Modern Love (The Dartmouth Edition)
A reflection on the trials and tribulations of navigating romantic relationships at Dartmouth.
The other day I was sitting in Foco with one of my good friends, telling him about my romantic woes. With an exasperated sigh, I declared: “It’s impossible to find a meaningful romantic relationship at Dartmouth.” To which he responded: “Actually, most of my good friends are in great relationships right now.” And proceeded to list the names of these so-called “happy couples.” God, right. I almost forgot — he too is part of the couples club. Gross.
I suddenly got the urge to bury my sorrows in a big slice of chocolate cake. After we collected our desserts and sat back down, our topic of conversation quickly shifted to internalized childhood trauma (casual dinner conversation, amiright?). But his previous remark lingered with me and inspired a very scary thought: Could it be me? Am I the problem?
Dating at Dartmouth has always been a challenge for me. All of my relationships of the past four years have been with non-Dartmouth students — or, as I like to quip to my friends, I “outsourced.” But that has come with a whole host of issues as well, as Dartmouth’s remote location and lack of proximity to any major airport makes most long-distance relationships — whether romantic or platonic — extremely difficult to maintain. However, when it comes to dating within the Dartmouth pool, I’ve found that some characteristics intrinsic to the College make it more difficult than other places.
First of all, in the words of Daniel Webster: “It is a small college.” This, in many ways, makes for a wonderful school. But it also means that you can find a point of connection to almost every student at this institution — and with this comes a lot of knowledge about a person’s reputation and dating history. I can’t even count the number of conversations I’ve had with friends in which the name of a potential romantic interest is tossed around, followed by a swift, “Oh, yes I know _______. They hooked up with _______ [and ________, and _______ ad infinitum]. I’ve heard that they’re really ________.”
To me, this conversation is a bigger turn-off than men who wear flip flops with uncut toenails. How can I be expected to remain interested in someone whose entire romantic and sexual history can be divulged over a coffee chat at Novack? Maybe some view this phenomenon as a positive, giving you access to early warnings before you become too emotionally invested. But I find it extremely difficult to maintain an attraction to someone after being told exactly what I should expect. Maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic, but my favorite part of a new relationship is getting to know them on my own terms — gradually, messily, with no idea where we might be going. Knowing that X person has “commitment issues” will maybe prevent me from being heartbroken down the line, but it might stop me from enjoying the good, too.
I also struggle with the idea that I soon will also become just another name on a list of past exploits. I like the idea of relationships — and I am using that term liberally to include “situationships” or “hookups” — to be intimate, and maybe even a little secret. Not secret in the sense that something should be hidden or concealed, but that certain details should remain entangled within the unique minds of the two involved, even after it comes to an end. With gossip, the memory of a romantic encounter can be sullied by the words and opinions of others.
Ok, I know I’m sounding a bit dramatic — and maybe I am. But even if you might not view your drunken one-night-stand as something of significance, maybe you should. I am not suggesting that students shouldn’t be exploring their sexuality openly and curiously, but I question why we so often describe things as “meaningless,” when, from my experience, even the most casual of encounters hold some importance to those involved. Maybe we do this as a way of protecting ourselves — reducing our feelings and expectations so much that they couldn’t possibly be hurt. If something is so casual and so meaningless, it holds no power; but that power goes both ways — and if we are always protecting ourselves, we may never allow others to surprise and delight us.
That brings me to my next point about relationships at Dartmouth. Over my time here, I’ve noticed a startling trend regarding the relationship status spectrum: Couples are either so committed they’ve already made post-grad plans, or they’re so casual that they hardly know whether to wave when bumping into each other at Collis, despite having spent the previous night together. There is very little in-between. I suspect this is because maintaining a real relationship at Dartmouth, where terms move so quickly, necessitates serious thought and commitment — literally requiring you to schedule someone into your life. There are trade-offs too, both academic and social, in engaging in a romantic relationship. As a result, from my observation, couples that choose to commit go all-in, becoming serious as quickly as the Collis breakfast sandwiches get snatched up before 10s.
And on the flip side, members of a casual hookup are so afraid of suggesting that they want to spend time with their partner outside of the nighttime that they hardly know how to act around them during daylight hours. Do I go up and have a conversation with X when I bump into them in Collis? Or would they rather wait in the egg line in silence? If I asked them how their exam went (the one they told you about while in bed last night), would it be an imposition? Do they mind if people see us talking to each other — maybe I should just pretend not to notice them? These are only a few of the questions that have run through the minds of me and many of my friends. And yes, they are ridiculous. It is ridiculous that we should feel self conscious about taking up space in another person’s day, or that we should worry about expressing even an inkling of investment in their life.
All this to say, maybe I am the problem. But also, maybe I’m not. Maybe these aspects of Dartmouth, which make relationships and dating so complicated for me, resonate with you too. While wrapping up this piece, I sent the introduction to the friend who spoke of the many “happy couples” he knows of, to make sure he was comfortable with the inclusion of this anecdote. To which he responded, verbatim, over text: “HA that makes me sound like a mega ass. But in retrospect, actually most of those people I think are not in great relationships.”
So to all of the other Dartmouth students who feel jaded and disappointed by their romantic experiences at this school, I hear you. Perhaps we could all do well to shed the facade that we don’t really care and unabashedly reveal our wants and needs. And anyways, even if Dartmouth brings us no luck, we’ve got a whole lifetime ahead of us to experience beautiful, messy, exhilarating romance.