Charlotte Lieberman at her graduation last May
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Lieberman
Charlotte Lieberman at her graduation last May

Seeking commitment without commitment in college dating


Charlotte Lieberman doesn’t want the end of men. She doesn’t want the cool, suspicious attitude that predominates between the sexes—even sex partners—on campus, nor the lack of respect. But she doesn’t want the old “age of chivalry” back, either. She wants sex to be fun, but somewhat more significant than a roller-coaster ride. Basically, she wants casual hookups to be a lot less, well, casual.

If you’re confused, so is she, and so is the current generation of college students, as depicted in Lieberman’s long article for Cosmopolitan. That an article so tentative about sex should appear in Cosmo is startling, but the author pulls a lot of punches. There’s a problem, for sure. College men and women alike have subscribed to a sexual ethic defined by two basic rules: 1) the participant who cares the least, wins; and 2) communication must be as spare and non-committal as possible. Lieberman, a 2013 Harvard University graduate, describes her own college years as stumbling around in the dark, dating-wise: trying to gauge the level of a guy’s interest, judging his texts down to the last comma, sorting out gays from straights and those in-between, calculating her response to guys who suggested hanging out and then never showed up.

It’s got to be better than this, she says. A generation that texts their date requests can still practice common courtesy, and sex with no strings attached shouldn’t cancel out respect and caring. She is aware of some of the paradoxes that vex college dating:

  • Women rule the school, but men rule the night. With the former outnumbering the latter at most colleges, campus life sometimes resembles Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” with “two girls for every boy” and endless field-playing possibilities for the minority.
  • Hookups are said to “empower women”—while playing directly into the hands of men.
  • The height of contemporary feminism is acting masculine, i.e., like a sexual predator.

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“Vague” is the defining word of her essay, and also some of her thought. She seems oblivious to other contradictions, such as:

  • Young people are more open to sexual experimentation today—the buzzword is “fluid”—and that’s great. But how do you respond when your date tonight tells you he had sex with his best friend last night? Hint to Charlotte: fluidity leaves one no place to stand.
  • “[Hookups] are no fun when they’re just a game.” But “just a game” is practically the definition of hookup.
  • It’s time women stopped “permitting” men to dominate the sexual culture. But how, when they’ve given up their one advantage?

She sums it up: “Once we stop playing games, ditch the defense mechanism of apathy, and quit communicating with emoticons, we will be much better off when it comes to dating.” Amen to that, but we’ll also have to break our addiction to instant messaging and stop pretending sex is no more than a biological burp. To expect the fruit of commitment without commitment—sorry Charlotte, it’s not happening.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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