In today’s liberated world, hookup culture is rampant. Take a look around any bar on a Saturday night, and you’ll find lots of people getting ready to go home with someone they just met. While some bemoan the lack of “traditional values” and clearly defined dating rules, relationship experts have begun to realize the power of the hookup. In a recent study by Match.com’s Happen magazine, more than half of readers admitted that they had at least one hookup turn into a long lasting relationship. It turns out that, like many things in the confusing world of dating, science has a surprising explanation. Here are six ways that hooking up can set the stage for love.
Humans are hardwired to couple up. In earlier eras, those who successfully found a mate were more likely to avoid predators, find enough to eat, and raise children to adulthood. We might not face the same threats as our ancestors, but we have retained the instinct to pair off. Now that we live in relative safety and security, however, we have the ability to be more choosy. Today, people tend to marry for love and romance rather than land, power, or simple survival. In fact, according to the Singles in America study by Match.com, 89 percent of adult Americans believe that it is possible to remain married to the same person forever, but 33 percent believe it is reasonable to leave a satisfying marriage to someone with whom you have fallen out of love.
Triangular Theory of Love
Pioneered in the 1980s by psychologist Robert Sternberg, the triangular theory of love suggests that love has three basic ingredients: passion, intimacy, and commitment. Different types of love, from infatuation to deep family bonds, are based on one or two of the ingredients. But only consummate love contains all three. This is the type of romantic love that is built to last, because the partners are strongly attracted (passion), deeply attached (intimacy), and consistently making the active choice to stay together (commitment).
Yet brain scans show that attachment, or intimacy, takes time to develop. It is based on shared experiences, working through difficulties together, and the type of trust that can only be achieved through repeated interactions. Many relationships fail because the partners mistake the brain chemical surges of early attraction, and the resultant obsessive thoughts, for true intimacy, and attempt to skip ahead to commitment without building a foundation of friendship and bonding.
When couples move from hooking up to a committed relationship, they tend to do so very slowly, moving through a series of interim steps that could each last for months or even years. Most follow a loose progression that goes something like this:
- Friends With Benefits: This stage occurs when you begin regularly hooking up with the same person. You are not exclusive, do not appear in public or on social media as a couple, and have few expectations. Gradually, though, you get to know each other. The primary focus is still on the physical aspects of the relationship, but an actual friendship is starting to form.
- Dating: At some point, you both decide that you have enough in common to begin an official relationship. You announce your status as a couple and accelerate the non-sexual “getting to know you” portions of your relationship. At this point, you have moved from what the triangular theory defines as infatuated love—based purely on passion—into romantic love—a combination of passion and intimacy.
- Living Together: Sometimes referred to as a trial marriage, living together has become incredibly common among modern couples, no matter how the relationship began. In fact, it is increasingly seen as a necessary precursor, giving both partners a chance to see how life under the same roof goes before going through the formalities of a legal marriage. This is the first true attempt at consummate love, or passion and intimacy blended with more than a day by day commitment.
Lack of Pressure and Personal Responsibility
One of the reasons that relationships based on hookups can work well is that both partners retain personal responsibility for their decisions. While those who jump into dating often bring a long list of expectations based on past experiences and reports from other relationships, turning a hookup into a commitment is still new and largely uncharted territory. With no societally defined “rules,” and no expectations beyond the night in question, both parties are free to handle the relationship exactly as they please. If you happen to be moving in the same direction, great. If not, you are free to walk away at any time. This allows both of you to figure out what you truly want, based on a natural progression of feelings.
Of course, the majority of hookups do not lead to long term relationships. You should never enter a hookup situation with the intention of snaring the other person. If you choose to hook up, do it because you are interested in that particular situation, at that particular moment in time. Even if you move into a friends with benefits phase, remain aware that there are no commitments, and your partner might choose to move on at any time. Still, from a biochemical perspective, the progression from hookup to relationship makes perfect sense.
Looking for verifiable information on the science of attraction and relationships? We’re a neuroscientist and a biological anthropologist eager to help you put the Anatomy of Love to work in your own life.
Written by: Lisa FritscherNEXT