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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
It’s weird to be planning my wedding. I, of all people, was supposed to end up alone. At least, that’s what I was told — directly by countless online commenters and indirectly by culture warriors like Lori Gottlieb, author of “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” and Laura Sessions Stepp, “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both.” In my early 20s, I began passionately defending hookup culture from its critics and often used my own experiences with casual sex to make my case. According to their wisdom — which included such delightful gems as, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” — I was destined to end up a sad cat-lady cliché. I would be depleted of the so-called love drug oxytocin and incapable of bonding, like a rhesus monkey raised on a wire mother.
Instead, I’m nearing 30, cohabitating, engaged and talking about becoming a mom in the not-so-distant future.
Today’s college-age women face similar messages — but the emphasis on the importance of marriage has only amplified. (I wonder why.) They have to contend with “Princeton Mom” Susan Patton, who is writing a book on why young women should focus on getting a husband in college, and broken-record hand-wringing in the New York Times Style section. Five years ago, I may have seemed a confident defender of hookup culture, but its rabid antagonists made me privately agonize about my future prospects. After all, my ultimate desires were very traditional: I wanted to get married and, more than anything, I wanted to have kids. It seemed everyone was telling me: You’re doing it wrong. What kind of man would want a woman who had slept around — and, not to mention, written all about it?
I wish I’d known then what I know now. I was the “hookup queen” among my group of female friends (largely because I chose to write publicly about it); I’m also, at the age of 29, the first to get engaged. Clearly, sleeping around didn’t stop me from settling down. In fact, I think it helped. Not in a 1-to-1 ratio; it’s not like my likelihood of getting married increased measurably and incrementally with each hookup. Experience and perspective rarely work like that. It was a circuitous path with a lot of doubling back and many U-turns. That’s how growing up goes. I was scared of intimacy and commitment until I wasn’t.
It’s like they tell high school graduates: Take a year off and travel the world — gain some real-world wisdom before you settle on a major or a career. I got many colorful stamps in my man-passport. I spent time with people from all walks of life — from Benz-driving lawyers to out-of-work artists. There were pilots and writers and musicians (oh my!). I lived a million different lives with these men. Far from becoming addicted to novelty, I tired of it. I exhausted my curiosity. There are no dreamy “what ifs” left. All those drawn-out years of casual entanglements made it possible to settle down without feeling like I’m settling. I know exactly what I’m missing, and I don’t miss it at all. I won’t be spending my bachelorette party mourning the loss of my singlehood — or tucking dollar bills in a male stripper’s g-string — I’ll be bidding it an enthusiastic ado. There’s nothing like nearly a decade of late-night text messages and faked orgasms to make marriage seem sexy — and let’s be honest, it needs a little help in that department.
Contrary to the many arguments made about casual-sex culture teaching young people to pick up and run at the first sign of trouble in a relationship, my hookup years made me more accepting of my fiancé’s imperfections. That’s because I have real perspective on his strengths; our connection means more because I know just how rare it is.
I first met him around the same time that I wrote that first hookup essay. I wasn’t anywhere near ready for him — and vice versa. Even if I could, I wouldn’t in a million years go back and shake my 23-year-old self and tell her that she’d already met her future fiancé. That would be to discount all of the experiences that I’ve had since. That would be to assume that I would be the same person — and the same partner — without those experiences, that I would have loved him the same.
None of this is to say that I had everything right when I first took on the cause of casual sex in my early 20s — far from it. I wasn’t capable of admitting at the time my dissatisfactions and heartbreaks. I didn’t see the many ways that I would eventually find the casual sex norm limiting. (But none of those very legitimate concerns about hookup culture were communicated with nuance or honesty by its antagonists.)
Nor is it to say that women in search of a husband should hightail it to their local bar and pick up the first man they see. This is what the hookup trend pieces get wrong: Women are different. We are not all the same. Some of us learn about ourselves and other people from serial live-in monogamous relationships; some of us gain more from pursuing the cutie at the end of the bar. Some of us want to get married; some of us do not. Some of us are straight; some of us are not. Some of us want kids; some of us do not. Even if we all wanted the same thing, there wouldn’t be any reliable prescription for how to get it.
My engagement doesn’t prove that my hooking up was “right” or “good” — I don’t believe that getting hitched is the height of female achievement toward which all life activities should be geared — but it’s a reminder that the hookup hand-wringers are wrong, and not to be trusted. When I was just out of college, I hated having older women lecture me about what my sex life should look like. Well, now I’m going to do a version of that and tell the young women being targeted by this current round of criticism: Don’t listen to them. Don’t listen to the trend stories. Don’t listen to me. Only to yourself.
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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