What Casual Hookups Reveal About Our Inner Longing

Read about what this author learned about hookup culture and human dignity from an ugly situation.
I came down the stairs of the hotel lobby, expecting nothing. But I guess it’s when you expect nothing that you get something.

“You meet someone when you’re not looking” — advice that only seems to come out of the mouths of people in relationships resounded through my head. The ol’ dating catch-22.

But there he was. I noticed him stealing a couple glances.

I had just arrived from an early flight into Florida for a vacation with friends and friends of friends. No makeup. Wearing oversized, dilapidated clothes. Showered the night before (i.e., hair looking crazy.) Awesome. This is the cutest guy I’ve seen in months, and I look like Shia Labeouf.

He was part of the group of friends I was joining, and we all decided to go out to lunch together. I felt that old familiar tinge of intrigue. And maybe he did too, because he ran off for 10 minutes and came back in a completely different outfit. Glasses replaced by contacts. Hmmm. Couldn’t be for me, could it?

If I were to describe the very first phase of male/female attraction I’d say it’s like a video game character selection page. As the green neon square clicks over your various avatar options, you choose the version of yourself with the best traits and highest scores. The screen flashes “Player One Ready,” and you wait to see if player two will be jumping in as well. And when he does, game on.

At lunch, we sat next to each other and talked to everyone but one another (cue Taylor Swift’s “Gorgeous”). I learned his name was Max. As we got up to leave, he lingered a moment to mutter something completely unrelated about the weather to what appeared to be no one — I looked around to see whom he was talking to. Oh, he’s talking to me.

It was one of those encounters where two people who are attracted to each other finally talk and simply because they’re overeager, blather on about something completely random and uninteresting. Talking for the sake of talking. You know the drill.

Later that night, I spent an extra long time getting ready. With the group at the dinner table, Max conveniently found himself across from me, and we talked just to each other the entire time. My friends gave me knowing side glances. When he spoke to me, he looked intently at me as if he was memorizing my face. My girlish heart couldn’t help but swoon — annoying how it does that.

We spent the next few days of the trip seeking each other out. I was enchanted with his charm and clear intention to spend time with me. I wondered what would happen when the vacation ended and we were to part ways and go off to our respective states — would we stay in touch? Would he call me?

On the last night of the vacation, there was a party and as we were leaving, he asked me if I wanted to take a walk. I agreed, excitedly thinking, “Maybe he’ll ask for my number?” But instead of going to walk outside, he took a turn down the hotel hallway.

“Where are we going?” I asked. He didn’t reply. He pressed the elevator button and walked in. I followed. Maybe there’s a cool second floor balcony he wants to take me to? I thought to myself.

I asked him again where we were going and he didn’t reply. Weird. We ended up at the door of his hotel room and he took out his keycard. “This is your room?” I asked. He nodded and stepped in.

In an instant, thousands of thoughts and feelings overflooded my brain as I tried to compute. Is this what it looks like? Maybe he just needs a jacket? Afraid to be wrong for assuming sleazy intentions, I walked in. I noted the messy bed and darkness. He left the lights off. He didn’t say a word and stepped closer and closer to me, staring at my mouth. So, he doesn’t need a jacket.

As my fight-or-flight mode went into overdrive, I was also processing the fact that the whole week of seemingly intentional pursuit had led up to this moment. It was all to get me into bed. I frantically tried to think of anything I might have done to give him the impression I’d want to go back to his room. But there was nothing. And even if I had, I thought, “Shouldn’t he have asked?”

Nonsense poured out of my mouth to keep up a conversation while I frantically tried to figure out what I should do. He was not interested in talking and kept getting closer to me, breathing heavy, giving me a look that said, “Well?”

I eventually blurted out, “I’m going to go back to my room.” He gave me a disappointed smile and nod as I made a dash for the door. We awkwardly hugged, said goodbye, and he loudly shut the door behind me as I walked away. He didn’t ask for my number and definitely wasn’t interested in staying in touch. Tears welled up in my eyes as I made my way back to my room. Even though I knew it wasn’t true, in that moment I felt disposable, because he saw me as disposable.

The next day I woke up, confused that the whole week of spending time with him ended in such a quick and disheartening way. The crushing realization that I wasn’t special or different to him — but simply a warm body — made me feel nauseous. As I lay in bed that morning, I searched for feelings of fury and anger, but all I could feel was sadness. I kept picturing his face looking at me not just in expectation, but in hope.

As much as I wanted to demonize him and believe he was a scoundrel, there was a real person in there and I saw him. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Where do you have to be, personally, to do something like that?”

Casual sex is never truly fulfilling and the possibility of contracting an STD or becoming pregnant is hardly worth it. Not to mention the risk of rejection (which he did experience). So, what kind of state do you have to be in internally to feel like the reality of those risks are worth it? It goes beyond simply wanting physical pleasure — because let’s be real, you don’t necessarily need another person for that. No matter how warped and twisted, the desire for intimacy with another person reveals a greater desire that is written on the hearts of both men and women.

As I stared into the face of this young man, all I could see was a desperate, misdirected desire for unity — not a unity with myself, but with God. We become the image of God not only through our humanity, but also through true communion with other people. We’re all called to unity, and the spousal union, especially, allows us to rediscover the mystery of our creation and humanity as made in God’s image.

Marriage is a life-long gift of self by which a man and woman give themselves to each other completely. This is the only context that is worthy of the precious gift of our sexuality. And perhaps that’s why sins of a sexual nature seem to be especially shameful. They reveal the most real and vulnerable part of ourselves that is desperate to be united with God. When this desire is misdirected, we become selfish and fall off the path of finding ourselves. Sometimes it seems like the more broken we are, the more we try to fill that void, and then we find ourselves in situations that mirror the act of gift of self but are actually distortions.

I’ll admit I was mad at Max for seeing me just as an object. While he didn’t see me as a whole person, his actions nonetheless revealed that he, himself, was someone who was made in the image of God and desperately searching for Him.

At the end of the day, we’re all broken and hurting. I realized that while our flaws can lead to mistakes, our dignity as people made in God’s image never diminishes. When I think about my trip to Florida and about Max, I’m grateful that I was able to learn from the experience. Wherever he is, I hope Max is finally realizing his own dignity and the dignity of each woman he encounters. I hope he finds healing in God and discovers the true unity he’s been searching for.
Grotto quote graphic about hookup culture and human dignity: "While our flaws can lead to mistakes, our dignity as people made in God's image never diminishes."

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