A Guide to ‘Top-Down’ Dating

Moving from hook-ups to relationships, rather than the reverse

As a Harvard student, there’s a 69 percent chance you were your high school’s valedictorian. But there’s also a 90 percent chance you’re still a virgin.

Considering such statistics, along with the fact that your longest high school relationship probably lasted from sixth period to the end of soccer practice, you’re going to need to learn a whole new handbook if you’re planning on getting anything besides good grades at Harvard.

But fear not. Whatever you’re looking to get out of relationships at Harvard, The Crimson’s got your prude back(side) covered.

THE SCENE

In order to turn Reading Period into breeding period, you’re going to need to know how people date and form relationships in the school that famed Ec 10 professor Gregory Mankiw calls the nation’s most elite dating service.

So here’s the skinny: at Harvard, you’re either single or you’re married. Very few people fall into the nebulous space between.

That’s not to say that nobody’s getting anybody. Quite the contrary. Walk around Cambridge on a Friday night and you’ll bear witness to the raw, carnal savagery of America’s future presidents and CEOs. Toes curl inside leather loafers. Expensive accessories disappear beneath Harvard’s extra-long twin beds. And pastel polo t-shirts lose their former crispness as young scholars embrace. If only these neo-Georgian dorm-room walls could talk!

HOOK ME UP

So what are these people doing? They’re “hooking up.” Live, learn, and love (or at least make love with) these two words, because they play an enormous role in Harvard love life.

Consumed with extracurriculars, casting off commitment, or just posing as Crimson Casa Novas, single Harvard students love hooking up. Hook ups—spur of the moment sexual or semi-sexual encounters with other Harvard students you only sort-of know—can be simple, fun, and time-effective. You go out with your friends, spot a semi-attractive potential mate you recognize from section, and three Solo cups later you’re asking each other “your place or mine?”

Proper hook-ups fall between the hours of 3 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Excepting the extraordinary, after these hours you’ll probably pick up your belongings off the floor, dust yourself off, and head along on your merry way.

PITUITARY PYRAMIDS

But if you’ve decided you’re not one for the wanton, semi-random hook up, you’re going to have to turn to the world of the ancient Egyptians in order to understand the other side of Harvard love life: the dating scene.

If a relationship is a pyramid, then in high school, you most likely built your pyramids from the bottom up. Before college, if you were suave enough to have a stable significant other, you’d probably known that person for years before anything romantic happened. You’d probably summered together on the Vineyard, learned English riding in the Adirondacks, and attended high school together in a fancy Swiss boarding school, all the while building a strong, stable relationship founded on friendship.

As hormones began pulsating from your preppy pituitaries, you probably began to slowly add romance to the top of your pyramid’s well established friendship base. You probably talked on the phone for hours before you “made it official.” Hundreds of notes were probably passed before your big first date. And you probably developed carpal tunnel from texting so much before your first kiss.

But at Harvard, relationship pyramids are built from the top-down. Sound impossible? Well it nearly is. You hook up first, and talk about it later—maybe. But usually, there’s so much to do and so little time that most people don’t get around to talking. So if you have an incredible hook-up and want a relationship, you’re going to need to initiate contact, and pronto!

THE VERDICT

So what is to be done? The Crimson’s advice is to go with the flow. Pace yourself: if you start too fast you’ll never live down your reputation as that skanky roommate who was caught in a G-string having a three-some on the common room floor freshman week.

But also remember that Harvard is no longer a school for Puritans. Let yourself have fun! When else in your life are you going to be surrounded by a pool of such well-rounded, eligible singles? You’re going to regret sitting on the sidelines, so strap on your sexiest knickerbockers or slip into your spiciest cardigan and roll with it.

—Staff writer Charles J. Wells can be reached at wells2@fas.harvard.edu.

For more information on the ins and outs of Harvard life, visit the My First Year homepage.