It’s the most cliché of topics, but recent events in my life have made me inclined to ponder this subject a little further. We’ve all heard the complaints. The rants about how everyone on this campus is either just sexing each other up on the side or is in a committed relationship that verges on a civil union. And maybe that is true. If I were Us Weekly, I’d be making up some statistic right about now about the percentage of students who agree with that description of Stanford’s dating scene (83% sounds nice and convincing). But I’m not here to debate whether or not dating exists on Stanford’s campus. I’m here to question if we should really want it to.
I used to be the queen of that thing we fondly refer to as “dormcest,” a magical start to a relationship that involves never having to go on an actual date – or even leave the dorm. My first two romantic encounters of any significance both lived in my freshman dorm. It gave the whole thing a sort of Russian Roulette feel – wondering if I would run into him on the way to the bathroom first thing in the morning, with last night’s eyeliner still smudged on my face, giving me that lovely “cracked out” look. Daydreams of laundry room hook-ups and hand-holding under the table at Stern dining filled my brain. It was exciting. It was exhausting. But it certainly made sense – I got to know the person before getting involved romantically with him, simply because I saw him on a regular basis. Call it preliminary research, if you will (you can also call it skanking it up based on convenience, but I’d prefer you didn’t).
Sophomore year I went on my first date at Stanford. He was a real sweetheart. But it was doomed from the start. How could a guy – even a nice, cute guy – who was allotted a mere couple of hours on a Saturday night compete with the Latin stud I was being wooed by down the hall? The minutes were all against him. It wasn’t fair. But it was reality. Dormcest prevailed and real dating was cast to the wayside.
Nor was that the end of my travels down close-proximity lane (I have a problem I know). After the former dalliance went south, I met someone else from the dorm. He was unlike anyone I had ever dated – or ever met for that matter. Simultaneously thoughtful and goofy, he (not to be melodramatic) literally took my breath away when he walked into a room (luckily I carry my super snazzy inhaler with me wherever I go). He had a kind heart and the ability to make me feel heard. And more on point, he completely changed my outlook on dating. Not just on the actual act of getting in a car and going someplace off-campus, but the notion that relationships – good relationships – can develop slowly, over time. This person restored my faith that there can be relationships at Stanford that fall between the casual hooking-up and marriage-esque love-fests to which so many of our peers subscribe.
And while that relationship eventually ended, it made me realize that I wanted something beyond the casual, freshman year-type flings. I wanted to go on dates and be respected. I wanted to have conversations and get to know a person before things got physical. I hadn’t previously minded the “no dating” atmosphere that Stanford was reputed to have. But suddenly I was ready to lend my voice to the chorus of complainers. I wanted actual dates.
And I got my wish. Or at least a version of it. As if the God of Dating heard my pleas, I found myself, for the first time in my Stanford career, deluged with dates. While I’d love to attribute it to my womanly charm and feminine allure (i.e. carefully chosen Victoria’s Secret perfume), I’m more inclined to believe it’s a consequence of the numbers. As upperclassmen, more people have cars, thus enabling more “real dating.” It could be due the pool I was drawing from – I seem to have a certain affinity for graduate students (or they for me…who can really say?). But regardless of why, it seemed I was getting my wish.
Now I could fill a novel with a list of uncomfortable and embarrassing anecdotes about my romantic past (top on the list might be professing my love to a certain boy, being shot down, and then discovering the next day on a flight home for Thanksgiving that he was sitting next to me on the plane for FOUR HOURS). Yet those all seem like fond memories compared the slew of excruciating drinks, dinners, and drives back to my house that I have endured in recent months.
First there was the asshole. He dropped the f-bomb so many times in our conversation that he made the word “asshole” seem like it belonged in a nursery rhyme.
Then there was the boob-grazer. Because seriously, you need to reach for the salt that many times in a given meal. Just put it next to your plate for God’s sake!
And then there was the nerd. I hesitate to apply that word, because I myself have dabbled in nerddom (Lord of the Rings Special Features anyone?). But I was not impressed by his status as state champion in Cyber-war-evil-gnome-computer-game-whatever-it’s-called. Nor do I think the phrase “Sorry, I’m not good at conversation” is a positive omen for the evening.
I guess, what I’m getting at is, that despite our desire to be adults and date like the rest of the civilized world, dating, well….sucks. At least sometimes. It’s like a traumatic job interview except with attempts at inappropriate body contact (unless you are interviewing for a very specific type of job, of course). I’m too old-fashioned to throw in the towel on dating all together (I’m still a sucker for door holding and kisses goodnight on the doorstep), but now every time I embark on a date, my naïve excitement is tinged with feelings of apprehension.
So should we really want there to be dating at Stanford? Any form of relationship – the random hookup, the hyper-committed, the slow and steady dating – has its own inherent risks. I guess I the only way to answer that question is to ask another question. Which type of Russian Roulette do you prefer: unattractive eyeliner smudges in the morning or being asked to fulfill his WOW sexual fantasies over coffee?