by Michael Russer, reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project
Here’s why today’s “hook up” millennials may be our best hope yet for a shift towards true intimacy.
– – –
When I was the age of today’s millennial men I thought about one thing when it came to women—getting “lucky”. This was something that didn’t happen all that often, hence why the term “getting lucky” was so apropos. In our current culture getting lucky has been replaced by “hooking up” where having sex is about the same as ordering a cheeseburger with animal-style fries at your local In-N-Out burger joint.
At first blush this may seem like culturally we are going backwards with respect to relationships. However, I contend that the millennials are well positioned to take the next evolutionary step towards truly conscious intimate relationships because of the prevalent hook-up culture. Just stay with me for a bit, you will see where I’m going with this.
Surprising attention from the Ritalin Generation
What I’m about to share is strictly anecdotal. However I’ve experienced it so many times I believe there is a fundamental shift happening. As a fully impotent prostate cancer survivor I speak and write about extraordinary intimacy to people of all ages, orientations and stages of relationship. What I have noticed (surprisingly so) is that the millennials in my audiences seem to be extremely interested in achieving truly connected intimacy which seems totally counter to the casual sexual behavior so ascribed to this generation.
Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing
Here’s what I think is going on. In a hook up encounter, sex is so accessible that it essentially becomes just a form of mutual masturbation for the primary purpose of releasing sexual tension. Within this context there is rarely, if any semblance of true connection between the parties. And without connection there is no intimacy. And it is that lack of intimacy that becomes the unfillable hole that so wants to be fulfilled. Therefore there is this huge disconnect between sex and intimacy (generally speaking) for the millennials.
At least in the days of “getting lucky”, when we actually did get lucky it was so special we often associated a deeper connection with the other person, whether the encounter warranted it or not. That is, getting lucky seemed to be a far more transcendent experience than just getting off. And it’s this lack of experiencing transcendence that I feel our millennials crave. And this kind of transcendence typically can only come from risking a deep, authentic and vulnerable connection with another human being, be it on the emotional, physical or even spiritual level.
Maslow’s hierarchy of intimacy
In Maslow’s model of the hierarchy of human needs, base-level needs (i.e. survival, food, clothing, shelter) come first. Then procreative needs show up as a strong second place (i.e. sex drive). As these lower level needs are met, people will (as the theory goes) seek to meet higher level needs, with self-actualization being the highest.
For much of the developed world, most of their lower level needs are met. This leaves a craving for higher level ones –including the feeling of transcendence (which is a form of self-actualization) that can occur during intimate encounters. So viewed through this lens, hooking up is certainly a way to address ancient procreative urges, but does nothing for achieving a deeper level of connection between partners.
The fact that many millennials seem to feel and acknowledge this emptiness is actually a good thing. This means they are *aware* of what is missing / possible –a critical first step to change and being open to exploring how to achieve the deeper intimacy they crave. Whereas I find many men in my “getting lucky” generation not as open to this same exploration –perhaps because that sense of emptiness is not as strong as it is with the millennials.
There is hope yet…
The passing of the baton from one generation to another is always interesting to observe. The older generation gives it over with a mixture of relief and concern. The new generation, always different, takes it with a mixture of confidence and trepidation.
I think we have much to hope for in our current generation of millennials. I personally find them to be very caring, intelligent, and most importantly –ready for much more in terms of deep, connecting intimacy than what their hook up culture suggests. And for that, I am grateful to and for them.