Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘Thinging’ attempts to define in-between stage of relationships

There is a fuzzy area in between a one-night stand and a committed, long-term relationship. No one agrees exactly on what to call it, what the rules are and exactly what each person wants.

There are different words for this kind of sexual non-relationship: thinging, hooking up, whatevering, a “casual” relationship, keeping your options open. The terminology is as murky as the concept; thinging (the most common term) is a nebulous, gray area in the fabric of sexual relationships, and its relatively common occurrence at Whitman represents a national trend.

The New York Times Magazine published a recent cover story about a new phenomenon called “emerging adulthood,” which explained young adults are taking longer than ever before to demonstrate the traditional qualities of adulthood, particularly with long-term romantic partners. It’s a reversal of traditional dating norms, and many students here are unhappy with it. One of those students is sophomore Katie Haaheim, who is in a long distance relationship with someone from her hometown Minneapolis.

“Thinging is an idea that I think really fundamentally doesn’t work,” said Haaheim. “I feel like the typical scenario is that the guy wants the freedom to hook up with whoever and not feel tied down to any specific person. The girl is typically the one who actually kind of wants more, but is afraid of sounding needy and being clingy, so she settles for thinging.”

Though Haaheim did acknowledge that the gender roles could be reversed, she feels that thinging is unfair to both parties. She explained that thinging fits in with the college trend of brief sexual encounters over ‘real’ relationships.

Sophomore Clare Sobetski, who has been on both sides of the spectrum of wanting more and wanting less, offered another perspective.

“I think that thinging can be a good thing, because it’s hard, in a college environment, to know exactly if you want to be exclusive, so it’s sort of a trial period,” said Sobetski. “But I think the main problem with thinging is that people never really communicate what’s on their mind. When people ask what you are with someone, and you can’t really say exactly, that’s a really big symptom of the problem.”

Sobetski further explained that miscommunication is common for both parties, and that the reluctance to share contributes to the ambiguity. Sophomore Trevor Miller agrees.

“The lack of communication is awkward,” said Miller. “Communicating what you really want makes you vulnerable, saying what you want and not knowing if the other person wants the same thing, so people avoid doing it.”

Miller is openly gay, but in his experience, gay and straight people have similar experiences with thinging–similar levels of heartbreak, emotional involvement and miscommunications.

Nevertheless, thinging is not a total breakdown of dating. In many cases, thinging can transform into committed partnership.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology & General Studies Noah Leavitt, on the other hand, was more concerned with the long-term impacts of thinging. He suggested in an e-mail that though conventional wisdom might claim that it represents a breakdown of modern relationships, it might actually be a more natural outcome of recently ubiquitous technology, like texting and social media.

“Rather than simply thinking about ‘thinging’ as being correlated to delayed adulthood . . . maybe it has to do with a different mental time horizon in which young Americans live,” said Leavitt. “Maybe as technology accelerates our online ability to communicate, interact and create and recreate our identities and relationships, ‘thinging’ is a logical and consistent offline outcome.”

Ultimately, of the students interviewed (indiscriminate of gender), including those who professed enjoying random hook ups, many expressed a desire for the emotional intimacy of a ‘real relationship.’ Despite the lack implicit in the label of “emerging adults,” certain perspectives suggest an eventual emergence.

“I don’t like just hooking up, it’s not who I am,” said Sobetski. “I like to know the people I’m involved with romantically. There’s a certain emptiness to just hooking up.”

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