One night in high school, my ex-boyfriend’s best friend called me up. He told me that he and his girlfriend, and my ex-boyfriend, were all hanging out, and that I should come over. From the tone in his voice and slight innuendo in his words, I knew what this meant.
My ex-boyfriend and I had played the “friends with benefits” game before. Thus I wasn’t surprised and actually felt a bit flattered that this popular, talented, good-looking guy would beckon me to him, even if we weren’t still dating.
I excitedly rushed over to the best friend’s house, greeted everyone, and proceeded to “hang out” exclusively with my ex-boyfriend. I didn’t see anything wrong with making-out with my ex-boyfriend, because after all, I wasn’t having sex. I wasn’t even having oral sex. In fact, I was following the boundaries I had learned from the (bad) advice of someone in ministry: “Just keep your pants on!”
So I wondered why, even after we hooked up, I still felt a pit of disgust in my stomach and a twinge of shame in my conscience. I had just experienced these moments of pleasure, but I felt quite lonely and empty. Questions also arose in my mind: “Does my ex-boyfriend still like me? Are we going to get back together now? How often are we going to do this?”
Even as I said good-bye and left for home, I continued to justify to myself that there was nothing wrong with “hooking-up.” I thought to myself, “Everybody does it, anyway, and I’m staying within my boundaries. I’m good!” Even though my head was rationalizing my actions, my heart still stirred with more restlessness and more shame than before the night began.
So, what was my problem? Actually, my heart was not having a “problem” at all, but experiencing the truth! Looking back now, I see that my 16-year old self knew deep down that it is never right to use someone for mere pleasure, or use someone at all. On the other side of the coin, I also knew the lousy feeling of prostituting myself out to a guy to be a mere object for his pleasure, even if in a more restrained way than most people my age.
The truth is we are called to love selflessly and not use selfishly. Blessed John Paul II even said in his book Love and Responsibility that the opposite of love is not hate, but use of another person as an object. If this is true, then hooking-up is the opposite of authentic love, and teaches us instead how to settle for counterfeit intimacy, grow in lust, selfishly use another, and disregard the dignity and worth of others and ourselves.
What Is a Hook-Up Anyway?
Defining a “hook up” is like trying to catch a ninja: very tough.
In our culture, a hook-up can mean anything from making-out, all the way to sex. But it is generally between two people who are not in an exclusive relationship. (Note: even people in exclusive relationships still fall into sin when they use each other for pleasure and choose lust over love, inciting arousal rather than showing affection). Unfortunately, because our culture displays “hooking-up” as a normal part of human relationships, even good Catholics fall into to this form of lust. This happens sometimes because they don’t know God’s plan for authentic love, or they give in to temptation in a moment of weakness.
Why Is It Bad?
So what’s wrong with hooking-up? A lot of people “of this world” will say, “Geez, it’s not that big of a deal!” Well, when you’ve been eating out of the dumpster your whole life, how are you supposed to know that there’s a banquet of delicious food awaiting you? If everybody on TV and in movies shows us that “hooking up” is just “normal,” how are we supposed to know that we’re meant for more than momentary lust that doesn’t satisfy?
Counterfeit vs. Real Love
When I was 18, I experienced the love of God (through the Eucharist and in others) in a very powerful way at a youth conference. It turned my life upside down. I thought to myself, “This is the love I have been looking for my whole life! This is the love that satisfies my heart! Finally! I never want to settle again for a lesser love!”
I realized that in high school, because of my “hook up” mentality, I thought love was about what I could “get” and not what I could give. I thought love was a momentary “feeling” and not an actual person – God.
I thought love was about pleasure alone. I soon realized that intimacy was much more than physical pleasure, but based on selfless relationship between two people. I had looked for high school boys to “satisfy” my desires (which even though pleasurable, they never did), and yet here was the One who had been there all along, waiting for me to experience His idea of love.
When I experienced the taste of the real Heavenly food, the Bread of Life, I never wanted to eat out of the dumpster again. I had been settling for the counterfeit of love, which was lust.
Our sexual desires are very good. Authentic love teaches us to acknowledge our sexual desires and use them in a good, healthy way (i.e., building intimacy in friendships with those of the opposite sex, not using others in “hook-ups,” waiting until marriage to have sex), giving us true freedom to live a life of chastity and holiness. Lust, however, allows our sexual desires to be a master over us, like we are animals with no self-control.
If you can’t say “no” to hooking up (whether making out or even having sex), are you really free? Nope, we are slaves to our sexual desires. God is calling us to authentic love, which is freedom to be a gift to another, as Jesus gave Himself in total freedom on the cross for love of us.
Selfish vs. Selfless
Because I had experienced this real love, I never wanted to use or be used again. Hooking up is all about “getting” something from someone. It’s all about “me.” It is very selfish. Why? Because rather than acknowledging another person as someone with a body and a soul, we merely use their body for our pleasure.
Lady Gaga in her song “Poker Face” (which is about showing no emotion during her sexual hook-up) says, “I won’t tell you that I love you, kiss or hug you, cuz I’m bluffin’ with my muffin.’” If Lady Gaga knows what it means to bluff and lie with her body, doesn’t that mean she knows the truth? She can pretend to separate her soul and her emotions from her body, but it’s impossible.
Our bodies have a language, which long to speak the truth. Our bodies long for the deepest intimacy possible – that of body and soul. Our bodies even release a chemical called “oxytocin” when we are sexually aroused, which bonds us to another person. No wonder we continue to hook-up!
We might pretend that it’s “no big deal,” but our bodies have bonded with another. First, whoever says they are not aroused by a passionate kiss (or more) is lying to you. Secondly, this chemical is less strong the more and more partners we have. We were meant to be with one person forever, not with a bunch of people momentarily. If our bodies know this, our souls should.
Worthless vs. Full of Worth
When we have a hook-up mentality, we fail to see the dignity and worth of others and ourselves. Rather than seeing someone as a brother or sister in Christ, who we are called to get to heaven and lead in holiness, we see them as a disposable object, only good for a few uses.
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Right before that, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Our call to love is one of service and selflessness, because we recognize the beauty and dignity of our brothers and sisters. When we know this dignity, we will never desire to use another or let ourselves be used. After a friend of mine recognized the sinful depth of the hook-up life he was living, he said to me with great remorse, “This whole time I could’ve been leading these girls to Christ, but I used them instead.”
All of us desire a love that lasts forever. Hooking-up is a lust that lasts for a moment. It has never nor will ever satisfy the longing in our heart for union and communion with another (body & soul), which ultimately points us to union with God in Heaven. A life of love, though, must be a life of discipline.
No sports player ever made it to the professional league without lots of practice, hard work, and discipline.
That’s the same stuff that makes up good, healthy, holy marriages, and ultimately leads us to Heaven, as well. That’s why we are not just called “followers” of Christ, but disciples. We must practice chastity, persevere in holiness, and be disciplined in prayer. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it.
My brothers and sisters, I hope you never dumpster-dive again. My prayers will be with you as we lead each other and all we meet to the Heavenly Banquet!