Letter from the Life editor: ‘Symmetry of pleasure and pain is inevitable’

More respect for your partners might lead to grief, but it’s worth it



Good hookups are not the ticket to avoid suffering — but that’s for the best.

MAGGIE QUINLAN, Evergreen reporter

So many college students seem to make a hopeful mistake. We seem to believe hookups are an exception to the rules of human emotion.

Hookups are not a ticket to pain-free exhilaration because there’s no such thing. Only the most mediocre hookups will leave you completely unscathed. If you have a friend who’s always getting some and never getting blue about it, they’re having “blah” sex.

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson coined the phrase “identity crisis” and proposed that the challenge of young adulthood is to strike a balance between intimacy and isolation.

In our American culture, the mother of hookup lifestyles, we believe we can strike a balance to eliminate all pain. We believe it’s possible to collect pleasurable experiences and minimize suffering as if the two aren’t intertwined — as if life is a container to fill with joy-points while we can jettison the rest of our experiences into oblivion.

Constant glee is neither possible nor balanced, nor preferable. Symmetry of pleasure and pain is inevitable. Suffering is a part of vitality. If you’re deeply satisfied with the things in your life, you will be anxious to lose them. If you care deeply about someone, they will agonize you — guaranteed. They will get sick, they will get angry, you will miss them and they will constrain you. And that’s more fun.

Good hookups are not the ticket to avoid this suffering. You can avoid suffering with uninspiring people. And people do — students male and female seem to protect themselves against negativity by choosing to hook up with people they don’t respect, people they can objectify.

But why risk getting an STD for that? If you really enjoy a hookup, chances are you’ll feel something bad. You’ll miss the person. Or you won’t and you’ll wonder why. But that bad feeling might be subtle, and it might have beauty to it too.

I think these subtle feelings are prehistoric, but Bob Dylan captured it in his 1974 song “Simple Twist of Fate” about a pre-Tinder-era hookup.

“She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones — it was then he felt alone and wished he’d gone straight and watched out for a simple twist of fate.”

Dylan’s protagonist woke up to an empty motel room, and “told himself he didn’t care, pushed the window open wide, felt an emptiness inside to which he just could not relate” and wondered “how long must he wait, one more time for a simple twist of fate.”

Dylan or his imaginary character might have wished he’d gone straight, but the world would’ve missed this crushingly simple lyrical gem.

A hookup might be a nasty waste of time or it might be an incredible high. And if it’s great, you might feel like shit. But everything else that’s great might hurt too, so who cares?

It takes bravery to get close to people who might be a little too much fun. Take some advice from this 19-year-old whose brain isn’t done baking: don’t cower from emotion by hooking up with people you barely respect. Screw yourself over again and again. It’ll be the most fun.