February 14, 2014

Save the date

Casual dating puts romantic potential front and center.

I find 2studentbodies fascinating. I have spent more time than I’d like to admit to just scrolling through the ads, completely captivated. I love seeing what fetishes UChicago students have and which ones they’ll only admit to with the anonymity of the Internet.

But the more I have explored the site, the more I have realized that people use it for more than just kinky hookups: For every few posts asking for a quickie in the bathroom at the Reg or wanting to experiment with BDSM, there is a post from someone who just wants to chat. Last year as I browsed the posts, I started to wonder what all these anonymous people claiming to want something besides sex on a website meant for sex actually wanted. Were these posts just sneaky ways to get laid by appealing to the hopeless romantics and the lonely? Or did these people actually just want to talk to someone, and figured Craigslist-style ads would be most effective?

So I created an account and responded to a few messages. One guy immediately asked for naked pictures, answering that question. But another replied asking if I wanted to grab coffee, and I agreed to meet him in a well-lit, public space.

The experience was awkward, to say the least. I kept trying to engage him in conversation, to find literally anything we could talk about, but he would only respond with one-word answers. He never really made eye contact with me, and after about 20 minutes of stilted small talk, I told him I had a lot of work to do and had to go to the Reg. He said he did too, and I got up to leave. But rather than waiting until I had already left to get up or just leaving with me, he silently followed a couple steps behind me all the way to the library. Unsure how to act in this uncomfortable, somewhat creepy situation, I ducked into the girls’ restroom and thankfully never spoke to him again.

This did not stop me, however, from continuing to explore the alternative dating scene of social media. This year, at a friend’s suggestion, I entered into the world of Tinder. Although it is technically marketed as a dating app, Tinder matches users based on whether both people vote “yes” on each other’s photo, assessing “compatibility” by attractiveness. But surprisingly, for the most part the guys I interacted with seemed to be actually using Tinder as a dating app. While I got the occasional “DTF?” (or worse), most of my “matches” seemed to genuinely want to have a conversation.

But when I actually met someone in Hyde Park, it was little improvement from my experience with 2studentbodies: Although he was perfectly nice, the first guy I met also told me more than six times that he liked talking to me “more than he should on a first date,” and even started to rub my shoulders without consent. Regardless of what form of social media I’ve used, my encounters have felt inorganic and have not actually introduced me to anyone with whom I would want to spend significant amounts of time. Still, they have felt like the closest thing to dating that I’ve ever experienced in college.

On a college campus where we are constantly interacting with interesting people our own age, it’s easy to just hang out or hook up (read: housecest). So it seems strange how many people feel the need to meet someone online. People seem to be gravitating toward social media to meet not only sexual but also romantic partners, indicating that something is missing in the college dating scene.

While I have been in relationships here, in my experience the progression is: Get to know someone as friends, hook up a few times, eventually decide to be in a relationship, make it Facebook Official. For the most part, I know people in committed, long-term relationships, people who casually hook up, and people who are single. And while all of these options are completely valid, I know almost no one who actually goes on dates, especially to determine romantic compatibility.

On the contrary, it seems that there is an unspoken assumption that going on a date is just a formal prelude to a relationship. For many of my friends, a date almost has to be their guaranteed next significant other for them to even consider asking them out.

But dating shouldn’t only exist in this context. When we write off casual dating as an option, we lose some of the necessary process of assessing romantic compatibility. And without this process, those who desire an emotional connection but aren’t yet ready to commit to a relationship with someone are forced to choose between the murkiness of Friends With Benefits and the awkwardness of dating through social media.

Casual dating creates a space where the sole objective is to just get to know another person better in a romantic context, providing a low-stakes situation for two people to figure out whether they get along as human beings. And while social media does to some extent create that low-stakes situation, my experiences were inorganic and ineffective. Something is still clearly missing.

Casual IRL dating creates that middle ground that seems to be missing in college relationships—without the guessing game of meeting online. It allows us to clearly communicate our romantic desires sans the complications of existing contexts. For example, unlike the confusing transition from “just friends” to “in a relationship,” casual dating puts romantic potential into the equation from the beginning. Just going on a date in the first place removes a lot of the agony of later “defining the relationship,” saving both people a lot of drama.

It’s time to bring back casual dating in college, to revive this organic process. Or, fuck it, we can all just get Tinder. What a wonderful time to be alive.

Zelda Mayer is a second-year in the College majoring in public policy.