At the start of every year in high school, I would say to myself, “This year I’m going to start dating.” Despite my determination, my “sweetheart” didn’t appear until the end of my senior year. That hasty high school relationship somehow lasted through most of my freshman year at Northwestern, coming to an (unsurprising) end just before Dillo Day. I now find myself in the disadvantaged position of being a single sophomore with no concept of dating on a college campus. Once again I face my old mantra: “This year I’m going to start dating.”
Before diving face first into the college dating pool, I wanted to know what the water is like. I asked McCormick freshman Tony Guzman and Weinberg freshman Justin Clarke about their initial impressions of the Northwestern dating scene. According to Justin, I could expect “a lot of attractive girls, a lot of parties, and a lot of hookups […] and if there are relationships, they don’t work out.” Justin admitted to having cut things off with his high school girlfriend in preparation for a newer, more exciting college dating scene. Not unexpectedly, Tony also mentioned “hookups at random parties.” However, he observed the college dating scene from a more distant playing field, opting to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend in Cicero. Says Tony, “We knew it would be a challenge, but it’s easier than we thought.”
Okay, so the freshmen were no help. I had been there and done that with the LDR (long distance relationship; best of luck to Tony but it wasn’t worth the “challenge” for me) and according to Justin all I could look forward to was the occasional mindless hookup. Has “dating” completely disappeared from college culture? It would seem that my remaining options are to hook up or attempt to create a serious long-term relationship that will carry me through my years at Northwestern.
I turned to the professionals. Dr. Wei-Jen Huang, the assistant director of community relations at our very own Counseling and Psychological Services, insists that Northwestern students consistently complain about the lack of “middle ground” between hooking up and long-term relationships. According to Huang, this phenomenon is actually worse at elite universities. “Northwestern students, on the one hand, want relationships; on the other hand, [they] are afraid of being hurt,” Dr. Huang says.
Despite this explanation, I refuse to give in to the “phenomenon.” I refuse to believe that our concept of dating includes a midnight invitation to the Keg, or that a relationship cannot exist unless it’s posted as an update to a Facebook page. This is a college campus with over 8,000 attractive, intelligent students; dating must exist in some form. As Dr. Huang says, “theoretically speaking, college is the best time for people to find lifetime friends [and] lifetime partners […] if you have a large group of young men and women with similar IQs, with romance on their minds, and confine them within a couple of square miles for four years, natural things will happen.”
I found my answer in Weinberg sophomore Rebecca TeKolste, who agreed to testify on behalf of Northwestern’s dating population. In her experience, “it was nice to be able to strongly connect with someone.” Rebecca says that dating helped her adjust to college life, express “real emotions” and extend her social circle beyond her suite in Jones. Since her relationship ended, Rebecca agreed that there appears to be a lack of “actual dating” on campus, something she calls unfortunate. “Northwestern has great advantages in dating because Chicago is so close [...] there are so many things that you can do affordably in Chicago that you wouldn’t be able to do on other campuses.”
So then why does dating seem like such a foreign concept? What is meant by “actual dating?” When I imagine an ideal date, I think about connecting with someone in more than just a physical way. I think of “dating” as trying people on to see if you’re compatible. If it lasts more than six months, I figure that crosses the line into “long-term.”
Dr. Huang says that Northwestern students “conveniently” avoid dating by turning it into a stressful situation. Students avoid the risks that come with relationships by putting their energies towards more “predictable” recreations. Says Huang, “Although students tend to postpone relationships, college is one of the best times to create meaningful connections. People are much more pure [and] willing to share with you their true heart and their true self.”
We downplay the college dating scene as a strange form of protection. Going off of Dr. Huang’s theory, if we make it seem like everyone not in a serious relationship is just hooking up, then maybe we won’t feel so bad about refusing to get to know someone beyond the number of drinks we shared. We have annihilated our dating culture and in the process become critical and guarded with our emotions. Communication junior Alyssia Munoz summed up her past relationships: “There was a constant struggle [for time]. Between classes, extra activities and being with each other […] the extra stuff won.” Seriously, Northwestern, this can’t be dating at its best.
So I’ve tested the water for pH levels and temperature, but I can see there’s some random leaves and dirt at the bottom. Nonetheless, I’m ready to take the plunge. Dating is an option. Corny metaphor aside, we can create a “middle ground” between hookups and serious relationships. Yes, rejection sucks, and breakups suck more, but each experience is an opportunity for self-discovery. You may get lucky and find someone really special or you may not. And as a friend once told me, “Even a bad date makes a good story.”
Myrtie Williams is a contributor from Sexual Health and Assault Peer Education.