Welcome to “Ask Ayla.” It’s me, Ayla, and I’m here to answer every funny, stupid, weird, genuine, thoughtful question you’ve ever had about sex and love in this bewildering college world. So begins my new, biweekly advice column that accepts anonymous questions about sex and love from members of our community.
Before we get started, let me fill you in on why the hell I’m writing this in the first place.
Over the summer, my professor claimed that romance is dead. It was the cliched claim of literature professors and distraught girls, but he really believed that modern love has been sapped of poetry, romance and anything making it worthwhile. He argued that, because of new technologies and our generation’s mystifying ways of interacting, love can’t possibly look as tragic or as beautiful as it did in Proust or any other 19th century romance.
I was indignant. Love hasn’t become more or less complicated or beautiful since Victorian Romanticism, it’s just changed, and I’m obsessed with this new landscape — obsessed by the myriad of ways for us to engage and interact and fall in and out of love and get hurt and move on or away. Berating our generation for its tech addictions and hookup culture has gotten old; now, the interesting question is why? What’s really at the heart of the confusing — but no less poetic — ways that sex and love play out today, in the era of dating apps and Snapchat and the casual hookup?
The other day, a group of us were trying to explain the concept of “hookup culture” to another professor. “Wait,” he asked. “So having sex with someone is less intimate than having a conversation with them?” It sounds ludicrous when you put it that way, but we nodded our heads nonetheless. It got me thinking. Should this be the way it is? How has it impacted our senses of self? Are sex and intimacy actually as separate as we pretend they are?
Sometimes it feels like we speak a secret language when we talk about this stuff. We toss around labels like “talking” or “dating” or “hooking up.” We make jokes about fuck bois, (and the undefined female equivalent) ghosting and heap significance onto things like a Snap streak or Instagram message. We share intimate moments with people in smoky bars, then leap into bushes should we see them in broad daylight. Hookups go crazy or go away. We get disproportionately hurt by things that shouldn’t have power over us, then go out and amass more stories and more confusions. The older generation looks at the way we love and goes, “What the fuck?” Sometimes, I look at it and ask the exact same thing.
It seems to me that real conversations about what we’re feeling and why only happen at around 2 a.m., when we’re drunk and the delusions of a perfect night out are stripped away. When the lights come on, we’re left foggy headed but reflective. “What am I doing here?” I ask myself leaving Box, swaying in Gheav or lying awake next to someone. “What the hell am I hoping to find?” I bet a lot of us wonder that same thing, piecing together Sunday mornings and furtive looks across dining halls and listless online exchanges into a narrative that probably doesn’t exist.
The problem is, even with as many ways as we have to talk to each other now, we simply aren’t. We’re talking about each other and because of each other but rarely are we actually talking to each other. A few weeks ago, the News published a column called “Mediocre Man-Sex” by Amelia Nierenberg ’18, lamenting the generally disappointing outcome of college hookups for women. Many of my female friends loved it — the columnist told a story that echoed every dissatisfying Saturday night we’d had. Other friends, though, were indignant. They hated its accusations and implications, and especially how the opposite article (“Mediocre Woman-Sex?”) was received with vitriol. My friend and I got into a drag-out argument about the differences in sexual experiences (and their aftermath) for men and women. We fought about it for an entire weekend, but at least, for the first time in a long while, the issues of sex, intimacy and relationships — the real issues, not the funny morning-after anecdotes— burst onto center stage, begging to be discussed honestly over lunch and in classrooms. At least we were talking.
So, that’s why I’m here — to get an authentic, sometimes irreverent and hopefully helpful conversation about sex and love in the modern landscape started, and keep it going. Who am I? I’m Ayla. Am I uniquely qualified to offer advice on sex and love in college? Probably not more so than any other college junior who’s availed herself of this crazy landscape, but I do have a perspective to share (and an army of friends to offer their input, too). I’ve had a fair share of inelegant moments, what-the-fuck situations, dumb texts, bad hookups, good hookups, ugly hookups, successful relationships, failed relationships, relationships that disappeared into just-plain-strange territory and reflections on all of the above.
This column isn’t a lament or an argument. It’s not about bad sex or disappointing relationships or hookup culture. It’s not even about being a woman (dudes, send me your questions). This column — which will run fortnightly in the News — is about being a college kid in the messy and magical world of modern love. Sometimes sex is funny. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it’s just a big giant question mark. And I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I’m excited about turning these issues into a conversation, together.
So let’s get the questions coming. Send them here.
Ayla Besemer| firstname.lastname@example.org .