Head Over Feels: Navigating hook-up culture as a serial monogamist

By Grace Griffin, Copy Editor

I am a Taurus sun sign with Cancer moon and Venus placements. Astrologically speaking, that means I’m a clingy little baby when it comes to relationships. It means I get attached to people too easily and I break my own heart in the process when they can’t reciprocate the intensity of my feelings or my affinity for commitment. If you don’t believe in astrology, that’s fine, but personally, the stars hit the nail right on the head for me this time. In the past few years, I’ve become a serial monogamist unable to pursue casual relations without my mind jumping into relationship mode.

I wasn’t always like this. A mere two years ago as a freshman in college, I slept around a lot, not committing to anybody. I had partners I saw frequently, but somehow I was able to compartmentalize my feelings as separate from the sex I was having. I look back on my 18-year-old self enviously, because, though I’ve moved into a more stable state of my life, societal pressure to have a partner has become more and more ingrained in me. Over the past two years, my anxiety has become more severe, and with so many life changes, I feel out of control sometimes. Naturally, I’m craving the stability that comes with a relationship. But can’t a girl just have casual sex and move on with her life?

I think about this a lot, sometimes subconsciously, so of course, it interferes with my interpersonal relationships. I have an apartment, a full-time job, I know how to cook, and I take care of myself and my pets—I can’t help but think a serious, monogamous partner is the next step for me because it’s supposed to be for everyone who’s reached the “adult” stage of their life. Researchers at the University of Missouri delved into the familial and societal pressures put on single women to find a serious partner, and found the pressure often makes women feel more insecure and even unlovable.

“Mainstream media also enforces these ideas,” Larry Ganong, University of Missouri’s co-chair of Human Development and Family Studies said. “For example, shows like ‘Sex and the City,’ which portray female protagonists who are hyper-focused on finding men, and end with the majority of those characters getting married, are popular.”

I have only seen two shows where the female protagonist’s arc doesn’t end in monogamous love and she is wholly satisfied with her life: “Dollface” and “Fleabag,” for anyone wondering. Thus, every time I pursue a connection with someone I’m attracted to and also enjoy spending time with, my mind immediately jumps to thinking about a relationship with them. This makes hook-up culture hard to navigate because hookups inherently feel like a step toward a relationship—not the end goal.

I’ve heard many friends express sentiments along the lines of “I can’t hook up with people, I want a relationship.” And I understand that; casual sex isn’t what everyone is looking for. The thing with me is that I don’t necessarily want a relationship—I’m constantly busy, my mental health is still a bit out of whack, and I’m finishing up my last semester before graduation with no real plan for what I’ll do after. My life right now isn’t conducive to a serious partner, and I know that. But why do I want one?

I’ve written about having anxiety and its role in my relationships before, but in this context, relationships provide a type of solace to my constant worries. With my new job and the looming date of graduation, I’m certainly excited but incredibly nervous. My anxiety often manifests internally as self-doubt or insecurity. Psychologically, romantic relationships offer a support system and fill a desire to be wanted and valued, therefore benefiting mental issues I and others face at times of change or transition.

“We greatly desire relationships because they increase our confidence and self-esteem,” Robert Evans Wilson Jr. wrote for Psychology Today. “They make us feel important, worthy, and good enough.”

I realize I’ve begun to associate commitment with acceptance. Relationships often feel like the end goal, to have a connection so deep with one person you have to put a public label on it. But the lack of a label doesn’t mean lack of a connection. Recently, I’ve gone on dates with and slept with a few different people. Without the pressure to define my relationships, I still feel the closeness and connection I once thought was only possible through a monogamous relationship, maybe even more so because these connections don’t come with implied rules or societal jurisdictions like relationships do. I’m literally just vibing.

Recognizing the effect of societal impacts as well as psychological cravings is a step in the right direction for me and others who find themselves inexplicably tied to monogamy and the stress that comes with it. I’m able to recognize why I’m drawn to the idea of a relationship, which makes the prospect of one more digestible. I’m not opposed to being in a relationship, but I’m also trying to train myself not to see it as the only option for me.

So, in an attempt to break away from this monogamous box I’ve shut myself in, I’m trying to embrace casual dating culture. I’m using dating apps. I’m hooking up with no strings attached. I’m forcing myself not to ask the dreaded “what are we?” to every person I’m intimate with, and I’m able to focus more on the emotional connections I’m forming rather than stressing over the label that typically comes with them. I’m taking things as they come without putting too much pressure on myself or the relations I have. And I’m feeling more content with my romantic life now than I have in a while.