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.
Responses to this Entry
You do make terrible puns. :)
Posted by: Nick F on June 3, 2010 8:29 PM
I like this alot.
Did I make you laugh?
Posted by: Dan on June 3, 2010 8:29 PM
Aries, this was both gorgeous and painful. And true.
I'd be really interested to look into how relationships form and function at other colleges -- colleges where the community isn't quite so close-knit. I have a friend at another school, and none of her friends there seem to date or have relationships. And potential relationships seem to form around drunken weekend hookups. But I don't know if that's the college (which is around the same size as Oberlin, maybe a bit bigger) or just her group of friends.
Anyway, back to the point. The point being that I loved this. And, yeah...tech weeks. Gah.
(Also, oh my dear and fluffy lord, you two really ARE Carmen and Waldo. That's amazing.)
(HOWEVER: I disagree strongly with your assessment of yourself as "not very attractive." I might slap you, if I were there.)
Posted by: Carolyn on June 3, 2010 8:38 PM
Seriously, if you're "not very attractive," the rest of us have got some issues to work out.
Not to mention, you're clearly brilliant. This was really beautiful. Thank you.
Posted by: Sam on June 3, 2010 9:09 PM
I prefer this scene, myself: [image no longer available]
but everything else is spot-on about dating/love/heart-fuckery at Oberlin.
Part of me wishes it wasn't. Oh, well.
Posted by: Amanda on June 3, 2010 9:31 PM
Your final picture reminded me of this comic, which has to be shared:
[image no longer available]
Posted by: Sean on June 3, 2010 9:33 PM
I love this. "honey bunny" from pulp fiction is my fav scene to watch with girlfriend too. I know of a place where they will never find us too, and thats my heart. :)
Posted by: manu on June 3, 2010 10:00 PM
Aries, this was beautiful. Your strength is incredible.
What you've said is so true, but I have a different spin on things. Humor me.
On dating though: I think people date. I think people do stuff together. Sometimes they explore each other intimately both emotionally and physically, and then call it a date. Isn't that dating?
Also, who says independence precludes devotion, love and attachment? Often the most attached and deeply in love are also the most self-reliant, independent-minded, and capable people. The awesomeness of your blog attests to this.
Posted by: Kevin on June 3, 2010 10:31 PM
"Not very attractive" is an insult to those of us who think you're beautiful. (And to those who might think you are prettier than we are.) Love you, dear.
Posted by: Hillary on June 3, 2010 11:32 PM
Posted by: Erica on June 3, 2010 11:39 PM
ARIES, YOU'RE A TOTAL HOTTIE. I'd totally date you.
Drinks when I'm back in town? :)
Posted by: Helena on June 3, 2010 11:51 PM
WTF is this business about "not very attractive"? You've got the best cheekbones and the most elegant neck this side of Paradise. Srsly. You're a head-turner.
Posted by: Anna L. on June 4, 2010 12:44 AM
I LOVE ERIKA & SARAH.
Posted by: Yitka on June 4, 2010 1:58 AM
I think part of it is that Oberlin doesn't have a huge drinking culture. While there's alcohol, it's not the center of life.
Another thing: we respect each other. In high school, such was not the case. With all the consent lessons, and gender rights, dudes are actually respectful towards ladies. The really unpleasant macho/faux-chivalry/overwhelmingness really doesn't happen.
Posted by: Aries on June 4, 2010 8:11 AM
Dear wonderfully attractive Aries,
"Don't you favor the rad bromance over the bad romance?"
I'm going to say this for the rest of my life. If you actually made that up, you're monarch of the world.
Love and big squishy hugs,
Posted by: Sneha Narayan on June 4, 2010 8:14 AM
The point isn't that I have dubious levels of self-esteem, it's that looks aren't as meaningful here. In a lot of other places, there's a certain type, and if you aren't it, it's gonna be lonesome.
That said, thank you for the crazy compliments. I promise to only wear a paper bag over my face every other week.
Posted by: Aries on June 4, 2010 9:58 AM
Aries, I heart you so, so much :-). Great post!
Posted by: Fajer on June 4, 2010 10:09 AM
Aries, this is beautiful. Best of all, it left me thinking. I'll be chewing on this today, with hopes of digesting it sometime in the near future. I hope you have a fantastic summer!
Posted by: Erin on June 4, 2010 10:48 AM
Oberlin is love. This article was pretty spot-on.
Consequently, I have no idea how to go about dating in the real world. Maybe this is why Obies intermarry even after they graduate and live on the outside.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about the flipside of all of this - that is, heartbreak and single life. I wonder if there's something special about how Oberlin kids deal with it, based on what I know of my friends and myself.
Posted by: Peter on June 4, 2010 11:31 AM
Aries, you always make me smile. This is one of the best blog posts I have read in a while. It sums up Oberlin's dating scene rather perfectly. Also, I love that you used my old roommate as an example couple.
That said, I'm going to disagree about the point that drinking isn't a bigger part of Oberlin culture. I think, that as with any school, it can be if you choose to make it. Drinking and the party scene is how many people find possible partners or simply friends that can and often introduce you to a new pool of people (and partners)
Posted by: Sandhya on June 4, 2010 11:42 AM
I think the idea of "dating someone" versus "going on dates" with someone is really different, regarding commitment and trust levels. I have a few friends who go on dates, but it's often a pathway to either a relationship or a more traditional friendship.
My point is that the midground is awkward and scary. It means you have to make up all the rules together, and it's easy to make mistakes that can hurt a lot. A lot of the disaster-ships I've seen are things were there's intimacy without commitment.
People get attached. People get jealous. People get hurt.
"Also, who says independence precludes devotion, love and attachment?"
I think the difference is the line between devotion and dependence. The former is great, the latter is scary. In the summer-misery season, I sometimes fear that I skew closer to dependence than I want.
Posted by: Aries on June 4, 2010 12:10 PM
This was a good read. As a person of the "summer community" who's missing someone, it struck a chord.
Only three months until September, right?...
Posted by: Anonymous on June 4, 2010 12:49 PM
Oh man, Aries you TOTALLY nailed this one. I love it!! You are the best. Also, totally tickled that the first two pictures were taken on the same day at the same house.
Posted by: Erika on June 4, 2010 1:20 PM
My feelings on being single: ANGST INSECURITY ANGST. I've grown really used to having a significant other -- being without one feels like driving without a map or GPS. I can move, but without much direction.
I count down the days.
That was a good house, babe. Some good people always live there. :)
Posted by: Aries on June 4, 2010 1:40 PM
I love you, Aries.
You are wonderful. And so is this article.
Posted by: Janani on June 4, 2010 2:41 PM
This is fabulous.
Posted by: Rachel on June 4, 2010 3:49 PM
This is too true.
Posted by: Karl on June 4, 2010 6:09 PM
Pssh. Your thighs are sexy.
I was single (and inadvertently celibate) most of my time in Oberlin, and I always felt like something was terribly, terribly wrong with me.
Posted by: Cal on June 4, 2010 10:00 PM
The problem is that Erika is completely wrong about the location of our picture. We are in the backyard of 142 North Pleasant Street, where we used to live, at a kind of gay bbq held by the then-current tenants, and I am admiring the home-brewed beer. Erika is mistaken, and that is all there is to it. My memory, it is true, is often wrong, missing, or obscured by smoke and haze, but I know what I'm talking about here.
Ah, Obie love. Sometimes, that friendship that leads to love only comes after weeks or months of kisses and denial. And then, if you're lucky enough to recognize it, it stays.
Posted by: Jay on June 5, 2010 12:59 PM
I can definitely relate to this article, but I only really found it after I left Oberlin. So if anyone reading this didn't come away from college with a permanent life partner, don't fret, there are still lots of other fish in the see.
Posted by: Phil on June 6, 2010 11:49 PM
I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your article and how you looked at every different possible side of a relationship or being single. You gave it positives or drawbacks and in the end it wouldn't really mater because it all goes back to the beginning where at Oberlin everyone is family. It's a nice comforting way to look at college relationships since, I am a it's not really something people act about but the inside perspective of someone. Thank You!
Posted by: April on July 26, 2010 11:41 AM
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