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ISSUE 121 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/9/2007

Sex on the Hill: Non-linear Relationships

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor

Friday, November 9, 2007

Say you're going to dinner with one of your friends. It might be platonic, it might be a date, it might be a convenient dinner for both of you - you're not quite sure. The pre-dinner residence hall conversation with your roommates and friends probably goes something like this:

"Dude, you're going to dinner with him? Tap that. Seriously, tap that." Or perhaps: "Omigod is it a date? What are you going to wear? Where are you going to sit?" The dinner goes fine - you didn't tap anything except the water dispenser, you wore jeans and a T-shirt, you sat at a round table in the back and a friend from your first-year corridor joined the two of you. You return to a shower of questions from your friends - what did you talk about? Are you going again? Will you get her a Friday Flower? Is this going to be, like, a relationship?

I'm just going to throw it out there: the dating situation at St. Olaf is a little intense and I think students feel pressure to follow a linear, one-track model in their romantic relationships. Perhaps it's our small student body and tight-knit residence life that intensifies every blossoming romance, perhaps it's the incestuous nature of Oles to be in one another's business, perhaps it's the "ring by spring" ethos that compels people to "only date for marriage" (a phrase I've heard more than once). To raise awareness about (and caricature) the pressure of this linear trajectory, one of Jim Farrell's American studies classes makes a diagram of the stereotypical Ole relationship. It begins with a Caf date and ends, I believe, in a marriage announcement in the St. Olaf Magazine.

I know of others who completely eschew dating, choosing to remain swingin' and single during their college careers (translation: engage in hookups without emotion or attachment and avoid relationships or dating at all costs). The expected trajectory is too much to handle; it's much more relaxing and fun to have a few beers and mess around for a while and then act like it didn't happen the next day. I guess we can talk about it when we're a little tipsy, but it's better if we don't say anything at all - then we don't have to feel like it's serious or like we're (shudder) in a relationship.

There are many other points on the Ole dating spectrum that range from celibacy to actual pre-graduation marriage, and everyone has reasons for where he or she stands. But is there a single path that we have to take in order to end up with a suburban home and little prospective Ole babies that wear Um Ya Ya onesies? Does a Caf date or late night cuddle session inevitably lead to a set future, one that we can plan out day by day, car by car, job by job? Why is it that Oles have a linear model in mind when they begin to date? It seems to me that people polarize themselves into "interested in following the Olaf marriage trajectory" or "I don't want to have anything to do with emotional relationships let's just hook up and not talk about it" camps. What happened to casual dating? What about dating to get to know others and yourself, dating to have fun and engage the physical and the emotional? Why do we feel trapped into these two extremes?

In class the other day, my professor mentioned that during transitional times in life (such as college), people feel more comfortable closing off doors than opening them up. Both detached hookups and linear dating models close off doors - you don't have to open up anything messy, you don't have to look at sides of yourself that you don't want to. I'm not saying it's impossible to grow in a serious, monogamous relationship or with a hookup buddy. I'm just saying that when these get to be the only options Oles think they have, people can feel trapped in a binary that may or may not fit their ideals.

So if you're on the road to a St. Olaf Magazine wedding announcement, go for it. And if you just want to get drunk this weekend and dry hump on the couch, I'm totally behind you. But if you don't fit into the three-generations-of-Oles-marrying-Oles crowd but don't totally want to leave dating behind, rest assured that you're on the right path too, whatever shape that takes.

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