Whining and Dining Your Date
It's safe to say that people attend Harvard for its academics. Upon receiving acceptance letters, high school seniors bask in the invitation to attend the supposedly number-one university in the solar system. They don't dwell on Harvard's shortcomings.
That comes later.
Harvard's social life is one commonly-perceived shortcoming. It gets a worse rap than it deserves. Few enroll here expecting, say, the University of Colorado at Boulder, or even the bygone era of peace, love and Quincy House Bong Olympics. But Harvard's dating scene persists as a major source of complaint.
Plenty of Harvard men openly whine about their frustration with women, their failed attempts at relationships and, perhaps, their inability to get decent sex on a semi-regular basis. Harvard women are not shy about bluntly stating, "No one dates here."
Like most sweeping generalizations, that last comment might not be completely true. Of course people date here. There are students here and there with calendars filled with dates. Formals and screw-your-roommate dances are well-attended. And, naturally, many "dates" take place between already-established couples.
Casual, no-big-deal-but-let's-just-get-better-acquainted dating is, however, another story. Why is Harvard's dating scene such an ongoing source of gripes? Several theories exist.
1. The goals of dating can be fulfilled without actual dates. There was a time when full integration of the sexes was not a given. Today, the sexes regularly interact in dining halls, sections and entryway-wide viewings of adorable new Fox network sitcoms. Dating is no longer much of a necessity in getting to know romantically a member of the opposite sex.
Let's not be native--people our age tend to be kind of horny. Thanks in no small part to the Sexual Revolution, it's easier than in times past for two people to meet in a bar, sweet-talk, over a few beers and go home together. Conceptions of what "nice" girls do have changed. The most notorious source of male motivation has not.
2. We take things too seriously. After one date, Harvard students are supposed to know whether or not they want relationships. God forbid a second date with someone we're still not sure we want to take home to Mom and Dad.
Most of us will spend the majority of our lives married, but there's a certain obsession with finding long-term relationships. Unfortunately, though providing an excellent sense of security, they aren't something someone can go around looking for. We often forget that long-term relationships are simply short-term relationships that don't get boring.
3. We pretend we don't have time for dating. Popular Harvard stereotypes aside, we all Waste some time. If there's someone who can prove me wrong here, congratulations on the grades worthy of the prestigious awards and fellowships I won't be receiving.
4. We have a pathetic fear of rejection. People usually ask each other out when it's a sure thing. Thus, a lot of opportunities are missed. The pain of rejection is overrated--when a relationship is working well, the individuals involved don't dwell on past rejections.
Baseball fans might be able to relate. Pete Rose is remembered as (among other things) baseball's all-time hit leader, not the player with far more unsuccessful at-bats than any other in history. The same rule goes for dating.
5. Harvard men are considered wimps. There is a simple explanation for why this comment is so frequently heard. Harvard men just don't ask out Harvard women often enough (although no law prohibits Harvard women from asking out Harvard men, either).
6. Harvard women are considered lame. Hmmm, delicate ground here. Harvard men see a pretty wide cross-section of the Harvard female population. But when they watch Florida State football games on T.V., cameras focus on cute, frosted-blond cheerleaders--not on that school's overworked, disheveled women on their way back from six-hour chemistry labs. And when Harvard men go to parties at Wellesley societies, they tend to meet the self-selected members of such groups, who are also well-dressed for the events.
Because of varying degrees of concern with fitness and physical appearance, schools are probably out there with better-looking female populations. (Most likely, such schools have better-looking male populations too.)
In any case, physical appearance isn't everything--most Harvard men have pretty much come to grips with the fact that life is not a David Lee Roth video.
7. Flirting has become a lot more awkward. Activism focusing on issues ranging from date rape to unwanted sexual advances has made Harvard men more nervous about their behavior, innocent or not.
Besides, the Northeast, bourgeois, secularly Puritan culture of Harvard is hardly the most openly sexual in the world. People here are less comfortable with flirting, a rather important prelude to dating, than in societies such as Italy, France, or even Southern California.
8. Dating has not always been an accepted norm. Our "memories" of the past are of a romantic period in which dating took on a greater social importance. My mother remarks that, when she attended Penn in the mid-1960s, she had dates with three people in a single day. (My mother happened to be an unabashed flirt.)
But, as Camille Paglia has observed, the reality is that throughout history, women have been chaperoned and greatly restricted. Marriages in most parts of the world were arranged until this century. Dating is a very recent phenomenon.
9. Lighten up. The situation is probably not all that bad. It often seems as if everyone who discusses dating at Harvard is complaining about it. This makes sense. When people gloat, the natural reaction is a desire to punch them. Besides, people pleasurably involved in relationships usually have better things to do than openly analyze their situation.
The reality is that dating is still what someone makes of it. The way humans tend to complain and listen to others complain sometimes obscures this reality.
And, of course, griping about the dating scene here is nothing new. Harvard students have been complaining about dating almost as long as they've been complaining about the food.