Senior Reflection: Sexuality and the Hook-Up Culture at CMC

By: Zach Panzer | Jan 28, 2014 | 6064 Views Opinion |

Coming to college, I had grandiose expectations of finding the one. Well, maybe not to that extreme, but I came into college hoping for the possibility of dates every once in a while. Coming from a family where my parents met in college, married relatively young, and most recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, I have always felt the need to find a potential partner before my proverbial hourglass of youth runs out (side note: I probably should not worry since I have perpetual baby face — see “Meet the RAs 2013-2014″ profile pic). This expectation was probably exacerbated by watching too many romantic comedies and coming from a place where people marry relatively young and give birth to children faster than you can say Nebraska. Throughout my years at CMC, I had to greatly lower my previous expectations on dating in college by almost letting go of even the possibility of a relationship and participating in what I thought was my only option, the widespread hook-up culture present at CMC.

Coming off an emotionally draining senior year of high school, fighting against depression and the social anxiety of feeling alone in a place where I did not feel accepted, the idea of coming to college gave me new hope. As a freshman, the excitement and openness of the new people I met aided that hope. It seemed that there were people at school who were interested in dating or already had significant others. Unfortunately, it became clear after my first few weeks at CMC that I should lower my expectations because: a) I am a gay guy in Bro-town, USA, and b) I was then one of the few guys who was out, especially in my freshman year.

These two points drastically cut down the field of people that I could potentially date and challenged my previous expectations of a possible “college romance.”

Each year, I held a lot of hope that more people would be comfortable in expressing sexuality. For being such an open student body in our intellectual ideas, I was shocked by how reserved many students were in expressing sexuality. The only time I saw students truly open to who they were was at parties where hooking up was all too common. For some people, freshman year was the perfect time to fully express who they were — with some liquid courage. But when new people approached me at parties, it was obvious that all they wanted was to dance for a bit in the huge crowd of people and hook up.

The parties that I have been to at the 5Cs, especially CMC, seem to be centered around finding someone to dance with and then leaving with them for the night. With the added layer of openness in sexuality that comes with many of the parties, I bought into the hook-up scene that it promoted. It meant that I could meet guys who were otherwise hard to find. As excited as I was to meet these new people that I could potentially connect with, I was also disappointed. Most vanished and had no intention of making an effort towards even a friendship with an openly gay guy who could potentially unmask their sexuality to a culture that would not accept them. I eventually equilibrated to this and expected that when I met a new guy, all they wanted was a one-night stand and to never speak again. Even if this was not the case, I bought into the cycle and gave up hope even for friendships after meeting people at parties.

I often spoke to my closest friends about how isolated I felt when it came to finding other gay guys who I could at least be friends with and who could empathize with my experience in a place where being gay was not very publicized nor openly accepted.  As this cycle repeated each week, I eventually gave up on finding someone to date; I craved to find someone who could relate to my experience and who would stick with me as a friend after a weekend party. For a large part of my college years, I felt alone again. Even though I had amazing friends who supported me, I lacked a community of “out” gay men who could share the experience of being gay at CMC.

I know my experience doesn’t reflect everyone’s experience at CMC, but the hook-up culture here made me feel as if I had no viable options in dating for much of my first few years. I felt that if I did, I would risk the possibility of outing someone who might not be comfortable with publicizing who they are yet. The hook-up culture at parties encourages the belief that I should be ecstatic with the occasional hook-up. But I don’t want to forget about the possibility of getting to know someone on a more personal level.

I finally broke out of the tunnel vision my junior year  with the help of a fantastic guy who I met, you guessed it, at a party. Instead of allowing myself to just hook up and move on, I decided to take a chance and make the effort to get to know him. Over time, our friendship grew into a relationship. However, this relationship came with some anxieties of which I had to rid myself. At the beginning of this relationship, I was worried to even hold my boyfriend’s hand in public in fear for of being talked about as “that gay kid.” This stemmed from being conditioned to believe that my actions would come with consequences that would impact our standing in a culture that seems homophobic.

There came a point a few months into my relationship when I decided to care less about what was deemed the “norm” and do what made me feel happy. I had become so caught up in what I thought the CMC culture dictated that I did not always see the amazing friends I had who were supportive of my relationship, and the fact that I had decided to have one at all. The CMC culture had gotten a hold of me and made me lose hope for a relationship about which I could be open. I learned that I need to do what I want as long as it makes me happy; life is way too short to live by imaginary expectations that social scenes construct.

Is hooking up necessarily a bad thing? Definitely not. I think consensual (consent is sexy, friends), safe hooking up promotes sexual exploration and awareness about what you want in a future partner. The problem I have is with the extreme hook-up culture that CMC has adopted and that it may limit the possibility of getting to know someone that you may be interested in on a deeper, more personal level. Even more, our demanding culture at CMC seems to shut out students from expressing who they are because of sexual identity. This is a topic that CMC needs to discuss more deeply on a wider scale, but in my case, I felt like I had to act a certain way in order to fit the standard, heteronormative mold that is dominant.

Looking back at my years at CMC, I realize that my involvement in promoting the hook-up culture at parties through my own actions made me an enabler to the overall phenomenon at CMC. I limited myself to the norm of hooking up and let go of any possibility of a relationship, which ironically left little room for me to explore the sexual part of my identity. Even though the hook-up culture at CMC and lack of outward acceptance of diversity, in particular the gay/lesbian community, are two different issues, both have implications in various areas of our lives and how we portray and perceive ourselves. In particular, I have noticed that we tell ourselves to act a certain way to fit a norm, like we may do at parties, and that sometimes differs from how we would truly like to be. I think this challenge is felt by all kinds of individuals at CMC who are not content with the narrow realm of interaction involved in a strong hook-up culture.

I hope my reflection can begin a dialogue at CMC on how the social pressure we sometimes feel is hurting our environment and how it impacts our ability to accept a diverse student body.

About the Author

Zach is a senior from the cornfields of Lincoln, NE studying the popular CMC majors of Biochemistry and Spanish. When he's not finding opportunities to slip Mean Girls quotes into everyday conversation, he is ruling over Crown Hall as its King (he means RA) and binge watching an array of reality TV shows, including the Real Housewives of Various Cities.

  • nebraskagirl

    You’re such a hero, Zach. You are so brave, and have such great insight and honesty to share. Hold on to your standards!

  • CMC

    Very honest and thorough account, something to be proud of.

  • Touched

    Hey Zach. I loved your article. I’m a straight man at CMC, and my own frustrations with the perpetuation of a hook-up culture are mirrored in your comments. I can only imagine the difficulty in having to navigate this environment with the whole other challenges of being gay or lesbian, or anything that deviates from ‘perceived normalcy’ at CMC. Thank you for your insights and for your commitment to openness as an RA! Much appreciated!

  • CMC 11

    I agree completely. Even as a heterosexual guy (with far more “options” than you, I’m sure), I felt limited by CMC’s understood culture of hookups. When I graduated, I was hit hard by culture shock when I realized I didn’t develop the same “dating” skills as my friends at other schools did. Of course the hook up scene can be fun, but even the bro-i-est of bros will probably admit that all they want in the end is someone to hold on to forever.

  • Ben Salzman

    I AM the hookup culture!!

  • coopz

    Hey Zach,
    That was a really great article. You did a swell job of expressing how you have felt and allowing the reader to relate, if not understand. No harsh judgement was conveyed, even if some may be deserved. Keep up the writing.
    Thanks!

  • RJ

    What a pleasure to read, thank you for your honesty and courage Zach!

  • 2016

    This was a fantastic look at our school’s social scene, and I give you genuine thanks for doing so. I cannot image how difficult it is being gay at a school as small and heteronormative as CMC is. However I must take issue with one point, in which you state: “For being such an open student body in our intellectual ideas…” On the contrary it seems that our student body is rather narrow-minded when it comes to academics and intellectual discussion. Econ-accounting, Econ-finance, Gov, Gov-Econ all seem to be the prevalent CMC majors. These areas of study (by design) churn out ambitious young people ready for prosperous careers, but at the expense of their capacities for both inward and outward reflection. Of course there are exceptions, regardless of major at that, but on the whole it seems rather plain that CMC is anything but ‘open’ when it comes to our intellectual ideas, and to proclaim so is a misleading assessment.

  • 2016

    You are my hero! Thank you for starting up this conversation. It’s something that deserves to be discussed.

  • GayFinanceGuy

    THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS. Someone needed to say it. The gay culture at CMC sucks SO hard. Most of the gay guys are closeted (including myself prior to senior year), and there’s no reason for this since it’s 2014. I spent about three years practically living at USC with my boyfriend and it’s a different case there: nobody makes a big deal out of it, and everyone is completely accepting. Same goes for Pitzer, which has a great gay scene. But as a CMC undergrad, only my room mates and closest friends knew my boyfriend (everyone else thought I just didn’t hook up). Even at graduation, it felt awkward to introduce him to everyone who didn’t know I was gay (he got really mad at me when I wouldn’t introduce him to certain people). Shouldn’t be like that. CMC needs to become a bit more like SC or Pitzer.

  • Hookupsneverendwell

    Biological analysis of hook up: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-neurochemical-self/201401/hook-ups-oxytocin-and-the-brain-s-quest-trust

    “Hook ups could destroy your trust bonds, so you’d lose more oxytocin in the long run than you’d gain. An immediate blast of oxytocin is tempting, of course. But once you get it, it passes quickly and you’re left feeling like something is wrong. The fast, easy road to oxytocin often feels bad in the long run, but social bonds that are forced on you feel bad too. Your brain feels best when you have trust bonds that built up from many one-to-one experiences over time.”

  • Natalie H.

    Love it Zach. So grateful for this piece, and for starting a dialogue about identities that don’t fit within “normate” expectations and creating strong, honest relationships with all people. CMC certainly needs somewhat of a perspective shift with a heavy dose of talking some truths. Thanks again Zach!