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Mayer: Last Chances and Hookups (1/2)

Last week, during senior week, the graduating seniors participated in a tradition called “Last Chances.” I’m not sure when this tradition began, but it was around during my senior week in 2011 and I’d certainly heard about it since the ’09s were seniors. The thing itself is a joke, mostly, so it’s difficult to pin it down using serious words lest it come out looking taxidermied, sapped of its vitality by too on-the-nose of an explanation.

The premise is simple: make a list of other graduating seniors you find attractive and want to hook up with, and submit it online. The number of people on your list depends on your year, so we ’11s could put up to 11 people on ours. If you get a match, you’re both notified of it and can act on it as you see fit.

Last Chances Comp.jpg

Usually, people who match blitz each other or run into each other and bring it up, and they might actually hook up or one or both of them might just laugh it off. Most people don’t really take it seriously, because you can see how the process itself might make you feel a little embarrassed if you actually get a match. Of course, it’s fun and flattering to have a mutual crush acknowledged, but if you haven’t acted on it already in your four years together, then one or both of you were missing some serious signals, or other obstacles like relationships or one of you being in the closet got in the way. Those factors complicate the situation and may make any genuine last-minute attempt a little contrived and awkward.

But people embrace the practice, even if they just put down the names of all their friends and avoid the sexual element altogether, because it’s a nod to an ethos that runs deep at Dartmouth about “doing it for the story” and working hard but playing harder. It’s a way of relishing senior week the way we relished freshman orientation, back when we first blissfully confused the absence of authority with autonomy.

Doing everything you couldn’t do under parental supervision just because you can is not really autonomy, and most people learn that by 22. It makes sense for freshmen to go a little overboard with drinking too much awful beer and dance floor makeouts with strangers, until doing something you weren’t allowed to do in high school just because you’re not being supervised anymore starts to get stale.

But Hanover has a way of making it difficult to remember that being autonomous means deciding who you are and what you want without deferring to what other people want for you. You may not be ready for sex to be more than a joke, or for a night spent dancing and making out to be tethered to your next day. You may want the freedom to act without having to consider consequences beyond tomorrow. But perhaps you want something else, and I’ve begun to wonder whether there is room at Dartmouth for you to admit that.

I’m currently in love, and having sex is a major part of experiencing and expressing that love. But I’ve also had a lot of sex with people I didn’t love, and some people I didn’t know well at all. I personally prefer the sex with the man I love, but I see nothing wrong with preferring sex without emotional investment. It depends on where you are in life and what you want. I’ve been joking with my friends lately that I have a thing for dumb boys — “you know, the kind of boy who’ll throw you in the pool” — because you don’t have to care about them. It’s crass and not really true, but I have to admit that to be truly emotionally invested in a relationship requires a kind of constant vulnerability and attentiveness that can be overwhelming at times, even exhausting.

Sometimes the weightlessness of sex without intimacy is appealing, just as you might get a craving for chicken nuggets while at a fancy dinner with quail and creme brûlée on the table. Ultimately, I don’t believe that we should attach any sense of crisis to the dominance of “hookup culture” on college campuses. At the very least, we should recognize the problems inherent in the particular set of social norms regarding sex that happened to immediately predate “hookup culture.”

Part 1, Part 2

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