Love is not full of pity, as men say,
But deaf and cruel where he means to prey.
—Christopher Marlowe, Hero and Leander
In September, the New York Times published an article called “He Asked Permission to Touch, but Not to Ghost.” Written by Courtney Sender, this distinctly millennial work exemplifies the confused character of sex in our time. Sender relates that after connecting with a man on Tinder, she invited him, a stranger whom she’d never met before, over to her home for their “first date.” They fooled around a little and on the “second date,” again at her home, they had sex. Her caddish match ghosted on her, so now Sender believes dating should be more caring.
In their hook ups, Sender’s partner, in what must have been a rather awkward experience for them both, continually asked for her “consent.” To Sender’s puzzlement, each advance was preceded by a request for her approval — a testament, if anything is, to the pernicious influence of Title IX and the #MeToo movement. Sender appreciated his concern for her comfort. Still, the repeated consenting upset her; her lover, it seemed, was “legalistic and self-protective.”
Sender’s writings show the influence of the feminist grievance industry, which, for all its emphasis on “gender equality,” has a way of making the concerns of men an afterthought. So it’s not surprising that, because she and her lover had enjoyed “a mutually desired sexual experience,” Sender thinks the man needn’t have feared, say, a subsequent rape accusation. Of course, his fear was not unfounded. False rape accusations are five times more common than false accusations of other types of crimes. “I can’t tell you how many times,” says attorney Justin Dillon, “I’ve seen this in my Title IX [cases]—accusers embellishing details and ultimately convincing themselves of things that did not happen.”
For Jordan Peterson, Sender’s article is “more evidence that we are being called upon to live without objection in the delusion of a naive 13-year-old girl” (Sender is 30). The judgment may seem ungenerous, but it’s delusional to suggest that, by the power of mutual agreement, consenting adults can determine reality itself. What’s most important for Sender is that “a culture of consent should be a culture of care for the other person.” As for why we might believe that hook up culture could become more caring — that is, averse to ghosting — Sender reasons that, after all, “we perform sacred acts for, with and among strangers all the time. We give charitably to people we don’t know. We pray in churches with people we don’t know.” True enough, but Sender is reaching here — dubiously, desperately — for a kind of moral equivalence, so that hook ups are of a piece with giving to charity, praying with strangers, and so on. The trouble is that this is all rather vague. To say nothing of the moral character of hooking up, which hardly seems akin to charity and prayer, the acts she describes may or may not be marked by ideas of commitment (of course they sometimes are). People volunteer and do other charitable things, but not necessarily in such a manner as to be bound to the objects of their goodwill. Likewise, though people pray with strangers in church, that doesn’t mean they’re committed to one another, although generally speaking nobody is more committed to others than believers.
“Asking about my feelings during sex didn’t extend to caring about them after sex,” Sender notes, because “consent is not a contract of continuation.” And yet, she maintains that “a culture of consent should be a culture…of seeing and honoring another’s humanity and finding ways to engage in sex while keeping our humanity intact. It should be a culture of making each other feel good, not bad.” But nice as all this sounds, it’s motivated by the ghosting that bothers her, and the best way to avoid such a feeling is through marriage. Nor should anyone expect the ruthlessly selfish sexual marketplace to serve as some sort of vague substitute for the emotional assurance that only profound commitment can afford.
Besides, Sender’s lover was all of twenty-four, an age at which men want nothing so much as to sleep with a variety of attractive women: and if women let them, they will do just that! Writing in Psychology Today, Sarah Whitton describes the fascinating results from a study she and Eliza Weitbrecht did on gender differences in hooking up:
Thirty-eight percent of young men indicated that continued sexual involvement was the ideal outcome of their hookups in general, compared to only 16 percent of young women. This difference was even more striking when asked about the ideal outcome of their most recent hookup: 63 percent of men, but only 11 percent of women said they hoped that hookup would lead to continued sexual encounters only. More young men (19 percent) than young women (10 percent) also ideally wanted their hookups to lead to no further contact with the partner.
In contrast, a much higher proportion of women (64.5 percent) than men (35 percent) ideally wanted their hookups in general to lead to romantic involvement. Again, the gender difference was even more pronounced when they were asked about their most recent hookup: 60 percent of women versus 13 percent of men said a romantic relationship was the ideal outcome of that sexual encounter.
So, men and women differ significantly when it comes to what they want from cheap sex. But however that may be, Sender’s hooks ups were a transaction, an exchange of value, in the form of lust, to be sure. Deep care was no more to be expected from them than from a trip to the dry cleaner’s or the supermarket. Sender wants to avoid the pain of being ghosted on. Like a lazy person who wants to receive a paycheck each week without having to go to work, she seeks the comfort of commitment without the burden that is commitment itself. Such a delusion, I submit, is precisely what happens when people are “liberated” from traditional customs and constraints with respect to sex and romance. If I decide to get rid of the pitcher and the batter, I may be doing any number of things, but playing baseball is not one of them.
In an earlier essay of mine, “The Left’s Puritan Theater,” I show how our culture, having equated traditional mores and authority as such with “oppression,” has turned to the administrative state for moral principles, however perverse. So we get top-down imperatives issued by “experts,” as in the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter. Meanwhile, people themselves follow the cultural trends, which keep personal autonomy as the supreme value even as men and women endeavor — somehow, someway — to attain moral cohesion. So it has happened that after the sexual revolution, sex and love shifted from being the most complex aspects of the human experience to a kind of whimsical contract. This doesn’t work, because if everybody’s free to be absolutely selfish, too many of us will end up alone, and children especially will suffer.
The great hope was that “free love” would make men and women happier. Instead, the opposite has occurred, and Sender’s melancholy story illustrates why. The ghosting she experienced—now prevalent, hell for men and women alike—is the logical outcome of making personal autonomy everyone’s chief good. Ghosting represents the brutal selfishness of oblivious eros, devastating for the heart. After the most intimate of acts, a person may disappear from your life at any moment. No explanation required. No duty to be decent. For you, and it, never meant much at all: What mattered was sexual desire itself, and to that end the individual is just a means for his body’s longing: he too is unfree, the dupe of the species.
Put down your pens, poets. Muses, continue to slumber. Born into “a progressive culture,” young men and women lack the guidance of traditional customs and constraints. They don’t know how to court, nor what it is. Eros—insatiable, rapacious—is unfettered, producing unending confusion and distrust, disappointment and bitterness. The hard work of love—its commitment and vulnerability and suffering—has given way to sheer instrumentalism. Behold an at-will venture, akin to the workplace. It alters when it alteration finds. It is the denouement of the sexual revolution’s tragicomedy.
Christopher DeGroot is a columnist at Taki’s Magazine and senior contributing editor of New English Review. His writing has appeared in The American Spectator,American Thinker, Frontpage Magazine, Jacobite, The Unz Review, and elsewhere. Follow him at Twitter.