Rosin's essay is a clumsy attempt to reconcile the conflict between the liberal demand for an autonomous, independent, single person lifestyle based on career and casual relationships, and the normal human desires for love and family.
Rosin begins by celebrating a coarse hook up culture, which she believes is used by young women to avoid serious relationships with men so that women can dedicate themselves to career and independence:
The sexual culture may be more coarse these days, but young women are more than adequately equipped to handle it, because unlike the women in earlier ages, they have more-important things on their minds, such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own. The most patient and thorough research about the hookup culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relationships that don’t get in the way of future success.
OK, that makes it sound as if success in life is measured by career and independence. The message is repeated in this passage:
Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-school party—are for the first time in history more successful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.
You would think that a woman's sexual prime would be the most logical time for a woman to try to attract a serious suitor - but Hanna Rosin doesn't see it this way. It's only when a woman is past her sexual prime that a serious suitor might be considered - before then he is "a danger to be avoided at all costs" as he might "get in the way of a promising future".
Now if what really matters is career and independence then why not give up on marriage altogether? Marriage, after all, requires a commitment to others. And Hanna Rosin does at times run down the idea of marriage. She writes:
There is no retreating from the hookup culture to an earlier age, when a young man showed up at the front door with a box of chocolates for his sweetheart, and her father eyed him warily. Even the women most frustrated by the hookup culture don’t really want that. The hookup culture is too bound up with everything that’s fabulous about being a young woman in 2012—the freedom, the confidence, the knowledge that you can always depend on yourself.
Women want a hookup culture, she writes. It's fabulous. It represents freedom and self-reliance. She goes on to claim that,
Young men and women have discovered a sexual freedom unbridled by the conventions of marriage, or any conventions.
So it's all clear to this point. The hookup culture, whatever distress it might cause to young women, is a source of freedom and progress for women. A lack of conventions is held to be a good thing. Best not for women to have serious or lasting relationships with men. Flings with unsuitable men are the way to go.
But then the clarity fades away. All of a sudden we get this conclusion:
But that’s not how the story ends...Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women. Even for those business-school women, their hookup years are likely to end up as a series of photographs, buried somewhere on their Facebook page, that they do or don’t share with their husband—a memory that they recall fondly or sourly, but that hardly defines them.
Oh, really? So women are to spend ages 15 to 35 rejecting a deeper human connection in favour of independence and freedom, and then at the very last gasping breath of their youthful fertility, they are suddenly to change and decide that human connection matters after all.
Come on Hanna. You can't justify wasting a woman's sexual prime on independence and freedom from convention if a deeper human connection as experienced in marriage proves to be the stronger value in the long run anyway.
If independence and sexual freedom really are the higher values to live our lives by, then we shouldn't marry at any age. We should be like the Swedes and live alone. But if a deeper human connection as expressed in marriage is the higher value, as Hanna Rosin seems to believe it ultimately proves to be, then we shouldn't waste it - we should marry in a timely way that allows us to share our sexual prime with our spouse.
Hanna Rosin seems to expect otherwise intelligent people to engage in a kind of self-sabotage - deliberately rejecting serious suitors when in our prime, only to seek them out when we're past it.
P.S. Something I missed is the significance of Rosin's final words "but that hardly defines them". The implication is that women don't want to define themselves when they're married the same way they might when they're in their 20s and hooking up. Which means that even Rosin recognises that the two identities don't go together well. She seems to be trying to reassure her female readers that they can bury the younger self that doesn't fit with being a wife and mother - the self that they might potentially be ashamed to let their husbands know about.