I see you over there, Moms of high school daughters who are about to graduate and embark on their college experiences. It’s a thrilling feeling, but I can also sense your apprehension and your fears, because I was you, just a few, short years ago.
I’d find myself sitting down, or driving in the car, or taking a walk with my daughter and repeatedly talking about the “dangers” of college social life, of drinking too much, and of making bad decisions. I wanted to gently and carefully caution and advise, without frightening her, but honestly, with all that I had heard for years about the college hookup culture, I was concerned.
Didn’t every young man in college just want a string of uncommitted sexual encounters? Weren’t they
all suspiciously handing over red Solo cups full of frothy beer at parties and swiping right on Tinder trying to meet up for an evening of Netflix and Chill? Weren’t all the upperclassmen targeting the naïve, young freshmen girls during those first few weeks of school?
I shuddered thinking of my baby girl so far away, alone for the first time, being plied with alcohol, and being put into a vulnerable position. Because I had been there, so many years before and I remembered those first couple of months of college, when alcohol flowed freely and there were ample opportunities to go back to someone’s room and “listen to music” or head upstairs to “check out the (proverbial) fish tank.”
I admit that I was, to a certain degree, stuck in a traditional and somewhat outdated “Girl vs. Guy” mentality and anecdotal stories loomed large in my pre-college parental counseling mindset. I wanted to arm my daughter with both the mental and physical skills to ward off unwanted advances and predatory behavior.
But then, BOOM – it was my son starting college. And this is a boy I know and love to the core. He’s a kind and decent kid. He’s a good communicator open and willing to discuss many issues that other Boy Moms tell me their sons do not talk with them about. Perhaps it’s because he’s been raised in an extended family of mostly females. With a competent and strong-willed older sister and many female cousins, he’s never developed any sort of attitude that males are better/smarter/worthier than females. And I dare say that he’s developed into a young man without a whiff of “toxic masculinity.”
As he matured and moved through the high school years, he listened closely as his sister talked about her ideas of and experiences with acceptable and unacceptable male behaviors and manners. I would notice him hungrily taking in this female wisdom, coming from someone he very much respected and looked up to. He sometimes got an earful from her and her friends, which I secretly loved, as they took some of the work away from me and dispensed their guidance in peer-to-peer terms he wholly understood and accepted as truth.
He started college armed with years of discussions about consent and respect. And it dawned on me: he’s not an outlier. His friends were just like him. Colleges are filled with decent young men who do not just want to casually hook up. But we don’t hear about them because they don’t make for interesting headlines and salacious news stories. They’ve been brought up in a culture that tells them not to advertise the fact that they don’t want casual sex. They aren’t bragging to other guys about taking a drunk, female friend home and dropping her safely off.
Colleges are filled with young men who are serious about academic success and future careers. They completely understand what can result from a casual hookup. They’ve heard firsthand from girls who admit that while some of their friends are fine with a “no strings attached” attitude about sex in college, many are hoping that those physical encounters will turn into an emotional connection. Colleges are filled with young men who would prefer a committed, romantic relationship to a hookup. And I know those same schools are full of young women who feel exactly the same. Far too many kids hesitate to voice their true feelings.
In fact, research from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education shows that kids overestimate the number of their peers who are actually hooking up. Fewer than ten percent of college aged students report having had four or more sexual partners in the previous year. When given the choice of a Friday night activity only, “16% of the respondents chose an option related to casual sex. The remaining teens and young adults (84%) reported either wanting to have sex in a serious relationship or chose an option that did not involve sex.”
What can we do to encourage our kids to be honest about what they are looking for? Will the current generation coming of age in the “Me Too” era develop different attitudes about relationships and dating?
I hope that if you are sending your daughter off to college, you will be comforted to know that there are plenty of decent, caring, enlightened young men out there. Just know that not every guy is looking to repeatedly hook up and move on, in fact, most are not.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.