07/15/2013 06:16 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

If This Is a Game, I Don't Get the Rules


I love to read The New York Times on Sunday. I have a particular order in which I read the sections I like, and I religiously ignore other sections all together. But yesterday, I only read one article, the cover of the Sunday Styles section, "She Can Play That Game Too." And I can't think about anything else.

The premise of the article is that the "hook up" culture prevalent on college campuses is not just driven by the men, but increasingly by the female co-eds as well. According to the author and her supporting research, many college women are choosing hook-ups over relationships, because they believe relationships would interfere with their focus and their goals. Casual sex, the students interviewed go on to say, does not take time away from extracurricular activities, job interviews, leadership positions, options or the pursuit of a goal. Relationships are seen as inconvenient and time-consuming. The article continues to discuss the frequent involvement of alcohol in these hook-ups and the often one-sided enjoyment (more often his than hers). But I just keep asking myself -- when did relationships, experimenting with different kinds of people with varied interests, learning about oneself while learning about another, become a game?

What is the takeaway meant to be for young men and women, for my children and yours from this article -- that life is so easily compartmentalized into discrete chapters, that romantic, committed relationships are just too inconvenient? That the concept of having a supportive partner (however you define supportive or partner) cannot be enjoyed simultaneously with the achievement of personal goals? That life will run in a linear fashion and once you complete the first part, you will enter the second with a smooth transition? Honestly, does that accurately describe the life of any person you know? S**t happens -- family things, health things, money things, children things. Life is messy, fabulous, overwhelming, exciting, tiring, exhilarating -- and sometimes all in the same day. And often, it is really nice to have a person whom you love and who loves you to share it with, figure it out with.

So much has been written about women lately, creating lots of impassioned discussions -- Sheryl Sandberg is telling women to "lean in", not to shy away from opportunities, to find a partner who supports those efforts. Susan Patton's article catalyzed boos and applause when she discussed the importance (or ridiculousness depending on your point of view) for the bright young women of today to make sure to find a partner in college, where the men most worthy and appreciative of them are likely to be. And Anne-Marie Slaughter revisited the age-old discussion about whether or not women can have it all -- she says they can't. Who the heck knows which of these views of the world is right -- maybe the whole journey is about putting the pieces of life together in a way that fits you and only you.

In all fairness, I don't believe that everyone in the world has to be paired off, that marriage is for everyone, and that casual sex will be the destruction of society as we know it. But here is what I do believe and will continue to tell my children -- learn to be in a relationship, learn to care about somebody, learn that you can pursue goals while loving someone, learn to be vulnerable, learn how to recover from hurt, learn how to share your hopes and dreams, learn how to let someone love you, and learn how to love them in all their imperfect glory. And I am pretty sure these skills are not learned in dorm rooms with random partners at 2:00 a.m. or seedy bars after several drinks. Or maybe as a mother of two teenagers, a wife for over 20 years and a businessperson, I just don't understand how to learn the rules of this new game.