We all know the story — it played out a million times in elementary school. During class, little Suzy would get a note passed to her from little Bobby, four seats over. “Do you like me?” the note would read, and there would be two thoughtfully provided boxes for Suzy to efficiently indicate her feelings.
If Bobby were lucky, the note would come back to him with “Yes” checked, and he would promptly set to work on another masterpiece. “When you say you like me, does that mean that you like me as more than a platonic friend?”
Suzy, having consulted her dictionary, might even respond with another check in the affirmative, and in a few minutes’ time she would receive the appropriate follow-up notes, one after another: “Do you want to get together?” Yes. “Just us?” Yes. “Like as in a date?” Yes. “A traditional date?” Yes. “Do you, as a liberated woman of the 21st century who always expects and often receives full equality, plan on helping to pay the check as an affirmation of your liberation, or on insisting on my paying as an indication of your confidence in your equal status?”
Perhaps by this point the teacher would notice the serious negotiating taking place in the classroom and through her glare delay the courtship until recess, when Suzy and Bobby could “define their relationship.” But I think that one fact is plainly obvious:
Little Bobby was smooth.
Having recently converted to an Available College Student after nearly four years as One of Those Bastards Who Has Someone Special and Needn’t Even Bother Reading this Column, I must admit to being completely clueless about the Great World of College Dating.
So far, I have taken some important steps as part of my transformation. First, my roommate and I moved into what, apart from our beautifully decorated and color-coordinated bathroom, qualifies handily as a bachelor pad. Second, I’ve harassed all of my male friends into revealing their dating tips, such that I now understand why I have so many male friends who are free to hang out with me. And third, I’ve enthusiastically collected all of the recent articles about “dating” and “relationships” and “women.”
Take, for example, the widely reported study by the Institute for American Values (not as conservative as its name suggests) on women and their college dating patterns, which reports, “In our on-campus interviews we found that no term for interactions between college women and men holds more ambiguity, and reflects more confusion, than the word ‘dating’ …. [M]any women, usually independently, were struggling to articulate rules and expectations that would help them to make sense of the prevailing confusion.”
But the study shied away from stating the corollary: It ain’t just women. In fact, men must meet these frequently undeclared expectations and obey these often-unarticulated rules. Consider the first-date advice I’ve recently received — and this from women, the ones who are supposed to be “struggling”:
“You can’t suggest that. It’s not exciting enough.” “Go somewhere where something’s happening.” “Make sure that wherever you go, it’s quiet enough to have a conversation.” “Eating at a restaurant can be awkward.” “You should go out to eat, so you’ll have a chance to talk.” “You have to insist three times before you accept her offer to help pay.” “No, only two times.” “No way ? three.” “You need definite time constraints. It can’t just be a never-ending activity — there has to be a reasonable way to end it.” “Don’t say, ‘There’s a park in my neighborhood.’ Never mention where you live — it sets off warning bells.”
And then, as if I didn’t already have enough to worry about: “Have a nice time.”
I am reminded of the old story about the two groups of railroad workers who start building a new stretch of track from different ends. But there is a communication problem, a misunderstanding somewhere, a mistake in the calculations, and when the two groups meet up in the middle, the railroad tracks don’t.
Similarly, men and women, independent of each other, can certainly make rules, define expectations, and develop dating rituals — but they would do well by telling the other sex. Moreover, we (as well as the Institute for American Values) should acknowledge that dating tends to be an activity involving two people, and if both are going to be struggling, they might as well struggle together.
There exists, I think, a tremendous opportunity for real dialogue on dating and relationships. And regardless of whether this dialogue occurs on the pages of The Badger Herald, in the UHS relationship forum, or over dinner at a restaurant, such a candid discussion could be meaningful and refreshing. And who knows — it might even be fun.
So whaddaya want? What is a date? Who should pay? Tell me. Write in or leave feedback at the Herald’s website.
And don’t forget — have a nice time.
Give Bryant advice ([email protected]). He’s a senior majoring in civil engineering.