Straus, a producer for The Oprah Winfrey Show, has lived an independent life typical of her Gen-X peers. But in this perceptive book, based on interviews with 100 heterosexual singles across the country, she concludes that the myriad choices enjoyed by 20- and 30-somethings have led to a sense of hopelessness and cynicism about relationships and a deep fear of commitment that’s often felt as a “fear of settling.” She lists cultural factors that place obstacles in the way of intimacy, among them an obsessive focus on independence and career, the aftereffects of feminism, and reliance on distancing new technologies such as instant messaging and online personals. Straus writes in a lively style replete with buzzwords, yet offers tough conclusions. While both men and women have impossible expectations, Straus observes that Gen-Xers prefer to “upgrade” rather than work on a relationship. And the compulsion to have lots of casual sex with attractive partners conflicts with the goal of finding a mate. The book ends with stories of couples who have succeeded in finding and keeping love. Straus argues convincingly that in order to open yourself to love, you cannot keep your options open --- you have to commit all the way.I chose to add this book to the Health class reading list so that my daughter would be exposed to, and have the opportunity to discuss, the prevailing attitudes about sexuality, dating, and marriage amongst young people because these are the points of view she will, most likely, encounter when she enters the workforce and/or leaves home for college in a few years. I want her to be armed with as much information as possible before she walks out the door; and, as a parent, I want to be prepared for the challenges she will face, challenges that are (in some ways) much different from those I faced while at university.
I must admit, when I started Unhooked Generation, I was concerned that the overall message would be one of ethical relativity and advocacy for the “unhooked” mindset. Happily, after reading only the introduction, I think Ms. Straus is squarely on the side of commitment. Quoting from the text:
Certain commentators have made the point that an early adult experience of serial monogamy leads to a lot of heartbreak and cynicism, and that it can actually undermine faith in marriage and commitment. One of these is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of Kosher Sex. Rabbi Boteach argues that, by the time you have seriously dated a couple of people, slept with them, and left them or been left by them --- that is, before you ever make it to the altar --- there is “scar tissue” on your heart. Maggie Gallagher, who wrote The Abolition of Marriage, makes a similar case. These books defy the conventional wisdom of our generation...that a series of intimate relationships prior to marriage can strengthen the marital bond, much like training wheels strengthen the skill of bike-riding. The problem is --- as I began to feel after listening to my own heart and hearing the feelings of my male and female friends --- when you painfully experience your training wheels falling off a couple of times, it is hard to trust your bike.I am also pleased by Ms. Straus’ admission that the birth cohort to which she belongs (Gen-X) yearns for deep emotional intimacy, yet seems so disconnected. Their definition of connection, for example, taken from the “Unhooked Dictionary” in the back of the book, sets an almost impossible standard:
An instant bond beyond physical attraction that we, as Gen-Xers, strive for but can’t always sustain. Can occur along with or separately from the buzz.Buzz, of course, being:
The euphoria someone gives you when you are in love, usually associated with the early stages of romance.According to Ms. Straus, Gen-Xers also do not accept marriage as an ideal nor as the singular feminine goal. In fact, they doubt whether love can even last. Sad.
Having been married for twenty-two years myself and being the child of parents who were married forty-six years when my father died, I doubt whether I will be able to relate completely to the paradigm studied in Unhooked Generation. Yet, for the sake of my daughter and her education, I will struggle through it. Rest assured, I plan to “balance” the information obtained from this book with some resources on the biblical view of sexuality, dating, and marriage, resources like Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World by Shannon Ethridge & Stephen Arterburn or I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris.
I will keep you updated on our progress through these materials.