Off the Hook: God, Love, Dating, and Marriage in a Hookup World
By Timothy O’Malley
In Off the Hook, Timothy O’Malley, a theology professor at Notre Dame, presents the sacrament of marriage as the antidote to the “hook up culture” of college students and young adults today. In a succinct yet rich one hundred pages he goes through the wedding liturgy, using the mystagogy approach to show how the Catholic vision of love and marriage can help young men and women leave aside the harmful practices of the prevailing culture.
The great strength of Off the Hook is O’Malley’s analysis of the essential problem with the hook up culture. Rather than just listing horrible statistics, he identifies the larger issue behind the anonymous sexual encounters so prevalent on college campuses today: the persuasive fear of real communion with another person. This leads young adults to treat sexuality and relationships casually, to refuse to communicate with their partners, and to bury their desire for real love. Participation in the hookup culture, according to O’Malley, can become formative of the way all men and women exposed to it relate to each other. This is true even for those couples who leave it behind and come to the Church seeking marriage. The hookup becomes a cultural narrative that shapes the way young adults see love and relationships. For that reason, O’Malley believes the Church’s response to this culture should not just be telling people to stop hooking up, but to present its full vision of love and marriage as an antidote.
To show this Catholic conception of marriage, O’Malley uses the mystagogy approach, which is to start with the visible signs – in this case – the wedding liturgy, as a means to explain the invisible spiritual realities. Although this section is filled with rich theology, the author’s well-told personal stories both keep the book moving and illustrate his concepts. Chapters three through five break down the liturgy from the Gloria to the Questions before Consent to demonstrate why a wedding is normally in the context of the Mass. In particular, O’Malley’s discussion of the wedding readings is one of the highlights of the book. He organizes the many reading options into four distinct themes that help explain how the Church views marriage.
Off the Hook would be a helpful read for both younger and older adults. As a professor, O’Malley spends a significant amount of time with college students, so his account of the hook up culture is grim, yet not overly sensationalized. Younger readers may find that it resonates with their own experience, while older readers will get a glimpse into the culture of college students and young adults. O’Malley also included an appendix of suggestions for marriage formation that consists of a few guidelines, rather than program, for marriage formation. These could be helpful prompts for those planning or participating in marriage formation programs.
Couples, both married and engaged, will both be enriched by this book. For engaged couples, the exegesis of the nuptial liturgy could be a helpful way to keep the focus on preparing for the sacrament, rather than just the big day. Some brides and grooms will also feel reassured in knowing a little more about ‘the why’ of the wedding liturgy. For married couples, Off the Hook could be a great way to reflect on their own wedding and how their commitment to each other has formed them over time. The discussion questions O’Malley includes at the end of each chapter are substantive and thought provoking.
Overall, I think this book could be most helpful for single people who are considering marriage or their vocation more generally. Between the hook up culture and idealized views of romance, it can be difficult to know what we should realistically expect in dating and marriage. Off the Hook both helps break down the lies of rom coms and the hook up culture, while building up the Catholic vision of marriage as a realistic aspiration that can fulfil the human desire for real love, rather than just a hook up. As O’Malley tells young adults in the close of the book: “Marriage heals us, giving us a new story by which we can live our lives: God is love, and we are made for love.”
About the Reviewer
Molly Egilsrud is an intern at the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family, Life and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.