March 15, 2019 | Feature
brown bear loners
a reflection on dating and dating advice at brown
From a casual survey of basically everyone I know, I’ve found that dating at Brown University is tough. No one seems to be doing it right. Between Datamatch, Tinder (and the long list of other, increasingly popular dating apps), casual, serious, or in-between relationships, official dates, and weekend hookups, it’s hard to know what you’re getting yourself into when you put yourself out there.
And even though I don’t have any of the answers, some of my friends, who agree that dating at Brown is hard, have convinced me to write this quasi-dating column. Dating columns, they told me, make the struggles of single life feel just a bit less lonely. Dating columns show concretely just how universal some questions are. In light of this request, I’ve written up a reflection of whatever I have seen work out, for me or others, in the last four years, and the questions in this article represent a mix of serious and silly queries sent to me as very official text messages.
Why am I qualified to write this piece, you might wonder? I’m not, really. But after four years, I feel like I’ve been on the sidelines of every possible Brown University dating iteration and romantic crisis among my friends. Crushes not texting first or back or ever again. Floormates from my first-year unit wondering why doesn’t she like me or fretting about how to ask someone on a date. Friends proclaiming over lunch that “Romance is canceled!”—at least for the next few weeks. Worrying about what to wear and how much eyeliner to put on. Navigating hookup culture. Dating two people with the same name at the same time. Communicating a lack of interest in taking things further. Experimenting with the millennial love strategies proposed in the pages of The New York Times’s “Modern Love” column, like polyamory and open relationships. The closing of those open relationships and the opening of closed relationships. Old flames getting back together after time apart. Couples working to create new dynamics and falling back into old patterns. Heartbreak. Wondering, is it even worth it?
How do you ask out a total stranger from your class?
Maybe try saying something like, “Hello. I’d like to get to know you better. Would you like to go on a date with me?”
I actually have evidence, albeit only a single example, to support this strategy. A good friend of mine was walking on Simmons Quad freshman year when a boy she had never met asked her for her name.
He said, “I don’t really know how to say this, but I noticed you in class [it was CS15] … Would you want to get coffee sometime?”
“It worked,” she said. “We’ve now been dating for three years.”
I feel like I should be dating, and I want to date, but I can’t seem to make it work at Brown. What should I do?
First, you don’t have to feel like you should be doing anything. Not dating is as valid a choice as dating, and lots of your peers don’t date. One Brown Daily Herald poll from 2012 found that close to 50 percent of students were not in any kind of a relationship. I was amused to learn that 2.4 percent of students polled said they didn’t know what kind of a relationship they were in—very relatable.
By not focusing on dating, you are conserving emotional energy and time that you might otherwise devote to non-romantic quandaries. While you’re not drafting a text that says “u up?” you’re doing other things, like schoolwork, clubs, meditating, going to work, seeing your friends, exercising, and sleeping.
“Some people seem to always be in relationships,” pointed out one sophomore I interviewed. “But the Brown culture is very non-conducive to dating. If you hook up with someone, they’ll ghost you and never talk to you again.”
Despite this admittedly major issue, there are more than 6,000 undergraduates at Brown, so the odds of at least one person being attracted to you are high. People meet all kinds of ways. A guy in my seminar on Stalinism met his girlfriend at Brown’s gap year dinner. I know a couple that met in the basement of the Rock while searching for the same book. Another former couple I know met awkwardly in the laundry room of Minden while waiting for someone else to move their clothes. After, they went upstairs and made out. A few days later, the guy left a note on the girl’s door with his number, and they dated for most of the year.
How does one find love at Brown University when everyone is up to their eyeballs in work?
If it’s important to you, you will find time. If schedules and dating are your thing, you can sync your Google calendars in order to find that one overlapping hour you have between lecture and seminar on Thursday afternoon. People are busy, but worse comes to worst (or, more appropriately, work), studying together at the CIT can be a date…right?
When should you send a text saying you just want to be friends, and when should you ghost?
Having been ghosted myself, I guess I believe it’s better to be honest from the outset: to say honestly that you are not interested in pursuing anything romantic. At the same time, the “let’s just be friends” text is not that fun to receive (unless you are also not interested—then, what a relief!) Ghosting is only really acceptable when you’ve had very minimal contact—like maybe if you have been on exactly zero dates. But before you don’t send that message, try to think about how the ghostee might feel with an empty inbox.
I’m not the only one who holds this opinion. “I feel like you should never ghost,” said a cool-looking guy I interviewed on the main floor of the Rock. “It’s better to explain where you’re at, and it’s just the right thing to do. Someone else’s feelings are on the line.”
I just sent a “let’s just be friends” text, and it turns out the person actually wants to be friends. What should I do?
This actually happened to one of my good friends, and it was really awkward (because she really did not want to be friends). Based on what we learned from this experience, I’d advise that if you actually want no contact with the person, you need to be more upfront in your text. But if you’ve already sent the text and find yourself in this troubling position, a good strategy to avoid hanging out with your new “friend” is just never finding a time that works, or taking hours to respond to messages.
How do you take a six-person seminar with your ex?
Avoid. Eye. Contact.
More generally, running into an ex around campus is inevitable if you leave your dorm. In my experience, it shakes you less each time it happens, a form of exposure therapy that actually works over a long period. And while it’s better not to have a weekly scheduled time to see your former significant other (like your three-hour seminar on semiotics), encounters might happen just because you have a shared club or hobby or spot in the library or crosswalk on Thayer. Take a breath, say “hello” (or “hey,” according to my friend who likes to limit her syllables, even in verbal communication, with her ex), and keep walking.
How do you know if the friend that you like likes you back?
Odds are that you probably have to say something explicitly, which can be scary. Maybe try asking your friend on a date? Depending on how much doubt you have about your feelings being returned, it can be helpful to just say out loud how much you value the friendship. Getting friendzoned isn’t that fun, but it’s probably more fun than losing a friend to the dating game.
How do you get back out there after a tough breakup?
I hate to say this, but you know that cliche, only time heals a broken heart? That has been the only universal solution I’ve found in my first and secondhand experience. The only other thing that seems to help people get over their ex is meeting a new, exciting person. This is not to say that a few hours after breaking up is the best time to download Tinder, but maybe once you can get through a few weeks without crying over Jo’s mozzarella sticks at 1:00 a.m., a good first date can help you remember how much fun it can be to meet new people.
Plus, even though being single can feel lonely and awful, and looking for relationships when you’re single can be demoralizing (there’s really nothing like swiping through a hundred Tinder profiles and matching with absolutely no one), no single relationship defines who you are. Companionship and emotional sustenance can come in all kinds of forms, including romantic relationships, but also those with family and friends.
Even when I apply all my amazing romantic theories and well-thought-out advice from my mom and friends, I just can’t seem to figure it out—and I feel like I’ve tried it all. Every stage is hard: single, dating, or in a relationship. I’ve sent the “let’s just be friends” text. I’ve been ghosted. I think someone once pretended to have strep throat to get out of seeing me (you know who you are). I have been filled with self-doubt and enjoyed moments of self-confidence. I have uninstalled and reinstalled Tinder in the same day. I’ve leaned on my friends and broken all my own rules. I’ve called up exes when I swore I wouldn’t (and it’s never led to anything good). I’ve unfollowed, unfriended, deactivated, and deleted. I was in something I dubbed “an affiliationship.” I’ve put my phone in the possession of my friends to avoiding sending a text, only to send it instead from my laptop a few minutes later. I’ve been unkind and led people on. I have experiences too embarrassing or too painful to publish in this list. I’ve wondered time and time again if dating—with all of its pain, ups, downs, and seductive draws—is worth it.
But at the end of it all, I still have my closest friends who have carried me through everything, a thicker skin, and a collection of stories that weren’t funny at the time but I swore I’d laugh at later. Now, at least, I really am laughing.