Dating versus Hooking Up

If someone asked you on a date, what would you think they meant? Many of today's youth and young adults have a very different dating experience than those who may have dated a few decades ago. Societal trends have varied greatly.  Most young adults still consider marriage as a high priority, but with the culture changes in dating, how to achieve marriage is somewhat elusive.  The culture changes in dating are not congruent with finding a lasting relationship let alone someone to spend the rest of your life (or forever) with in marriage.

Traditionally, dating has meant that two people, (sometimes four if it is a double date) go out on a planned activity or spend time together to learn more about each other. For example a man might ask a woman on a date to go to a movie and dinner, during which time they talk and get to know each other. If they have a good time, they may go on additional dates, all without a sexual commitment. Dating provides opportunities to get to know someone and get a feel for the mutual compatibility of one another. Personal preferences, cultural backgrounds, religious affiliations, etc. all play a part in figuring out if two people want to spend more time together and start dating more seriously.

Image of a young man and woman climbing on a structure on a date

Dating can be fun and creative

Getting to know each other can be a fun, bonding experience as we see likes, dislikes, styles of communication, and decide what we find acceptable in a partner.

Today however, there is a trend toward "hooking up" which is loosely defined and hanging out, in addition to 'dating'. Many young people find it difficult to actually define any one of these terms. In "Hooking up, hanging out, and hoping for Mr. Right," Norval Glenn and Elizabeth Marquardt stated that regarding "dating" they found "four widely used and different meanings for the term, two of which were more common. A college couple who is “dating” is sometimes in a fast-moving, highly committed relationship that includes sexual activity, sleeping at one another’s dorm most nights, studying together, sharing meals, and more, but rarely going out on “dates.” These fast-moving commitments and hooking up operate as two sides of the same coin. At the same time, “dating” is also often synonymous with “hanging out,” in which women and men spend loosely organized, undefined time together, without making their interest in one another explicit, unless they hook up, at which point dating and hooking up become the same thing," (see link to article below). 

couple walking and holding hands

This confusion in terms and change in trends has lasting effects. Not only does it make it difficult to ask someone on a date, without having to define what you mean by 'date' but it prevents young people from having a solid foundation of getting to know a partner and building a solid relationship based on communication, understanding, trust, commitment, and of course, some physical attraction toward each other. Sensing that they have some physical attraction is not enough basis alone to establish a long-term relationship. While this is a very short introduction to the topic of dating, these are important topics to discuss in helping our teenage and young adult children understand why these trends are ultimately harmful to relationships. Further, being able to communicate clearly will go a long way toward relieving some of this confusion. Learn solid communication skills to use before and after starting a relationship in our Communication Skills courses

Find Out More

We will be publishing courses on Healthy Sexuality that will help dig deeper into the topics of what makes a healthy intimate relationship and how to strengthen our own.

Below are a few articles that will provide you with greater understanding of what mainstream society is trending toward and the impacts of these trends. 

These links will take you to websites or pdf's where you can read each article.

‘‘Hooking Up’’ Among College Students: Demographic and Psychosocial Correlates,"
by Jesse J. Owen, et al.

Excerpt: "Women were less likely to report that hooking up was a positive emotional experience than men. Young adults who reported negative and ambivalent emotional reactions to hooking up also reported lower psychological well-being and less favorable attitudes toward hooking up as compared to students who reported a positive hooking up experience."


  "Hooking up, hanging out, and hoping for Mr. Right" (pdf) by  N Glenn, E Marquardt

Excerpt: "As a result, the culture of courtship, a set of social norms and expectations that once helped young people find the pathway to marriage, has largely become a hook up culture with almost no shared norms or expectations. women typically do not yearn for a series of “close relationships,” but instead the majority seek long-term commitment and marriage....The absence of appropriately updated social norms, rituals, and relationship milestones leaves many young women confused, and often disempowered, in their relationships with men."


"Is It the Sex, the Romance, or the Living Together? The Differential
Impact of Past Sexual, Romantic, and Cohabitation Histories on
Current Relationship Functioning
" by Dean M. Busby, Brian J. Willoughby, Melissa L. McDonald 

Excerpt: "...the research demonstrates that early sexual involvement in a relationship and sexual involvement with different partners across time negatively influences the development of relationship communication patterns, sexual quality, and stability in couples,..."


"Hooking Up and Forming Romantic Relationships on Today's College Campuses," by Paula England, Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer, Alison C. K. Fogarty.

Excerpt: "One might have thought that the gender revolution would lead to women asking men out on dates. Instead, the casual date not preceded by a hook up has almost died. In both hookups and the dates that sometimes come after them, men are initiating much of the action."