How “Hooking Up” Changes As You Get Older

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When I was in eighth grade, one of my friends was talking to a substitute teacher named Erin, who we idolized. Young, hot, sophisticated Erin. We confided in her and it wasn’t weird or out of the ordinary to come to Erin with questions about our romantic lives–and I use that term loosely, because how romantic could a pair of eighth graders in a Jewish day school really be?

Well, one of my friends (we’ll call her Lois) was in a super serious relationship–no really, they talked on AIM every day after school AND on the phone–and that weekend at the school dance, they made out in one of the classrooms.

Now, when Lois told Erin that she had “hooked up” with her “boyfriend,” Erin looked confused.

“You guys had sex?” she asked.

That was the first time it ever crossed my mind that “hooking up” is synonymous with lots of different things.

Now that I’m 22 and have accrued (and participated in) many definitions of the word, it’s difficult to distinguish between what people are inferring when they say that they “hooked up” or are “hooking up” with someone. I think I’ve classified it pretty well, and breaking it down by age group seems to make the most sense.

The Parental Hook Up
My parents throw this around often, and when I was younger, it freaked me out. Particularly, they said it in reference to plans. They said things like, “Enjoy the mall, we’ll hook up later,” which then gave me a graphic mental image of my whole family kissing, but obviously, their hip vocab banks were obsolete and they could have swapped “hook” for “meet,” which would have eliminated the grossness entirely. Also, what’s double-disgusting is when parents combine the term with words like “girlfriend,” which old people use to refer to a gal pal as opposed to a romantic prospect. The sentence would be something like, “What time are you and your girlfriends going to hook up?” As a straight female, that confused me. Did they think I was making out with my friends?

The Middle School Hook Up
Tonsil hockey. If anyone under the age of 14 ever tells you that he or she “hooked up” with someone, it’s usually safe to rule out second and third base. Making out for middle schoolers has got to be the best ever. Fuck hand holding. For a prepubescent male, the gratification that comes with touching lips with your crush while her boobs are touching you and she’s okay with that means that you can die now, after furiously masturbating for several hours while praying that your mother doesn’t walk in on you. For the girls, it means that Regina George better watch her back. Kissing with tongue was for the cool kids and now it’s like a prerequisite to sex. If you’re a bad kisser, then you’ll probably suck in bed.

The High School Hook Up
At this point, past perfect tense becomes present continuous: “We are hooking up.” This is where things get complicated, though. It’s the “OMG what are we?!” “Oh, we’re hooking up.” But it’s not that simple. Hooking up in high school implies a number of things: one, that you text all the time, and two, that one of you is scared of committing, even though you’ve probably hit third base or more and admitted feelings by now. You’re also planning on going to prom with/marrying this person. But still, you’re just “hooking up.” Casual.

The College Hook Up
I’ve only ever heard this term used by college students to mean one thing: one-night stands. The repercussions of the mistakes that you’ll make in college are fairly insignificant. Unless you kill someone or catch the clap, the most you’ll have is a guilty conscience. In college, saying that you “hooked up” with someone implies a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. One-night stands in college run as rampant as squirrels in the northeast. They’re ubiquitous and bound to happen, which is why it is crucial for students to have a phrase that implies don’t ask, don’t tell to fall back on. So, upon returning to your dorm after a bit of morning exercise (AKA a refreshing walk of shame) your roommate WILL ask you the inevitable two questions: “Where have you been?” and “How was it?” You will respond with a very straightforward “We hooked up.” That’s where the conversation ends.

The Postgrad Hook Up
People in this position are in a weird limbo between casual sex and a serious relationship. It could go either way. All of your friends are getting married and having babies–at least that’s what Facebook is saying–and you’re just trying to get your rocks off. So what’s it gonna be? Someone has to make a move before moving from “last call, last resort” to “Facebook official.” It’s a sexual gray area, and neither party is sure what the next move is. It’s not love. It’s confused lust.

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