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No “I” in SWUG

By Anjali R. Itzkowitz

When I first read the article in New York Magazine about Yale’s self-proclaimed SWUGs—senior washed-up girls—I was appalled. Any feelings of empathy I had for the plight of my fellow female senior Ivy Leaguers drowned in a sea of revulsion at their willingness to wallow in being “washed up.” But this did not stop me from embracing the term whole-heartedly. Far from it. I started to use it in conversation, in texts, emails, and that most SWUGly form of communication, the snapchat. I derived a certain perverse pleasure from calling myself a SWUG, perhaps because, rather than seeming washed up to my peers, during my senior spring I felt like I was having more fun than any of them.

But my use of the term is not wholly ironic, despite my best efforts to make it seem that way. The truth is, Harvard has left me feeling somewhat washed up, but not in the way that the term’s original coiners meant. For me, this feeling of hollowness has more to do with a sense of lowered expectations than with being past one’s prime. I like to think that at 21 years old I have not passed my prime, but rather have yet to reach it. So why do I occasionally feel disillusioned when my hectic social agenda allows me some time for introspection?

I feel disillusioned because I am growing weary of never having romantic expectations for men. As a freshman girl, I was so caught up in the whirlwind of new people and surroundings that I did not stop to consider the nature of my interactions with my male peers. I almost assumed that any relationships I had would be fleeting and essentially meaningless because I was consumed by the business of being a freshman. There were always more people to meet, more parties to go to—or rather attempt to go to. But with each passing year and each new DAPA bottle I acquired, I started to question my interactions with college men a little more.

Why were my sexual interactions with them more often drunken than sober? Why was I so petrified to text them for fear of seeming “clingy?” I now realize that I had succumbed to the expectation of hyper-informality that enables the hook-up culture prevalent at Harvard and many other schools. Of course people do date here, but in my experience anything but the most casual of hook-ups is somewhat frowned upon. I have often heard the derisive question, “Are you still hooking up with so-and-so?” as if to suggest, “Are you really so lame that you haven’t yet moved on to your next conquest?” Friends accuse men and women alike of ceasing to be fun as soon as they embark on a serious relationship, and we all know that ceasing to be fun is tantamount to a social death sentence.

Why are college students so wary of serious relationships, and so critical of those who date seriously? Yes, it is college. Everyone is experimenting, everyone is trying to have fun. But I do not see why this necessarily stigmatises the desire to be in a serious or even a more than very casual relationship. Hyper-informality is great in the short term—you can have all the physical benefits without the emotional commitment. But in the long term it is profoundly unsatisfying.

More disturbing for me personally, the culture of hyper-informality has left me guarded. I am reluctant to allow myself to get to know someone intimately, for fear of falling for that person. It is a self-defence mechanism. If you have no expectations, your heart will not get broken. But I shouldn’t be going into the world being adept at putting up walls, yet poor at letting people in. At 21, I should be excited to fall in love, not afraid of getting my heart broken.

So despite my initial contempt for their movement, I owe the SWUGs of Yale a debt. They have forced me to take a long, hard look at the hook-up culture at Harvard in which I have participated. And what I see is a dilemma: We all want attention. We all want to be loved. Yet no one wants to be the one doling out attention and love to a significant other for fear of seeming “lame” or “soft.” But what’s wrong with showing that you care about someone? Last time I checked, that was kind of sexy.

Anjali Rivka Itzkowitz ’13, a former Crimson Arts columnist, is a Classics concentrator in Eliot House.

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