I just spent an hour trying to work out the payoff matrix of dating in college, as represented in the NYT.

(Need I remind readers that I am a nerd?)

I did this because when I read the article it struck me that only a minority of people are actually satisfied by the system, which promotes anonymous hook-ups and makes it difficult to find a more substantial relationship. Yet that minority is clearly in control.

How can this be?

I think the problem boils down to this: if you want a “relationship” (as opposed to a random hook-up), the relationship has to start. How do people start relationships? By hooking up. They have to. Without hooking up, your only real alternative is to navigate the hideous and awkward realm of the first date, the first kiss, the first acknowledgment to the person that you “like them like them,” and all the other painfully vulnerable moments that accompany pre-sexual romantic behavior.

At a bar or party, you have certain disadvantages, like you know nothing about the person other than what they look like and what they like to drink, you can’t talk to each other because it’s too noisy, and you’re under pressure to make a good impression fast or else the person’s attention might stray elsewhere. (That that situation EVER results in a relationship is a testimony to the persistence of humans in pursuing a partnership.) But it seems a lot of college students would rather face all these obstacles than sit sober and face to face with a relative stranger over dinner.

So you’ve got two groups – those who want relationships and those who want hookups – and they behave exactly the same way until the first hookup is over, at which point the person who wants a relationship feels not so good.

The question is, is that not so good feeling worse than the horrors of actual dating? Until the answer to that is, “Yes,” until the people who want relationships would rather suffer the agonies of genuine interpersonal communication, the hookup seekers will dominate.

Or someone has to come up with an alternative to either dating or hooking up.

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