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The autonomy of college life comes with its perks, but it means safeguarding your emotional health is critical.

In Hookup Culture, There’s a Difference Between Selfish and Cruel

The autonomy of college life comes with its perks, but it means safeguarding your emotional health is critical.

By Amelia Williams, City College of San Francisco


Before I begin, I want to ask: Assuming you lived in one, how did your dorm look by the end of freshman year?

Were you committed to cleanliness from the jump, accepting the limitations of yourself and your meager square feet of living space? Did you remain loyal to the spots you dedicated everything to? Yes? Cool.

Now, did any of those actions apply to the girl or guy you dated that year? Did you make sure to openly communicate? Did you make good on your word? Did you clean your dorm for their company?

Obviously, people are much more complicated than your closet, but when you start to forget the manners you were brought up with in one respect, often the others go along with it.

Why is that? College is a dirty, hedonistic time for many American students, and it’s mostly due to a lack of accountability.

The specific amount varies depending on your school, but college almost universally brings more opportunity for debauchery than high school ever could.

Amidst the peak of your hormonal journey into adulthood, students are corralled into cramped living quarters, party planners practically beg for your attendance at events, and there’s no one you have to tell what time you’re getting home. Alcohol is literally everywhere. When you add these elements together, you have manifold chances to meet lots of new and interesting friends, the love of your life or your sexual frustration partner.

Students in undergrad are just fish in a vast ocean of other horny fish, and the odds of seeing them again in school are slim to none. College is a very individualistic time, where personal success—academically or socially—trumps being someone’s significant other, usually. There is no longer a peanut gallery to judge the actions of strangers, or the piety of parents to dissuade you from making poor decisions. When you realize this new freedom, this lack of accountability, two choices present themselves: take care of other people, or take care of yourself.

To make the case for other people: Human beings are inherently deserving of respect. Being honest about your intentions and feelings at every step of the dating process means no one is left in the dark, which means neither party develops an inaccurate picture of what the relationship is, even if it isn’t a relationship at all. If you’re going to involve yourself sexually and/or (big emphasis on “or”) emotionally, you do it whole-heartedly. This means being unguarded, not secretive.

This also applies to relationship-seekers and those who came to school already attached to someone. For them, accountability is force of habit, not an epiphany they have after seeing the repercussions of their actions. Unfortunately for the rest of us, good communicators often stick with each other, and while they may have fewer fun stories, they also have fewer stories of manipulation and abandonment.

At the same time, they grow less. My freshman year I tried to be like this. I was kind, vulnerable and sought to be something serious for someone else. I devoted my time to befriending and attempting to seduce guys that I thought would make me happy. I tried to abstain from Tinder because I wanted something real. I suffered many tears and dark moods because none of my work was being reciprocated, and I was worth more than how I was being treated.

The worst part is that once I was given an inch, the bare bones of affection, I took a mile and thought I had finally found someone.

This guy showed me one night’s attention and never looked me in the face again.

I was a bit shook by that blatant disregard for my wellbeing, but it’s not all him; I’d forgotten to protect myself. I forgot to account for me.

Then there’s the case for taking care of yourself.  It’s the route most students go, because being selfish is, in general, much easier than the other route. It’s also not always a bad thing—selfishness builds cities, creates businesses, and will likely be what gets you through the semester.

Still, there is a big difference between being selfish and being cruel. The first is about your personal comfort and the latter is about power. Being selfish is hooking up with no expectations, on either end. There is no illusion with selfishness, and because both parties are thinking of themselves first, neither person should be unsure of where they stand.

Cruelty stands on bad intentions. For instance, sophomore year I met a guy and thought we would be selfish together, but he instead turned out to be underhandedly cruel, so I brought up the issue to a male friend. He told me about the tricks he pulls on girls to wield power over them, such as starting a conversation and pulling out of it once the girl has shown interest, never texting first, leaving a week between encounters “so they don’t get the wrong idea,” and never telling a girl about the other girls he was seeing. I was appalled. That’s not freedom—that’s taking advantage.

Lack of accountability can be freeing, but it also means that you can treat others poorly without any repercussions. Their feelings and well being are their responsibility, yes, but treating them kindly still is. Don’t forget that no matter what your intentions are, deception is never acceptable.

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