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February 5, 2008

Relationship status: update needed

At last Friday’s “It’s Complicated at U of C,” a workshop on dating and relationships organized by the Student Counseling and Resource Center, I learned that:

1. Guys are pussies.

2. Romantic entanglements at school almost always take the form of either obsessive and codependent pseudo-marriages or random—and usually drunken—hook-ups.

3. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, not to over-analyze the nuances of crushes, relationships, and exes.

During the course of the hour-long discussion group, student participants gave their views of romance, comparing the dynamics of dating to marlin-fishing, football, and all-you-can-eat buffets. One should not, however, make the mistake of thinking about relationships in terms of poetry, as one student informed us. Judging from the immediate flurry of nods and “mm-hmms” that greeted him, the group seemed pretty unanimous in its rejection of a Keatsian or Byronesque view of love. This could be the result of all those random hook-ups.

Sitting in a circle with nine other students and two counselors, I realized that there is something definitely sketchy about infiltrating a group counseling session to report on the proceedings—which is why I won’t be reporting or commenting on any more details of what was discussed in the workshop. But while I may be sketchy, I like to at least pretend that I aspire toward being ethical. So despite the temptation to reveal some of the juicier and more neurotic (read: only at the U of C) romantic woes aired by students, I’ll instead offer my take on what I took away from the workshop.

First, on the contention that guys are pussies—they are. Although most of us seem pretty well programmed to seek to avoid conflict and, to some degree, emotional risk-taking, college-age males prove uniquely evolved to do so at any and all costs.

This means that if a guy makes out with a girl at a party and decides he likes her, his first inclination is to hope that this will happen again at a future party. Although they may flirt with the idea of calling, e-mailing, or Facebook messaging said girl, the vast majority of guys will calculate that “effort plus risk of rejection equals best get back to playing Wii/thinking about doing laundry/eating leftovers.” For U of C students, the formula differs slightly from the above, with playing Wii replaced by analyzing poetry. Nonetheless, in almost all instances, there is little chance a guy will contact a girl even if he does actually sort of like her.

Conversely, if a guy makes out with a girl at a party and realizes the next morning—or mid hook-up—that he is totally uninterested or even utterly repulsed by her, he will also take no action. In most cases, so long as this repulsion isn’t too intense, he will still be willing to make out with her again at a future party.

This leads to much confusion and angst on the part of those girls who find themselves interested in the guys they make out with. Is he not calling because he’s not into me—or is he too scared/lazy/busy to send me any sign of interest? Guys’ willingness to repeat hook-ups with girls they have no interest in only heightens this confusion.

But intellectual convention-flouting feminists that they are, shouldn’t college girls be willing to take the leap and initiate contact with the objects of their interest? Sure, but considering that guys are wimps, sometimes this contact doesn’t do much. This is because the guys in question may either continue to send completely mystifying signals, or, in the case of the especially skittish, become put-off or intimidated by the sort of girl capable of being assertive.

The “does he or doesn’t he like me/love me/want to not-so-randomly hook-up with me” question is just one area in which problems arise due to college-age guys’ seeming incapacity to man up. The good news is, this seems to get better with age—either that or guys just become more skilled at masking their wimpiness.

As for the tendency for relationships to either border on manic in terms of the amount of time couples spend together, or to consist of random hook-ups at or after parties, it seems pretty simple. This is what we get for throwing together a bunch of hyper-hormonal, intellectually precocious but not-yet emotionally mature guys and girls, living in close proximity and alcohol-drenched freedom.

Some seek the comfort of an intense connection. Others, subscribing to the “dating is an all-you-can-eat buffet” ethos, revel in the freedom to hook up with as many people as they can. Most, it seems, spend awesome amounts of time working on either.

For those who are bothered by idea of college as more of a romantic roller coaster than a retreat into the life of the mind, there are always same-sex colleges. Then again, Bryn Mawr and Deep Springs may just offer a different twist on the same scene, as attested to by Rolling Stone’s frequent exposés on the sexual mania running rampant at all-female universities.

Moving on to our tendency to over-analyze all that is or could be romantic in our lives: The best thing to do is don’t. Then again, it’s no easy task to refrain from the kind of behavior pervasive enough to spawn genres of literature, self-help books, and movies, and to ensure the financial success of countless therapists. My recommendation is to read more and drink less. Though, having spent my Friday afternoon at a relationship counseling workshop, I’m hardly a reliable source of romantic advice.