I’ve noticed that every single columnist at Stanford writes, at some point, a rant about the dating culture (or lack thereof) at our fine institution. I figured it was only a matter of time until I got the urge to do the same. And since I’ve already given this topic a lot of thought, it’s perfect for a five-day-late blog post. So here goes: my personal rant about dating at Stanford.
You’ve probably heard this all before, but I’ll start by saying that the dating scene at Stanford is pretty freaking lame. It often seems that there are only two types of couples here: the casual hook-up-buddies and the might-as-well-be-married lovebirds. And the speed with which the former turns into the latter is nothing short of shocking. Everyone complains about this, but for some reason, the act of actually asking someone out on a date is widely considered terrifying, awkward, and deadly serious. What gives?
I’m going to come right out and say it: the hookup culture is to blame. There’s an old saying- often repeated when there are no women around- which holds that no sane man should pay for a cow when he can get the milk for free. Why in the world would anyone bother going to the considerable trouble of taking a woman out on a date (or, heaven forbid, multiple dates) when she’s willing to dispense physical and emotional intimacy after two coke-and-rums on the dance floor at Sigma Nu? Conversely, why would any woman bother with a drawn-out courtship when she can find plenty of eager partners by simply appearing single at a frat party? There’s no need to deal with the possibility of a crushingly awkward dinner conversation when you can’t hear each other over the music, and you don’t have to worry about when she’ll call back if you never even got her phone number. Hookups provide, or seem to provide, some level of physical and emotional intimacy and fulfillment without the risks and challenges of a dating relationship.
I’m not ignorant of the fact that not all hookups are random encounters on the dance floor. Some, of course, are the product of long mutual interest and grow out of developed friendships. But I still think that these “next-level” hookups contribute to the demise of the dating scene. I see it happen all the time: it’s too hard, too awkward, too risky, to have an actual conversation about where our relationship should go, so let’s just keep falling into each others arms now and then. The “determining the relationship” (DTR in the local lingo) talk is considered the epitome of awkward, so people naturally just slide casually into serial-hookup relationships without ever talking about it. And eventually, one partner (usually the guy) is going to come to the not entirely unjustified conclusion that he really doesn’t need to put that much effort into the relationship, since his partner seems so happy just hanging out around the dorm and occasionally making out next to the keg at Theta Delt.
So what accounts for the other extreme of the spectrum, that joined-at-the-hip pair of lovebirds who can’t seem to spend any time apart? I think that we can blame the hookup culture for this one too. Once a couple hooks up a couple of times, if they’re enjoying their relationship, they decide that they should “take it to the next level.” But because deep physical intimacy has already been part of the “relationship” from the start, they psych themselves into thinking that their emotional and interpersonal intimacy should also jump right up the Level 10. Spending every minute together is the logical consequence. I speak from personal experience when I say that this failure to engage in a bit of cautious exploration can have heartbreaking consequences down the line, when you find out that you don’t actually know how you feel about each other.
(Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that there are (at least to my knowledge) plenty of successful couples with strong relationships who started out this way. There are also people who didn’t start with a hookup, who defied the odds and actually dated. I’m dealing with cultural generalizations and stereotypes here, so I’m forced to leave out some nuance. So please don’t be offended if you’re part of a solid couple and I seem to be criticizing you personally or attacking the way your relationship started. Believe me, I just don’t know enough about anyone’s situation to do that. And it’s not my place anyway.)
The obvious next question, of course, is whether or not this type of “dating” scene is actually a bad thing. People seem pretty happy with their hookups, don’t they? And it’s not like we’re living in the 1950s. But while I have (to my eternal chagrin) done my fair share of hooking up in the past, I must insist that our lack of a dating culture is at least somewhat harmful.
For one thing, it breeds a certain disrespect, a certain objectification of one’s potential partners. The hookup culture commits the serious sin of treating romantic partners as means to a physical or emotional end, not as people who matter in and of themselves. I can’t help but think that this doesn’t really advance the cause of mutual respect between the sexes. The lack of seriousness about the whole enterprise is somewhat disturbing, as well. We as a university and as a nation need to recognize that committed relationships are a very serious business, as central to society as they are to the human psyche. On a more practical level, we’ve got to think about the future. This kind of open, non-threatening, casual hook-up scene doesn’t really exist outside of university campuses. What are we going to do when we’re in the real world? I somehow doubt that our future co-workers will be dying to initiate casual intimacy over after-work drinks. Perhaps most importantly, the current state of affairs teaches us a very dangerous lesson: that it’s possible to get what we want without taking any risks or having any tough conversations. Most of us don’t learn how to sacrifice, whether it be ego or time or money, for the sake of important relationships. And it is this failure to understand self-sacrificing love that has been imperiling marriages and destroying families in this country for decades.
So what’s to be done? There are no easy answers. But my first suggestion would be that everyone start raising their standards a little bit. Don’t settle for the drunken hookup, don’t let your partner get away with dodging the DTR, and don’t be too chicken to ask that special someone out for a real date. You and the object of your affections deserve better.