What Was Your Name Again?

Stanford Students Don’t Date

It’s the most cliché of the Stanford myths: Stanford students don’t date. The bitter rant has appeared in almost all of Stanford’s newspapers and blogs, reflecting a mixture irritation, impatience, and bewilderment. In College Prowler, a student review of colleges, complaints from anonymous Stanford students are vitriolic.

“Please please please don’t come if you’re looking for relationships that don’t stem from random frat party hookups,” wrote one contributor. “The dating scene here is absolutely miserable.”

It looks like the rest of the world may know that it’s miserable too. In 2000, U.C. Berkeley’s newspaper, The Daily Californian, featured an article that compared Berkeley’s dating life to that of UCLA and Stanford. Stanford came in last place – the standard against which dating at other universities seemed okay.

Students are not the only ones who have noticed a problem. Several years ago, in response to the “real or imagined” dating ineptitude of Stanford students, professor Philip Zimbardo with his advanced psychology class published a manual entitled, “The Score on Scoring: The Guidebook, Stanford Edition.”

When your teachers are trying to help you get a date, you know something is wrong. So what’s going on?

At least part of the problem seems to be that students have lost the conception of a traditional “date.” Donnovan Yisrael, manager of Relationship and Sexual Health Programs at Vaden, offered his commentary.

“In the old days, people used to go out on multiple dates on weekends,” he said. “But because we’re not in a college town and frosh don’t have cars, it’s really hard to go on a ‘real’ date. Here, you sit in a dorm and watch TV and see where that goes, and then you go and do laundry and see where laundry goes.”

“Dormcest” often replaces off-campus dating because it is convenient: no one has to leave the dorm to get to know one another. However, living together also accelerates a relationship in a way that rarely happens in the real world.

“To go to living together the day after you met in the real world would be really problematic,” he said.

At Stanford, the result is often the joined-at-the-hip, proto-marriage relationship, which one blogger on the Unofficial Stanford Blog recently called the “near-obsessive-already-planning-the-wedding-in-Mem-Chu coupling.”

Keeping it Awkward

The lack of middle ground between frat-party hook-ups and proto-marriage relationships strikes many as unnatural. Kevin Baumgartner ’11 observes that few people at Stanford engage in casual dating.

“It’s the zone of exploration that everyone seems to be terrified of, but it’s the zone you need to get fulfilling emotional relationships,” he said.

Perhaps “terror” is the best way to describe many students’ reactions to dating. On a campus that prides itself on appearing “chill,” there is a pervasive anxiety about appearing too intense. In some ways, that is a strange concern, considering that intensity – in academics, athletics, and extra curricular activities – is the reason most students are here.

Baumgartner summed up the problem: “Stanford students have a pathological fear of awkwardness.”

And admittedly, asking someone out on a date can be uncomfortable.

“If women ask, they’re still considered too aggressive, and if men ask, they’re considered sketchy,” said Yisrael, who considers the awkward factor a major reason for the lack of dating at Stanford. “Why would anyone put themselves in that position? There’s no reward system for [the] guy in the CoHo asking people out. We use Facebook and texting. We go to a party and hook up.”

Indeed, across the country, the hook-up is gradually replacing the idea of a first date. In her book, *Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus,*****Kathleen A. Boyle notes that the traditional progression of a relationship is experiencing a reversal: students hook up first, then date later – if at all.

Perhaps Tom Wolfe best summarized 21st century college relationships in his book, Hooking Up: “Today’s first base is deep kissing, now known as tonsil hockey, plus groping and fondling this and that. Second base is oral sex. Third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other’s names.”

Some students find that the hook-up scene is ideal: it satisfies physical desire with no pretense of commitment. Others students are less enamored. One female senior, who chose to remain anonymous, jokes that “even an arranged marriage would be better than this.”

To Baumgartner, there is an inherent risk when physical intimacy surpasses emotional intimacy early on in a relationship.  The emotional effects are often that one person becomes attached and expects a relationship while the other does not. There is a mismatch of expectations, one that leads to frustration and complaints, especially among women.

A post from a Stanford student on College Prowler states: “Yes, it is possible to find the odd nice guy, but watch out — once he finds out he is a hot commodity, he’ll be looking to hook up with as many girls as possible instead of dating.”

In light of the number of functional relationships at Stanford, it is possible that the university’s catastrophic dating culture has been the victim of exaggeration. The problem may be due to a self-fulfilling prophecy: if people reinforce the notion that students don’t date, then no one will break the norm.

Baumgartner said that change is difficult but necessary.

“It’s something that can’t be fixed the way Stanford students like to fix things. We like systemic, institutional action: reforming change. But changing the dating scene requires all of us to change our behaviors in ways that initially might be uncomfortable,” he said. “Stop complaining, and be the kind of person you want to see on the Stanford dating scene.”

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