Commitment Phobia and Hookups

In today’s hookup culture, no one is a priority

Posted Mar 01, 2017

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the Western world, people in modern relationships often choose not to have get married or even live together. They have, and prefer to have, their separate existences and their separate spaces where they can enjoy downtime by themselves (Bulcroft, et al. 2000; Mikulincer & Goodman, 2006: Introduction). They agree to be in a relationship—which can be exclusive or nonexclusive—as long as they can have their own separate lives. This may require limiting contact between the romantic partners and limiting the frequency with which they see each other.

Even when people do live together, there is typically no expectation that the couple is a unit who do everything together (Mikulincer & Goodman, 2006: Introduction). People often continue to have separate circles of friends that they meet on a regular basis. Romantic partners often choose to have separate bank accounts. They work out separately at different gyms. They even sometimes go on vacation separately and happily take jobs in different cities miles apart from each other.

The preference for no commitment or minimal commitment is not exclusive to relationships. Our increasingly narcissistic culture breeds young individuals who have difficulties committing to just about anything in life: a career, a job, buying a home, having children (Lasch, 1980; Lasch, 1979; Johnson, 1987; Campbell & Foster, 2002).[1]

Avoiding romantic commitment by choosing not to be in a relationship has become increasingly common. Hookups are non-committal. They fit right into our ego-centric and superficial attitude toward romance. If you are in a committed relationship, you have some obligation to satisfy your partner emotionally and sexually. You may need to spend hours down there to please your partner with your tongue. None of this is expected of you in a casual hookup. Hookups are just sex. If the sex is bad for the other person, you probably will never hear from him or her again. But who cares, if it is just a hookup?

Social media and dating apps have made it exceedingly easy to turn our romantic life into an indefinite series of hookups with ever-new sex partners. The chief among dating apps is Tinder.[2] Originally, Tinder was conceived as an app for getting to know new people living close to you, a kind of social networking app. The team behind Tinder recently reintroduced that feature with Tinder Social. But Tinder itself has in the meantime gotten a somewhat bad reputation for being the hook-up app for hetero (and some bi) people—a sex app in disguise. The Grindr of the hetero/bi population. That's the rumor going around.

How does Tinder work? It’s a phone app that pulls information from your Facebook account to create a miniature profile consisting of three pictures and possibly your occupation if you have it listed on Facebook. The app then pulls up potential matches that meet your age/sex/location criteria. You can choose to add a brief blurb about yourself, replace pictures of yourself and change the default settings for age, sex and location. Then the fun begins. As soon as you open the app, the faces of eligible men or women show up on your phone. You swipe left if you dislike the person or don't think they are right for you. You swipe right if you like them or think there is some potential—and you swipe up if you super-like them. The virtue of super-liking someone is that they can see that you have “super-liked” them when they encounter your profile, whereas a mere "like" doesn't show up until they have made up their own mind.

Tinder is like digital speed-dating. You swipe, you receive a message, you exchange a few words, and you either opt out or go on a date. The date following a match on Tinder is often a time-limited thing. "Let's meet Friday from 6:30 to 7:30 at MO Bar at Mandarin Oriental." That way people can fit in several Tinder dates in one night. Tinder is speed dating but extended to a whole hour in the best of cases (with the exception of the romantics who want to do the whole dinner thing right away, and the eager guys who want to hook up right away). Then you can take it from there if you "click," and if you don't, you can cut your losses.

Meeting up again with your Tinder date typically does not mean embarking on a relationship that can turn into commitment and marriage. More often than not it means meeting for quick, non-committal sex that potentially can turn into a friends-with-benefits situation (Wentland & Reissing, 2011). Only rarely do these encounters lead to a long-term committed relationship or marriage, though it can happen. The now-wife of my former student explains how she met her husband on Tinder (identities disguised):

I signed up for Tinder to hopefully find someone for a serious relationship. Given that I had already tried using OKCupid and Plenty of Fish with no success, I just decided to try one last option. I recall one of my friends telling me about Tinder; how we should try it, but not to get our hopes up because most people were there only for the occasional hook-ups. I decided to try it anyway, I didn't have anything to lose. I only used Tinder for about 2 to 3 weeks before I met Gabriel. Mind you, I had already been trying to meet someone on other websites, so by this time I was already tired of trying to talk to people and eventually get nowhere. Tinder was like any other dating site, most guys would either pretend to be interested in something serious or tell you right away they were looking to have “fun.” When I got Gabriel as a match on Tinder, I wasn't particularly excited at the time. In fact, I recall exchanging phone numbers with him and another guy on the same day and then deleting the app. I was about to take a break from the whole online dating scene. Anyway, Gabriel texted later, and we talked, then met in person and very soon we were dating, and now we are married.

It is still extremely rare to encounter married couples who have met on Tinder. Most cases of meet-ups after a Tinder match take the form of speed dates or hookups. A major con of this type of hookup lifestyle is that you risk developing a mindset that conditions you to treat people as disposable. As blogger Rebecca Earl puts it:[3]

In my opinion, this is the biggest downside of Tinder. Hands down. It simply makes people disposable. Oh, you do not feel an instant connection with this person? Not to worry. Do not bother trying. There are a million more people at your fingertips. I think it makes you more inclined to quickly give up on people. I try to make a conscious effort to avoid doing this, but it can be hard (the third guy I dated probably fell victim to this).

In today’s hookup culture, no one is a priority. People are options, like restaurants. If you don’t like the food, you don’t ever need to go back and you don’t need to call the restaurant to tell them that you are not coming back for more. At first glance, this may not sound so bad, but upon further scrutiny it is clear that this is a form of disregard for other people's dignity as human beings.

In addition to causing us to think of people as disposable objects, like our trash bags and recyclable milk cartons, Tinder and similar dating apps encourage us to instantly judge people on the basis of their looks rather than on the basis of personality, intellect and interests. If you are hoping for more than a hookup or a friends-with-benefit situation, you are setting yourself up for failure, if you are banking on superficial dating apps. While you can add text to your Tinder profile, Tinder text profiles are for the most part rather uninformative and mostly serve to rule out complete disasters and draw in people willing to copulate in an animalistic fashion without any regard for feelings or human dignity. 


[1] See also Beyond Selfishness,

[2] Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”, Love Me Tinder,

[3] My Tinder Experience: The Pros and Cons,

Berit "Brit" Brogaard is the author of On Romantic Love and a co-author of The Superhuman Mind.

Oxford University Press, used with permission
Source: Oxford University Press, used with permission


Bulcroft R, Bulcroft K, Bradley K and Simpson C (2000). “The Management and Production of Risk in Romantic Relationships: A Postmodern Paradox,” Journal of Family History 25, 1: 63-92.

Campbell, WK, Foster, CA. (2002). “Narcissism and Commitment in Romantic Relationships: An Investment Model Analysis,” Pers Soc Psychol Bull 28, 4: 484-495. 

Johnson, S M. (1987). Humanizing the Narcissistic Style, New York: W W Norton.

Lasch, C. (1979). The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, New York: W. W. Norton.

Lasch, C (1980). “The Culture of Narcissism,”  Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 44.5 (Sep 1, 1980): 426-444.

Mikulincer, M and Goodman GS, eds. (2006). Dynamics of Romantic Love Attachment, Caregiving, and Sex, New York: Guilford Press.

Wentland, J J; Reissing, E D. (2011). “Taking Casual Sex Not Too Casually: Exploring Definitions of Casual Sexual Relationships,” The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality 20.3: 75-91.