Senior Spring: Where Senior Girls Stand on Hooking Up, Dating, and Relationships

Ding-a-ling-a-ling!  Hear that?  Yes, it’s your alarm clock.  Yes, it’s ringing.  Yes, for the 6th time.  But that ring resonates a little differently this year. You’re a senior, it is second semester, and that bell no longer demands you get up; in fact, it suggests you sleep in.  At this point, you’ve navigated every corner of campus: dipped your toes in various social pools, tred the gamut of self-revelatory moments, had your fair share of epic nights resulting in inexplicable bruises, learned how to maximize academic performance while concomitantly minimizing effort, uncovered the best grub locales on campus, and essentially adorned your college bubble with friends and activities that complement your lifestyle.

Three-and-half years after you first traversed cobblestone pathways under gothic archways with those bright, naïve eyes of yours, you’ve attained a certain swagger that now has little time to evolve any further.  For many, however, that morning bell is another reminder that their swagger needs to involve some shagging.

Mr. Right Here Right Now

Nightmares of an ominous post-graduation social scene fraught with men in their mid-30s looming around seedy bars with a side smirk, an off-kilter wink, and a business card continue to haunt you.  Who could be less of a disguised serial killer than that cutie in French class you’ve been kinda-sorta-absolutely eyeing all semester?  If you don’t know him already, you probably know a guy who knows a guy who knows the guy.  And let’s face it, he’s fresh out of high school—you’ve got him whipped. Or what about clinching a boyfriend before you graduate, someone you can hold onto while you venture into the mysterious unknown of another zip code?  Is it time to turn in that miniskirt for some boyfriend jeans?

Senior spring is undoubtedly a thrilling time of year—it is the countdown to the “real” world and a call to seize the last remnants of youth. It is also, however, characterized by a mixture of complex emotions, both positive and negative.  Relationships, in particular, come to the forefront of a single girl’s mind.  Randomly hook up?  Date?  Keep it casual?  Get serious?  The rules of dating take on a whole new face, as time becomes an important factor and the psychological motivations of hooking up can change.  

So what is senior spring all about? Is it only good for casual hook-ups, for the quick rendezvous before life gets serious, for Mr. Now rather than Mr. Forever, for cashing in before bouncing out?  Or is it the time to put on a new game face, the you-will-put-a-ring-on-it-…-eventually one? Many girls alter their expectations in light of dwindling time.

Hooking Up: On the Prowl

One senior girl of Harvard University, who asks to remain anonymous, views senior spring as a time to get some unfinished business done: “I spent the past three years stepping on egg-shells, too afraid I’d develop a reputation as a ‘slut’ or feel down on myself for being sleazy, but it really was just a waste of valuable time and experience. I’m ready to just hook-up with guys I think are cute and fun and down for some casual encounters.  I want to stop forcing myself to take hooking up so seriously. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of being judgmental of other girls, and myself for that matter, but if you kind of self-psychoanalyze, you might find that the girls you judge are the girls you are just jealous of.” 
According to this senior, the “male approach” can be used by girls as well, “Most guys I’ve met just want to hook up without committing.  I mean, why did I think I had to commit in the first place? Maybe because I was a girl and thought it was my role to care more than the guy? As a senior, I pretty much want to enjoy the last months obnoxiously and ridiculously hooking up without feeling ashamed for it.”  When asked whether she’d be open for a hook-up to turn into a relationship, she replies, “At this point, it’s hard for me to be impressed by anyone, and I have already psyched myself out of the option.  There is no way I’m going to sit around and wait for stuff to develop and progress between me and some dude. I’ve spent all of college pining for a relationship, but I don’t think it’s what I really want or need at the moment if I’m being entirely honest with myself. I want to meet new guys, have control over the situation, and experiment while I’m still young and allowed to be a bit irresponsible with love.”
Hooking Up: The Passive Approach

Senior at Temple University Anna Hyclak has put dating on a lower pedestal than usual.  She says, “I’m a lot more laid-back about it [hooking-up], because I know that I'm not going to be around here for too much longer, so anything that could happen would already have an expiration date, which, interestingly, seems to make guys more interested.” Anna attributes this unintentional increase in action to her new attitude: “I think because I'm just carefree. I'm not thinking about dating. I feel like in other semesters I was, but now I’m just like ‘whatever’, and I think guys pick up on those kinds of vibes.”  Perhaps increased hooking up is a simple result of a common symptom of senioritis—indifference.  If it happens, it happens. If not, shrug.  As Hyclak points out, focusing less on guys makes them more prevalent in her life.  Guys have become a supporting detail, a footnote, a random quote to fill in the spaces—not the thesis.

Hooking Up: In a Relationship

Senior Michelle Nguyen of the University of Pennsylvania has been in a relationship since the beginning of freshman year.  For Nguyen and her boyfriend, senior year brings on whole new challenges: “Being a senior has definitely added some unneeded stress to our relationship, because we have to think so far ahead to the future and make compromises. We had to think long-term which was kind of intimidating for the both of us, and our relationship was a little tense for a bit, but we eventually talked about a lot of ‘grown-up’ things, which was very weird by the way, and we ended up having worked things out.”  Nguyen doesn’t feel any pressure to hook up or start seeing other people despite being in a new psychological context as a senior: “People definitely respect our relationship and know that being in a relationship is a big part of me and my boyfriend. Right now, I’m more about taking advantage of the time I have left with him, Philadelphia, and Penn.”

Hooking-up: A Professional Perspective

Alexa Joy Sherman, author of The Happy Hook-up: A Single Girl’s Guide to Casual Sex says, “Girls (and guys) really need to be in touch with their emotions (not to be confused with being emotional—they just need to be aware of how they feel from one moment to the next), and they need to be honest with themselves and the person they're hooking up with about what they want, expect, and need out of the hook-up.”  Kathleen A. Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, agrees.  In her research, she says, “College women, in particular, seemed to lower their expectations regarding hooking up as they got older.  Freshmen year they may have naively thought a drunken hookup encounter would turn into a more serious relationship, but over time women realized that most hookup encounters do not turn out that way.  Although women had this knowledge, many of them still hoped a hook up would turn into ‘something more’.”  The more in touch a girl is with what she wants from a relationship, dating, or a hook-up, the more prone she is to distinguishing the expectations she has from them and able to approach entanglements with more ease.

With respect to seniors, Sherman says, “I can't think of a better time in college to explore a hook-up than right before graduation (sort of like meeting someone while on a trip abroad, knowing you'll never see them again!).  But there is still the life experience and emotional maturity to consider, and some seniors will have more or less of that than others.  I do think that the more time a student has spent in a college setting (or simply living life), the more conscious they'll be of what they might be getting themselves into.”  Having become familiar with campus after a few years, a single girl is better able to gauge which guys are players, which guys are looking for something more serious, and at which parties and in which situations it is best to hook-up.  A senior girl has more perspective of the social scene and is able to keep her hooking up business more private.  Sherman notes that upperclassmen also tend to separate themselves a bit more from campus and be more independent relative to underclassmen, especially if they live off-campus and with fewer roommates. 

So now what?  Is every senior just one piece of more or less noncommittal pie?  Sherman argues, “If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you really can't expect anyone to behave in a stereotypical way. Just when you think a guy is a player, he falls in love—and just when the prude loses control and hooks up, she discovers all she wants for the next 10 years is casual sex and NO emotional entanglements. I think it has less to do with one's gender and more to do with where their emotional compass is pointing (and yes, a lot of guys' point down and a lot of girls' point up, but you can't say that definitively!)”.  There is no way to say how guys and girls will act when so many factors, not necessarily initial expectations, play a role in developing a dynamic. 

No shame in this game

Considering a senior girl may be more mature than her underclassmen counterparts, can approach hooking up with less hullaballoo, and uses protection 100% of the time, hooking up can indeed be a harmless experience!  Sherman says, “One thing we found in our research is that we, as females, judge ourselves and our sexual behavior—and even that of other women—far more harshly than most other people/men do. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves (so to speak!), to discuss these things openly, listen to own our bodies and emotions and do what feels right to us.” And contrary to popular belief, research shows that there isn’t as much hooking up going on as we think anyway.   Bogle says, “One major national study found that the median number of total hookup partners college students had by senior year was 5.  Students believe it is MUCH higher than that, but that's not what the data is telling us.”  Whether you want to push those numbers higher or not, amen to senior spring!
Senior girl at Harvard University
Anna Hyclak, senior at Temple University
Michelle Nguyen, senior at the University of Pennsylvania
Alexa Joy Sherman, author of The Happy Hook-up: A Single Girl’s Guide to Casual Sex
Kathleen A. Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus