May 2, 2008

Students find varied merits in U of C’s “dormcest” culture

“Dormcest” usually evokes relationships that either end awkwardly or form tight-knit bonds. But for third-year Priyanko Paul, dormcest is a way to make money.

Paul, a resident of Snell-Hitchcock, said that he and his roommate keep a chart detailing the relationship status of students living in the two houses.

“Some people are interested in history, some people are interested in politics and current events, and some people are interested in dormcest,” Paul said. “A chart like this is a very helpful instructional tool…and a betting tool—we place bets on how long [the relationships] will last.”

Paul has some experience with dormcest and housecest himself—terms many students use to describe the widespread phenomenon of dating fellow dormmates or housemates, often in joking or self-deprecating ways.

But not all students at the U of C have a carefree attitude toward such relationships.

First-year Emily Boggs takes issue with the negative connotation that the term dormcest carries at the University.

“I don’t think it always has to be a negative thing that people are so adamantly against, especially at a place like the University of Chicago where there’s an intellectually intense environment,” she said. “It’s the first time you come to a place where everyone’s like you—they care about studying and learning.”

Tom Gronkowski, a second-year currently dating a fellow resident in Max Palevsky, echoed Boggs’s sentiments.

“I don’t think [dormcest] is that much of a taboo. You know that if you put a big group of people who are around the same age and of the opposite sex together, obviously something is going to end up happening,” he said.

Gronkowski has dated students that live both in and out of his dorm, and thinks that both types of relationships have their conveniences and drawbacks.

“It can get to a point where, because you [and the person you’re dating] live so close by, it just becomes assumed that the other person is [always] there—even if you’re just doing homework or watching TV. It’s cool, but also it’s kind of unhealthy for a relationship,” he said.

Probably the most notorious form of campus dormcest is the “O-mance,” a romantic relationship formed between two students during their first-year Orientation Week that may or may not last beyond the nine days of Chicago Life Meetings and parties.

“O-mance is by far the most delightful flavor of dormcest,” Paul said. “Adorable little first-years show up with stars in their eyes, walking around so intellectually pleased and fulfilled—and then they fall into each other sideways and end up dealing with the consequences for either a week or a year.”

For many housemates, those consequences can include rifts between friendships, gossip spreading around the dorm, and awkward encounters once the relationship ends—all at a time when first-years are still getting to know their housemates and adjusting to the demands of the quarter system.

First-year Trent German is dating another student on his floor of the Shoreland and attributes their relationship to O-Week activities that encouraged house bonding.

“I have to say that we definitely got lucky,” German said. “When you’re dating on your floor it’s like a free booty call whenever you want.... It’s almost too convenient.”

But Evan Winston, a first-year whose girlfriend goes to college in Missouri, does not believe his relationship would improve if his girlfriend lived in his house.

“Her friends would most likely not be mine, and vice versa. And I think we’d be pretty much defined as ‘May and Evan,’ as opposed to individuals,” he said.