One of my favorite questions (as a tour guide and admissions intern) was about dating at Oberlin.
"Do people actually date here?"
"Can I get laid?"
"Is it a problem that I'm gay?"
"Is it a problem that I'm straight?"
I've found that 2,800 young, attractive, intelligent, passionate people makes a good pool to find a certain someone. You can get a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner no matter your looks, orientation, or gender.
That said, Obies don't really "date," at least not as it's commonly understood. Folks are either in relationships, in some nebulous not-a-relationship-but-something-with-hand-holding, or not. We're hardly unique in that fact--Charles Blow wrote a great New York Times op-ed called The Demise of Dating on how young folks get into relationships.
Instead of dating, we make friends.
Obies form incredibly close friendship. Your friends are your family. They love you, they protect you, they cook you soup when you're sick. They live in the same dorm as you, they brush their teeth with you. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. They act much like someone you date. There's connection, commitment, and care. You're never really alone in Oberlin--there is always a cluster of friends within a one-block radius.
If Obies already have buckets of friends, why would you date to find someone to have an awkward, uncertain attraction? Don't you favor the rad bromance over the bad romance?
Most dating starts as a friendship. You know someone, and you get ... fluttery around them. Awkward. Gawky. You can't stop thinking about them. You go from a cool, confident college kid, to a nervous pre-teen. We're the emotional morons that composers write operas about. We fall in love too easily.
I'm not very attractive. I'm a dreadful cook. I sweat profusely, I don't use make-up regularly, I make terrible puns. I tend towards roomier jeans and wear my hair back. I'm loud. I have an unsavory number of birthmarks. My thighs are larger than 92% of the Oberlin College population. I will probably offend your parents.
Yet since 2005, I've had about three months of singlehood. If I can get a date on Friday night, so can you.
But realistically, I don't actually "date" either. Part of it is that I don't understand the definition of dating.
Is dating the thing before the relationship? The embryo of a partnership, with deficits in trust and commitment, heavy with doubt and insecurity? Isn't dating when you go to a movie with someone and wait until about halfway through to put your arm around them 'cause you don't want to be too forward? Isn't dating when you make out with someone who might not like you back? Isn't dating when you aren't sure if they've got someone else?
My heart is a lonely hunter, and once it finds someone, it attaches. And there I stay, completely devoted.
Every relationship I've had at Oberlin has been wonderful: my partners have improved my life, and readjusted my worldview. They make my glasses a few shades rosier. They make me want to be a better person, so I can be a worthy half to them.
College relationships are a special kind of commitment, because college tests you, so often and so thoroughly. And that makes relationships either dissolve or grow really, really strong.
The heart is a muscle, and much like a muscle, it can only be strengthened through use. A relationship that's built on booze-based attraction and fluff will fade fast in college. But one made out of common interests and opposing worldviews? One where you challenge each other to be better? One where you're totally in awe of this impossibly wonderful individual who spends time with you? That lasts. It survives organic chemistry tests, family drama, cold spells in spring, tech weeks, finals, thesis papers, honors exams, sickness, Winter Term long distance, early morning fire drills, and differences in upbringing. And you aren't just in love. You're together. You start to say we.
And without them, you're missing something. A part of your arm.
You can see it in some of the Oberlin summer community, the miserably committed. Torn not by tests of fidelity, but the sheer agony of not seeing their sweetest for an unbearable length of time. Skype is not enough. Calling does not suffice. AIM does not calm it, nor texting.
We're hamstrung. We're addicted to another person, and now, we're in withdrawal. Myself included.
All of my music reminds me of you. When I walk past the house where you lived, I accidentally walk up to the porch. At Gibson's, I realize that there's no need to buy chocolate for you. I think about strolling with you through the rain at 2:00am. I dream about dancing with you. You were always the best part of my day. And without you, everything is duller, even if the sun is brighter.
The separation hits like waves. I am seasick and woozy. Sleepy, but unable to rest. There's no reason to go to bed, there's no one to wake up to.
I make mix tapes. I cuddle with all my old stuffed animals (Chesterfield, the monkey. Teensy, the frog. Esme, the bear). I write love letters, and send you links to articles that I hope make you laugh. I wish I had a carrier pigeon so I could serenade you more romantically with cherry blossoms and origami cranes flying from above. I stare at walls. I don't eat well. I listen to Weezer. I watch the first scene of Pulp Fiction—Pumpkin and Honey Bunny—and start bawling. Hearing the Dr. Horrible soundtrack is an exercise in masochism.
This is summer: the realization that love is real. And sometimes, love sucks.
But there is some beauty. Two of my friends stayed in my house over commencement—Rachel and Matt. Rachel had spent the semester abroad, studying public health in Mali. Matt was in Oberlin, teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, cramming for chem exams, and cooking tasty meals in Pyle Co-op. At the end of finals, after months away, she came back. It was so perfect to watch them holding hands, so enraptured with each other. Like finding the thing they'd been missing for so long.
I can't wait to find you again.
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March 20, 2021