To Care or Not to Care: Students and the Blasé Olympics

“Once the sex is over, the rule is to go from hot to cold. After a hookup, students are expected to be cool. The power of cool is needing no one.”

Last year, I read a book on hookup culture for class. The authors conducted research across college campuses in America to analyze how students today have sex, form relationships, and the like. I found one part of it particularly interesting: what the author calls “the blasé olympics.” It’s the idea (mantra? rule? all-consuming-collegiate philosophy?) that after a hookup, you have to show — above all else — that you aren’t overly attached. “Whatever you do,” one student says, “Do not make anything a thing.” The authors conclude that the most stigmatizing label on college campuses today is desperate. While I’m not sure how true that is (there are definitely much worse things to be called than desperate), I think they’re getting at something meaningful.

In what I’ve seen, the post-hookup dance is all about concentrated nonchalance (which suggests it’s the farthest thing from nonchalance, really). They describe it in American Hookup as so:

“Students aim, then, for aloofness. The idea is not just to not care, it’s to care less. Lack of interest is a moving target and the direction is down. So, after a hookup, students monitor each other’s level of friendliness and try to come in below the other person. Each time one person takes a step back emotionally, the other takes two. They can end up backed into their respective corners, avoiding eye contact, and pretending the other doesn’t exist: the blasé Olympics.”

It’s obviously more complicated than that — not everyone’s hookup experience is like this, and in the constraints of the Stanford bubble it’s difficult to totally ice people out. But I do think I’ve felt the need to act overly disinterested, or unaffected, post-hookup. Why? What’s the point? I started to ask myself that question more and more. I’ve been talking to my friends about it too.

My friend, Maya, another Stanford student, had her own take: “I think a lot of it is the chase for social capital and a good story far more than actual connection with a person,” she said. “The goal is to feel 'in' on this exciting aspect of college that actually leaves us feeling empty.”

Interesting. I definitely think social capital is part of the story. In life, but especially in college, we don’t want to seem desperate or overly attached because it’s embarrassing. “Clingy, desperate, and needy are extremely effective insults, invoking all the things that students don’t want to be: weak, insecure, unable to control one’s emotions, and powerless to separate sex from feelings. For men, it’s the antithesis of masculinity. For women, it’s a failure to be liberated, modern, strong,” the sociologists in American Hookup assert.

Gender complicates the problem. As the book says, “Most students seem to think that men are better at this game” — the game being post-hookup nonchalance. Is this sentiment true, even in our quasi-liberated 21st century world? Statistically, maybe: “Women report having a somewhat harder time separating sex and emotions, but gender stereotypes accelerate this downward spiral, putting women at a further disadvantage.”

On the whole (though certainly not always) I see my female-identifying friends struggling more with the emotional unavailability of hookup culture, although it might just be that they’re more comfortable talking about it. When I asked one of my Stanford male-identifying friends whether or not he thought the ‘blasé Olympics’ were real, he voiced his support:

“Absolutely — it’s completely real, 100%. I can’t really speak for other people, but for myself, the reason I’ve seen that happen is because…well, sometimes it’s just easier that way. It’s probably rarely deliberate. But sometimes I’m like, mmm, I don’t really know what this person wants and I know that I don’t want anything, so maybe I’m just gonna start slowly going in this direction and inching towards this kind of outcome.” [By “this kind of outcome,” he means, I think, ghosting.]

The more we got to talking about hookup culture, the more impassioned he became. He sat up in his chair to give me this enlightened analysis: “There’s different types of hookups right? It’s on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum there’s strangers or it’s not a great hookup, so you might be like “fuck it, not gonna do that again.” And on the other end of the spectrum you’re besties for the resties and it’s great (which is unlikely). So I might distance myself if I have no allegiance to the stranger and I feel more comfortable doing so, rather than trying to make some kind of social maneuver to end things formally. But I wouldn’t do that to the friend.”

The gendered nature of hookup culture is complicated, and it’s hard to unravel all the strings of socialization and sexism. I definitely have some friends embracing their hot girl summers in full force, too.

All in all, it’s a tricky question. I don’t have an answer by any means (and maybe hookup culture isn’t what I should be devoting my intellectual brain power to, anyways). But it’s interesting food for thought. Let us know what you think — slide into our DMs, @marriagepact, with your stories and reactions.