. (She’s also the sister of Ron Goldman, the man slain along with Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of O. J. Simpson.) “Damsels talk about feeling like they have to be like what they see on TV,” she said. “They talk about body-image issues and not having any role models. They all want to be like the Kardashians. Kendall Jenner posts swimsuit shots when she’s sixteen and gets Ten,000 likes, and chicks see that’s what you do to get attention.”
Santa Clarita, an affluent community nestled in the arid Santa Susana Mountains north of L.A., has its share of troubled kids. There’s been a rash of heroin-related deaths over the last year. A Facebook page entitled “Santa Clarita Whore’s” was eventually taken down. In January, Michael Downs, a local teenage, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for sexually assaulting fifteen ladies (one a 12-year-old), many of whom he met on Facebook.
“We’re watching depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation,” said Goldman. “I think social media is contributing to these things. We have kids who’ve had hook-up with people they meet on Talk Roulette. At one of the junior highs we work with, we found out there were a few kids engaging in an online fuck-fest. They all signed into a movie talk room.” One of their parents walked in on it.
“We had women selling oral hook-up for $Ten and $15 in the bathroom at a school,” said Goldman. “Hook-up is everywhere. Everything is sexualized. They’re all reading Fifty Shades of Grey.”
On a bright, hot day in June, I met Sydney at the Popover Café on the Upper West Side. She was blonde and angelic looking, like a lady from a Beaux Arts painting of the 1890s; she was 17.
She gave me her headshot; I’m not sure why. She said she wants to be an actress.
“I was cyber-bullied when I was junior,” she said over popovers, “on this [social-media site for kids]. It was this thing where you create a profile of a cartoon character, and this random stranger embarked talking to me and telling indeed creepy things. I was in sixth grade.
“I didn’t know who it was at very first. It turned out it was one of the chicks at my school,” a private damsels’ school in Manhattan. “She was telling, like, all this sexual stuff. I don’t even know how she learned how to talk that way.
“I was eleven years old, and I didn’t know how to react. And then she and her friends took screenshots [of the conversations] and spread them around and began calling me a tramp.” She winced.
“I was totally traumatized. I had to switch schools. I became insanely insecure.” But nothing ever happened to the women who bullied her. “I begged my mom not to bring the school into it. I didn’t want to be that woman that tattletaled.”
And then a few years later, she eyed her former victimizers on Facebook. “They kept stalking me and I was nosey, so I friended them back.” That’s when she found out that these chicks had become “famous.”
“In Fresh York every kid knows each other,” and some kids are “famous,” Sydney said. “Everyone’s obsessed with the feeling they have fame. They post pictures of themselves at certain parties. They friend certain kids. There’s so much social climbing.”
Her hooligans were now two of the most visible damsels in the Manhattan high-school scene, the type of damsels who “go clubbing with 21-year-olds” and get invited to “events.” “One of their moms has, like, a clothing line.” On her iPhone, Sydney displayed me the ladies’ Facebook pages, where they had posted many pictures of themselves partying in nightclubs and posing, mitt on hip, Paris Hilton–style, surrounded by Euro-looking boys. These pictures got a lot of likes.
“They dress like tart’s,” Sydney said, “in bandeaus and brief cut-offs that showcase your butt cheeks—excuse me, you’re not at the beach.” She admitted she sometimes dressed like that too. “Because if you don’t, you will get shunned. Ladies are just so mean.
“I don’t go into the bathrooms at school,” she said, “‘cause they just say mean stuff to you. They look at you up and down like, ‘What are you wearing?’ Social media makes it so much worse. Like on Ask.fm”—a social-networking site with sixty five million users, half under the age of Eighteen, on which subscribers are invited to speak their minds about each other—“they just say mean, mean, mean, mean things.
“I love Tumblr,” she said, “’cause it’s just kids voicing themselves with writing and pictures; but it’s also a lot about how to look and dress, and it makes a lot of women feel bad ‘cause there’ll be beautiful ladies with beautiful everything and everyone re-posts it, and, like, it makes you feel bad about all the things you’re doing wrong.
“On Tumblr there’s ‘The Rich Kids of Instagram,’ which is these kids attempting to demonstrate off their wealth, and it’s so not O.K., it’s revolting, but it still makes me feel bad about myself—kind of like I’m not part of it.”
She said there was a term for this, FOMO—fear of missing out.
She told me about parties where damsels “literally wear nothing” and kids take Molly, MDMA. “The ‘in’ thing for ladies to do is to truly just go nuts at parties, just go insane. They feel like the more they drink and the crazier they act, the more guys will come to them.” Crazy how? “Dancing around, flashing their boobies.”
At these parties, she said, which take place “at people’s houses or a space somebody rents out to make money,” “people meet up with more than one person. It’s dark and, like, one hundred kids are there. It’s not considered a big deal. Guys attempt and meet up with as many women as possible.”
“Yeah,” she said. “They have lists and stuff. This kid in my grade has this list of ninety two women he’s hooked up with.”
“We know this woman Ursula that had a list of guys she had given gargle jobs to, like forty five people,” said Sarah. Sarah and her friends Elena, Jeff, and Abby, all teenagers from the Valley, were having dinner in L.A. one night before going to a movie.
Over burgers and fries at an outdoor café, they began talking about the “bad chicks” at their high school.
“Ava’s like that too,” said Jeff. “She asked me out and then took my head and, like, shoved it in her hooter-sling.”
“She gave Richie a handjob on the back of the bus going to band competition,” said Sarah.
They talked about damsels who had made lovemaking tapes; damsels who had hookup with different guys at parties every weekend. “Was that the same weekend she went to the emergency room [for drugs]?” asked Abby.
“Recall when Anita got gravy on Maya’s jacket?” Jeff asked with a smile.
“And then Maya posted it on her [Facebook] wall,” Sarah said with a laugh.
“She asked to borrow Maya’s jacket and she wore the jacket, and she gave this man a gargle job at a party while she was wearing the jacket,” said Jeff.
“And then she gave the jacket back to Maya without washing it, so Maya took a picture of the jacket with the stain and posted it on Anita’s wall: ‘You didn’t wash my jacket,’” said Sarah.
“Which was so mean, but I love that she did that,” Jeff said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
They laughed again.
“There was this damsel in 10th grade who was gonna be on My Super Sweet Sixteen,” said Jeff. “I don’t think it ever aired. That same woman, she was in a porn movie going around school. People were in math class watching the movie.”
“I very first embarked observing people doing selfies in sixth grade,” said Emily, a senior at a private school in L.A. “Back then everybody was on MySpace. In sixth grade everybody began getting phones and they commenced posting pictures of themselves, and it was weird, ’cause, like, a lot of the pictures were supposed to look sexy and they had the duck face and we were all, like, 11.”
“Guys do selfies, too,” said Alexandra, a female at a public high school in L.A. “They post pictures of themselves smoking weed and drinking codeine cup”—a narcotic combination of Jolly Ranchers, cough syrup, and 7-UP—“like, ‘Look how boss I am, look how gangster.’ They think that makes them hot. If a man posts a picture in his boxer cut-offs, people say that’s funny, but if a dame does it, they say she’s a hoe. It’s a dual standard, but ladies still do it ’cause it gets them more likes on Facebook.”
“My little cousin, she’s 13, and she posts such inappropriate pictures on Instagram, and boys post sexual comments, and she’s like, ‘Thank you,’” said Marley, a Fresh York public-school lady. “It’s child pornography, and everyone’s looking at it on their iPhones in the cafeteria.”
Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus are the co-directors of Sexy Baby (2012), a documentary about women and women in the age of porn. It goes after three subjects: Nichole, 32, a porn starlet who bemoans the mainstreaming of porn in the digital age (she thinks it’s unhealthy); Laura, 22, who has plastic surgery on her labia (her ex-boyfriend deemed them unattractive) so that she can “look like a porn starlet”; and Winnifred, 12, a middle-school student in Fresh York who does sexy photo shoots with her friends and posts them on Facebook. Winnifred also posts a movie of her little sister dancing around provocatively to a pop song.
Gradus, a photographer for *The Miami Herald,*was on assignment shooting disrobe clubs in Miami in two thousand nine when she very first encountered youthful women who were not professional strippers pole-dancing for youthful guys. “These were regular college women. They didn’t seem to be having joy,” she said. “It was like, ‘This is what we’re supposed to be doing.’”
Gradus and Bauer, a writer for the Herald, then went on a research mission to a porn convention in Miami where “they were selling stripper poles to college women and housewives,” said Bauer. “There were so many mainstream women idolizing the porn starlets and running after them to take pictures, and we were like, ‘Whoa, this exists?’”
“We eyed these ladies embracing this idea that ‘If I want to be like a porn starlet, it’s so liberating,’” Gradus said. “We were skeptical. But it was such a broad concept. We asked, ‘What is this shift in our sexual attitudes, and how do we define this?’ I guess the common thread we witnessed that is creating this is technology.
“Technology being so available made every lady or woman capable of being a porn starlet, or thinking they’re a porn starlet,” said Gradus. “They’re objectifying themselves. The thinking is: ‘If I’m in control of it, then I’m not objectified.’”
Porn is more available now than at any time in history—especially to kids. Ninety-three percent of boys and sixty two percent of ladies have seen Internet porn before they turn Legal, according to a two thousand eight investigate in CyberPsychology & Behavior. Seventy percent of boys have spent more than thirty minutes looking at porn, as have twenty three percent of damsels. Eighty-three percent of boys and fifty seven percent of women have seen group hook-up online. Eighteen percent of boys and ten percent of women have seen rape or sexual violence.
“Historically a spike in interest in pornography is associated with advancement in women’s rights,” said April Alliston, a professor of comparative literature at Princeton. She instructs a class on the history of pornography and has an upcoming book about porn, Consenting Adults: On Pornography, Privacy and Freedom (2013).
“What happened at the time of the invention of the printing press was very similar to what’s happening now with the Internet,” Alliston said. “With the printing press you had porn abruptly made available through technology. At the same time you had women getting more rights; there was more literacy and freedom for women. I see the spread of porn in part as a backlash to women’s enlargened independence.
“I believe that porn has gone mainstream now because women have been gaining power. The feminist movement was somewhat successful. Rather than being about sexual liberation, porn is a form of control over lovemaking and sexiness.
“It’s become unfashionable to [take a negative view of porn] because of the reaction to the extreme anti-pornography views of [radical feminists] Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon in the 90s. There was a reaction to their calls for censorship, and at the same time you had ‘sex-positive feminists,’ as they called themselves, telling porn is good, telling hookup is the same thing as pornography, and seeming to imply that if we like hookup, we like pornography too, which I think is identically extreme and incorrect.
“When it comes to children, there is indeed nothing to argue about,” Alliston went on. “Kids are defined by our laws as not being able to consent to lovemaking or to using pornography. There are few protections against them eyeing it, and some people take the attitude that it’s unpreventable and benign. I think a lot of people who make this argument don’t realize what porn today truly looks like in terms of how the women are treated.”
“In the eighth grade, I had friend—it was a toxic friendship,” said Daphne, now nineteen and in college in L.A. “We got into a fight. I can’t even recall what it was about—very likely I had bought the same boots as her or something. It got indeed bad, and one of her friends, a fellow, determined to make a YouTube movie kicking off an ‘Anti-Daphne Movement.’
“Their objective was to get me to kill myself.
“It was, like, a 10-minute movie. He demonstrated a picture of me. He said my name. He recounted all the details of the fight. He said I was ugly and that I should kill myself. He told everyone on Facebook, ‘I’m a member of this movement. If Daphne has ever done anything to you, post about it.’
“It caught on indeed prompt. I had a lot of people writing indeed mean messages to me and deleting me as a friend [on Facebook]. I had never done anything to these people. At school they would put gross things in my bag, cottage cheese in my binder. It got over all my homework.
“It took three months before I got the courage to tell my dad. My dad got the school to get [the boy] to take the movie down. The dude who did it didn’t get in any trouble. The principal was friends with his mom. The principal said I must have done something bad for him to act that way, and I was actually suspended for a few days.
“I didn’t know this boy at all. He was kind of a weird kid. People thought he was quirky and cool. He would say he was ‘aggressively fair,’ but mostly he was just rude to people. I had to stay in the same school with him all through eighth grade. I went into therapy for what happened. It’s made me so much more insecure. It’s indeed hard for me to trust anyone.”
Amanda, 17, a senior at a high school in Santa Clarita, attempted to kill herself last year. Her bf of eight months had cracked up with her so that he could play the field before graduating from high school—“he just desired to live it up, was what he said”—and, after some months of turmoil, Amanda took an overdose of one of her mother’s prescription medications. She was hospitalized shortly and is now in therapy.
She’d been slut-shamed on Facebook in ninth grade by a female at her school, along with the female’s mother. “She”—the mother—“was telling I was a biotch and all I do is lay on my back, but I’ve only been with one person,” Amanda said. The police said nothing could be done about it because no direct threats were made.
Feeling isolated and depressed, Amanda got into drugs, rapture, and weed, and commenced suspending out with the Scene kids (kids into hard-core punk rock). “All I talked about was lovemaking, drugs, money, and partying,” she said. “I’d post pictures on Facebook of me smoking weed and partying.”
When she began dating her beau, with whom she went to school, she eventually felt as if she had something to live for. “We were like the one duo that everybody knew, that everyone was like, ‘You’re so adorable. You’re gonna be together for a truly long time.’” And now that she had a stable beau, she was no longer called a hoe.
But that ended all too soon. She attributes her bf cracking up with her to the influence of his friends. “All his friends were like, ‘Dude, you have a gf. You can’t do anything,’” meaning sexually, with other women. And, Amanda says, he confessed that after cracking up with her, he did sleep with another woman.
“Boys have no respect for ladies,” Amanda said. “They’ll be like, ‘Damn, that damsel’s hot. I’d fuck her.’”
THE Hookup EDUCATION OF JENNA: PART I
“One reason my bf broke up with me senior year was that I was not a real person,” said Jenna, Nineteen, a college student in Fresh York. She and her bf dated online for two years after meeting at a beach resort where their families stayed when they were in high school. They communicated via Facebook, e-mail, and text. They met in person only twice. “I sat there and contemplated suicide when I heard he desired to break up with me,” she said. “I was like, ‘What was the point of living?’ I had given so much of myself to this person.”
Jenna, a quirky beauty of the Zooey Deschanel multiplicity, aspires to a job in the arts; her senior year in high school, she got a job working prefessionally in her chosen field. She friended a boy on Facebook, also an aspiring artist, who had already gotten some attention for his work. “I was like, ‘Let’s stick together and be friends and do this together,’” she said. They became good friends (in cyberspace). And then the boy developed feelings for her. But at the time Jenna was still dating her online beau, so she declined the artist boy’s online advances.
“After that, every time I would do any kind of status update on Facebook or post something on Tumblr or Instagram,” she said, “he would comment on it, like, ‘Jenna, you’re not funny.’” Jenna often posted comical status updates; she thought of herself as a funny woman; she’d always liked to make people laugh. “He got everyone at my school”—a Manhattan magnet school—“in on it,” she said. “His sister went there, so we knew a lot of the same people. Abruptly everyone was like, ‘Jenna’s not funny. She’s stupid.’ Everyone was posting mean comments about me, and he was egging them on. I eyed him at a play at my school, and I asked him, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ He said, ‘Because, Jenna, you deserve it.’”
After that, she said, “I lost all my self-confidence. . . . And I realized in life there’s only two ways for a doll to go, and that’s to be a dumb bitch or just a bitch. I determined that from now on I’m just gonna be a bitch, ’cause at least from now on guys would be intimidated by me. At least I would have the upper palm. So from then on, if anybody ever attempted to say anything to me, I would come back at them thirty times stiffer.”
Violating UP IS Tighter TO DO
“So you broke up with your ex-boyfriend,” said a freshman damsel at a college in Manhattan; she was speaking hypothetically. “It’s very sad. So of course he’s not gonna want to see you in real life, so you wanna see him on Facebook. But then he defriends you on Facebook, so what do you do? You get your friend’s account so you can stalk him. You check up on him on her account.
“But then he deletes your friend; he figures it out. So right now you have no connection to him, so what do you do? You create a fake account . . . call her [Jane Doe]. You literally Google ‘brown-haired chick Instagram’ and find a picture where you can’t truly see their face, but it’s an actual person. You friend a bunch of his friends as [Jane Doe], add people from his family. Then you add his ex-girlfriends.
“What are they like? What are they into? What’s the difference inbetween them and me? Are they skinner than me? In their profile picture, they’re in a swimsuit—they must be tramp’s, right? Maybe lesbians. And then eventually after you have about four hundred mutual friends, that’s when you add him. This is so intelligent; it’s like war strategy.
“You add some more pictures. You begin a fresh persona. You embark a fresh life, just so you can keep tabs on the person who doesn’t want to ever speak to you again. Just so you can know he goes out to clubs all the time, and he’s with this other lady. Why would you do it? Because it’s an obsession. Social media breeds obsession.”
What kind of love lives are teenagers headed for after they graduate high school? Sadly, more of the same, according to Donna Freitas, a former professor of religion at Hofstra and Boston Universities. Freitas’s The End of Hookup (2013) might as well be called The End of Love. The book studies hook-up culture on college campuses.
Much has been written about hook-up culture lately, notably Hanna Rosin’s The End of Studs (2012) and a July Fresh York Timesarticle, “Lovemaking on Campus: She Can Play That Game Too,” both of which attributed the trend to feminism and ambitious youthfull women’s desire not to be tied down by relationships.
But Freitas’s research, conducted over a year on seven college campuses, tells a different story. “Both youthfull women and youthful fellows are gravely unhappy with the way things are,” she said. “It’s uncommon that I find a youthful woman or a man who says hooking up is the best thing ever.”
She describes the hookup life of the average college kid as “Mad Guys hookup, boring and ambivalent. They drink like they’re Don Draper to drown out what is indeed going on with them. Lovemaking is something you’re not to care about. The reason for hooking up is less about pleasure and joy than spectacle and gossip—it’s being able to update [on social media] about it. Social media is fostering a very unthinking and unfeeling culture. We’re raising our kids to be performers.” And researchers are now watching an increase in erectile dysfunction among college-age guys—related, Freitas believes, to their spectacle anxiety from watching pornography: “The mainstreaming of porn is tremendously affecting what’s expected of them.” College kids, both masculine and female, also routinely rate each other’s sexual spectacle on social media, often derisively, causing anxiety for everyone.
“The conversation that is missing is what rape is in hook-up culture,” Freitas said. “These youthfull women’s sense of their own agency is exceptionally detached. They tell me, ‘And then I found myself in someone’s bed having hook-up.’ There’s little actual choice or volition when you are buzzed, and there is this expectation among everyone that if you are walking with a boy to your dorm room after a party, lovemaking will necessarily happen.”
And yet, with all the dangers for youthful women in hook-up culture, Freitas says, she’s faced criticism from feminist colleagues for her take on it. “Big-time feminists won’t go near hooking up because they look at it in theory as a sexually liberated practice,” she said. “But I’m looking at it on the ground, talking to actual people, and it doesn’t hold up as sexual liberation.”
THE Hook-up EDUCATION OF JENNA: PART II
At the end of junior year of high school, Jenna met Ethan. “We were inebriated, we hooked up,” she said. “We witnessed each other again, tipsy at another party, so we hooked up again, then we met at after-prom and hooked up ’cause we had hooked up before, and so it was convenient and whatever.”
And so began their non-romance. In fact, Jenna made it clear to Ethan that she didn’t want “a Facebook relationship. There’s people who have Facebook relationships where every day it’s like”—typical status update, delivered in a singsong—“‘Out to lunch with stunner.’ Kissy picture of this, kissy picture of that. Two weeks later, they’re violated up. And then it’s”—bitchy voice doing the status update—“‘Certain people need to, like, stop stalking me on Facebook. Clearly we are never getting back together.’ There’s the Taylor Swifts and then there’s the people who are just long-hair-don’t-care. They just don’t give a single fuck. They’re just like, ‘I’m gonna have hookup with you.’ ‘I’m gonna have hook-up with you.’ ‘Hey, you’re nice. I’m gonna have hookup with you too if I want to.’ They don’t give a shit.”
That, she told Ethan, was how it was going to be. “I told him it was just hooking up. I was so used to guys treating me like shit, I didn’t want any fellow to take advantage of me.”
And Ethan took her words to heart. “He said, O.K., he desired to meet up with other ladies. And I was like, ‘Sure, if you don’t want to be in a relationship with me, I don’t truly care.’ So I was like, ‘Fine, I’ll commence hooking up with other guys.’ So I would come to his house—no nonsense, clothes off, let’s do this, get into my bed. And we would meet up every duo days; it embarked being a casual thing.”
This went on for about a year. “We were friends with benefits,” Jenna said. “Sometimes we wouldn’t even talk that much. I’d just be like, ‘I’m coming over,’ and then I’d go over and we’d sleep together and then I’d leave.”
Even when Ethan, buzzed at another party, admitted to Jenna that “I think of you as my gf,” she told him, “‘I would never, ever in my fucking life be your gf.’ Instantly his face fell and he walked away, and after that we were pretty mean to each other.”
They still continued hooking up. And then, last spring, Jenna’s grandfather died, and Jenna was furious with Ethan when he didn’t reach out to console her. “I ultimately texted him like, ‘My grandfather died and you have nothing to say to me? And I’ve been sleeping with you for a year?’ And his response was, ‘So I indeed just don’t see why you said I could never be your bf.’”
“So we realized we were being super stupid, and I was like, ‘Do you want to be in a relationship? What do you want?’ And he was like, ‘I indeed love you. I’ve never met anybody like you. You’re not a dumb bitch.’