It was a breezy Sunday morning, one set for the perfect brunch with lopsided pastries and a warm cup of coffee in hand. It was the kind of day when dog owners would wake up early to go running in the park. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and the world seemed at peace.  

Yet, there I was, almost falling out of my twin bed. The arm draped over me pulled me closer, only furthering the uncomfortable sticky sensation of sweat coming from two human bodies pressed awkwardly together like a broken jigsaw puzzle. I stared at my blindingly–white walls, thinking of all the tasks I had put aside all weekend, debating how to wake up the guy next to me in a subtle–but–cute way that would scream, “Please get out of my bed.” 

After an unsuccessful hour passed, the urge to pee becoming more and more unavoidable, I lifted the hand off my body and slipped out from underneath. Using the bathroom quickly but quietly, I headed to the living room to grab some water. I found one of my roommates. We whispered softly about our work for the week and how our nights had been the day before. 

As the conversation came to an end, I slipped back into bed, hoping my movements would be enough to wake the not–so–stranger in my bed. They weren't. Sitting up, he yawned and stretched, smiling at me innocently.

“Did you sleep on the edge of the bed the whole night? I'm sorry.”

“Yep. Haha. It’s fine.” 

As he dressed himself in my cramped dorm room, we discussed our plans for the day, the work we planned to accomplish, and the people we planned to see. We bitched about chapter, and as he put his second arm through his jacket sleeve, it was as if we were only two friends catching up; everything from the night before was erased. Still, we kept our dialogue short yet cordial and as he left my room that day, and I finally achieved my Sunday morning peace. 

This hadn’t been the first Sunday that I woke up wrapped in a stranger’s arms wondering how to make my great escape. Being a hormonal teenager at Penn meant saying goodbye to the ideas of romance and adventure depicted in the movies. I realized I wouldn’t be meeting my husband in my Econ 101 course and he definitely wouldn’t be pouring me a drink at a frat party–either way, I was always taught to pour my own. The expectation of the dating scene at Penn is there isn’t one. Even after hooking up with someone for an entire semester at Penn, asking them to your date night reads as a marriage proposal—and will have them running to the hills. 

Within three days at Penn my freshman year, I had been exposed to the endemic nonchalant hookup culture. I had already experienced the awkward staredown on Locust, a ghosting that hurt more than I’d like to admit, and the realization that here, the DFMO comes first, and their name comes second. At first, I felt disgusted with myself. The interactions made me feel used and dirty, like I didn’t deserve a chance at “love." I regarded these hookups as a means to an end, a chance to find someone during a lonely time. At first, I gained nothing from them.

It took me time to realize that Penn’s hookup culture refined the way I view myself–in a good way. 

Having been in a mentally–abusive relationship for almost all of high school, I entered Penn with the mentality that anyone who chose to be with me in any capacity was doing me a favor. I soon realized that it wasn’t the hookups that made me feel like I didn’t deserve love—it was what I told myself every time I looked in the mirror. I had spent so long seeking affection from someone who couldn’t see my value that I began to forget my own self–worth. 

With time, Penn’s hookup culture allowed me to regain confidence. It showed me I was wanted when, for so long, I had been told otherwise. Each new and exciting person entering my life gave me a greater and greater beacon of hope that I would become me again. Rather than listening to society’s narrative about the sleaziness of hooking up with strangers and sleeping around, I created my own narrative: one where I was able to see myself as more than just an object or an emotional punching bag. 

I want to clarify that I am not finding my self–worth through the men that waltz in and out of my bed. Instead, I am gradually teaching myself to be a little careless, to have more fun, and most importantly, to be true to myself no matter what form that may come in. 

Maybe you’re not the biggest fan of Penn’s hookup culture. But for me, in a time where I'm relearning self–love, this culture is exactly what I need. So, to the stranger who wouldn’t leave my bed that peaceful Sunday morning, don’t worry— you weren’t my first, and you definitely won’t be my last.