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What Does Hooking Up Mean?


Close up of multi-ethnic couple telling secret
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The term hooking up, or a hook up, might have different meanings depending on the context of the conversation, age of the person saying it, and societal cues. Readers have used it with me in more than six different ways, and I usually have to clarify their meaning and intention if it's a bit muddy. So, if you're wondering what it all really means, you're not alone. Here's a few explanations and examples.

  1. Dating Someone Regularly

In some circles (especially with younger teens, I've found) hooking up can refer to two people dating steadily. It's almost a visual cue in this case, where two people have hooked into one another, or are hooked on one another. I should note that of all the definitions listed here, this is the one I've heard used the least often.

2. Casually Dating 

In this case, casually dating means getting to know someone casually without commitment to see if you want to enter into a romantic relationship with them. Some folks might call this just plain dating (and they'd be right!) however others consider it a stepping stone to see if there's more substance to build a strong connection.

3. Starting a Relationship

Another way to use this term loosely, I'd also say that few folks mean they're starting a new relationship when saying they've just hooked up with someone - although a few of the teens I've spoken to have. If someone does use this in reference to you, or a good friend of yours, and you think it might mean a more committed, romantic partnership, I'd strongly recommend getting clarification.

4. Engaging in Physical Intimacies

When someone says to me, "Oh my gosh, I just hooked up with this great guy this weekend," they're usually referring to #4 on this list. It could mean anything intimate however, be it kissing, oral sex, intercourse and anything in between. I find that anyone college-aged or younger usually is referring to fooling around (with or without sex) whereas older folks mean they actually did have sex.

5. A Platonic, Casual Hang-Out

Context matters here, so if someone asks you if you'd like to hook up tonight, they're either referring to something very casual (like coffee or a drink between platonic friends), or something dating and/or sex-related (as detailed above).

Still wondering what someone meant when they said you or someone else hooked up, or if you want to hook up? Easiest way to find out is to ask directly, yet playfully. I find what works well for me is something said with a mischievous glint in my eye, and directly. "Hook up?" is oftentimes all that's needed, and then the other person can clarify their intentions.

Also Known As: casual dating, casual sex, crush, date, friends with benefits, going steady, hanging out

Alternates: hook up, hookup, hooked up

Examples: "I didn't realize the two of them were hooking up." "What is hookup culture?"


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