Off Broadway: campus dating
Senior guy pursues a junior girl. A dinner. A lunch. A trip to the zoo. A relationship? Of course not. Welcome (back) to Washington University! On and off campus, excuses abound. My recent favorite: “Why is she dating him anyway; he’s graduating next year?”
Did I miss something? Yes. We’ve now made seniors undesirable? Did you miss something? No. The above quotation is indeed not an individual’s excuse for remaining single. Rather, it is a common expression of disproval for an existing relationship. On our campus, everybody’s a critic.
Last fall, in a Student Life opinion entitled “The Dating Game,” I suggested several reasons for Washington University’s hookup culture: full schedules that limit students’ ability to commit to serious relationships, youthful exuberance that nonetheless compels us to at least infrequent action, and the convenient “I was drunk” defense that frees us of rebuke from the Frank Rich’s of our collegiate community.
Rich, nicknamed the “butcher of Broadway” was a famous theater critic for the New York Times. I’ll nickname our university equivalents the “spoilers in St. Louis” because they (I write “they” though, in truth, I too have on occasion participated in this harmful discourse) ruin all our fun. They question our interest in those we are attracted to while simultaneously ridiculing our potential suitors. They exude negative energy.
But we let them. On Broadway, it is the performers, not the audiences, who care most about what the critics have to say. On campus, it is the attached-that-could-be, not the general public, who care most about analysis that their significant other is too much of this or too much of that. Seemingly none of the actors in our drama realize they are not performing in front of thousands of onlookers. Nobody’s watching you and your prospective. Nobody minds if they are too tall, short, skinny or fat.
To reform our hookup culture-to establish dating as a custom, not a coincidence-we should not only stop judging others, we must cease tolerating others’ judgments of ourselves. We must no longer listen to our many detractors. Certainly, we should also “live for the moment” and “take risks” in our pursuit of the ever-elusive guy or girl. But more than these tried (and true) clichâ€šs, we as individuals must cease to be tirelessly conscious of community opinion. For when it comes to romance, WU students more often behave like middle school chums than like mature college buddies.
I came to this conclusion not through well-reasoned introspection. Few (myself excluded) are honest enough to admit we did not pursue a particular individual because of our friends’ criticisms. Rather, I arrived at this opinion by considering a related topic: public displays of affection.
Commonly perceived as disgusting and thus inconsiderate, public displays of affection are today more rare than they would be in a world in which they were generally welcomed. College living is unique because here, almost inherently, all relationships necessitate open warmth. Cramped living conditions, networks of mutual friends, and a largely segregated (from St. Louis, etc.) community make most personal actions public. The same community censure that encourages those in the “real world” to avoid an expression of emotion towards a girlfriend of boyfriend on campus compels us to steer clear of anything but the most perfect of potential suitors. We’re so afraid of disgusting others that we end up-as mostly single students-disgusting ourselves.
We all either have or could make time for a relationship. The large majority of us, including the naysayers, would like one under ideal conditions. We’re as ready, willing, able and attractive as we’ll ever be. If we just stopped listening to and criticizing others then we’d soon have a lot more real-life renditions of Romeo and Juliet. Off Broadway.
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In Tuesday’s Student Life, Alex Fak blasted “campus politics” as ineffective, arguing that students who volunteer on political campaigns do little to serve their candidates. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Governor Bob Holden and Senator Jean Carnahan were elected in the tightest of races, each winning by margins of less than two percent, or several thousand votes. Student involvement made the difference, on campus, in St. Louis, and in Missouri at large.
More troubling than Fak’s accusations are his implications. He suggests WU students should avoid working for candidates in the upcoming Novemeber elections. At a time when control of the Senate hangs in the balance, when Jean’s Carnahan’s re-election will mean the difference between a pro-choice and a pro-life Supreme Court, between environmental protection and big business-led environmental destruction, his perscription of disengagement is downright silly. As you consider your fall 2002 commitments, I strongly urge you to consider civic contributions to St. Louis. Our combined efforts will make a political difference.
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