When I applied to Harvard, my friends were ecstatic. “It will be crawling with guys who will find your mind irresistible,” they told me. “You will be in great demand!” I arrived on campus filled with excitement. So much for all those guys who were “intimidated by my intellect”! So much for romantic evenings ruined by careless references to Charles Martel! That surely wouldn’t be a problem at Harvard.
Or would it? Let’s just say that, not unlike hundreds of other Harvard women, I will be spending Valentine’s Day alone. With an all-male drag organization. I hope they have something romantic planned.
So whose fault is this? Everyone has an explanation to offer. Is it the demise of the dating culture? Global warming? Are we too committed to commit? Or are all Harvard men simply unprintables, as many of my female friends suggest?
Perhaps they have a case. Edward Dahlberg once observed that “What men most desire is a virgin who is a whore.” Harvard men seem to want a genius who is a moron. While Harvard women spent their high school careers trying not to intimidate too many men with their intellects, Harvard men spent theirs making women swoon with their massive, girthy arrays of knowledge. Arriving at Harvard demanded adjustment. For if Harvard men are not intimidated by Harvard women’s intellects, Harvard women are not excessively impressed by the intellects of Harvard men. It might seem as though this would lead to interesting, balanced conversations and battles of wits. Instead, it has produced a lopsided quagmire. Harvard men want women who are impressed by their intelligence. Harvard women want men who aren’t intimidated by theirs. Both are disappointed.
Speaking as a man, given the choice between someone who was awed by my knowledge of the Renaissance and someone who knew as much about it as I and thought that, frankly, I was a little too short and Jewish, I would pick the former every time. This is what Harvard women are up against. While Harvard guys can take the bus to Wellesley and find themselves seized by hordes of fair-to-moderately nubile houris, the thought of Harvard women riding over to, say, Wabash College and snaring eager men seems patently absurd. Aside from the transportation costs involved in driving to Indiana.
Harvard is certainly far from the relationship Mecca my friends envisaged. Only 15% of Harvard students are in a relationship that they are willing to list on Facebook. This is low—25% of Northeastern students, 27% of UMass students, 24% of Emerson students, and 22% of BU students are listed as “in a relationship.” So why are our area counterparts coupling up at rates almost twice ours?
Perhaps brooding on these issues has simply made Harvard women unfit for company. Instead of going on dates, even group dates, they band together to produce the Vagina Monologues. A college that can supply 30 women to perform and 100 to attend the Vagina Monologues on Valentine’s Day night is a college without a dating scene.
Indeed, both Harvard men and women must confront the same problem: a dating culture conspicuous by its absence. The concept of taking someone out to dinner and a movie has been replaced by the nebulous notion of the hook-up. Harvard students are getting more action on Friday nights with total strangers than many loving Victorian couples did in the course of 50-year marriages. This is not optimal. But what other options does our generation have?
The Self-Help section of Amazon.com hints at the underlying problem. Men’s bestselling help books include Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed and The Layguide: How to Seduce Women More Beautiful Than You Ever Dreamed Possible No Matter What You Look Like Or How Much You Make. Women’s include titles like If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? and Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. In these books, women are constantly enjoined not to “settle.” “Settling” is bad. Men, on the other hand, are constantly enjoined to settle, and often. These philosophies cannot both work. The world is either filled with discriminating women wandering around with checklists and constantly rejecting men like Mystery, or with accessible, impossibly beautiful women just dying to hop into bed. These expectations combine to produce dissatisfying results for everyone. The gap between ideals and hormones produces the hook-up culture, which is frustrating to most sane people. The difficulty about instant gratification is that it is neither. But if men don’t run around like deranged rabbits, they are failing to live up to their potential. If women “settle,” they’re committing the ultimate crime of self-disrespect. No one wins.
So at the risk of sounding like sediment, let me announce that I have no problem with “settling.” “Settling” is what happens when you accept someone in spite of the ways in which he or she falls short of your ideal. At times, it is inappropriate. But this kind of “settling” is what real relationships are based on. Harvard students, adrift in the sea of misaligned expectations, need to realize this. Instead of waiting for someone who not only finds their intellectualism positively arousing but also enjoys long walks on the beach and is over 6’, Harvard women should take another look at that short Jewish guy. Instead of seeking women who are impressed by them, Harvard men should try to find the ones who actually like them. And we should all leave Charles Martel out of it.
Alexandra A. Petri ’10 is a joint concentrator in English and Classics in Eliot House. Her column appears on regularly.