I’ve now been at college for about three weeks, and I think that’s time enough to observe and digest the social dynamics of the situation we freshmen are in. For those of you who are past their freshman year, you probably have more developed ideas on this than I do right now, but the post still might be interesting.
College is strange in that there is essentially no social continuity between high school and college. From elementary school to middle school to high school, there are transitions in who you are around on a daily basis, but there is a great deal of continuity – for the most part, the same people you go to elementary school with go to your middle school, even if you don’t hang out with them. The same for high school. Now, this is not true for all people; some people move from city to city, some transfer from school to school (*raises hand*), whatever. But that’s the exception, not the rule. There will always be less new people (even if you’re one of them) than old people.
When you go to college, that completely changes. Two other people from my high school are going to my college. Two people that I knew from another high school (I went to an all-boys school, this other school was all-girls) are going as well. So I came into college knowing about four people – and that’s many more than most people do.
The consequences of this are rather odd. For one, the first few days feel like a summer camp. You’re meeting a bunch of new people, not remembering very many of their names, and somewhat randomly picking which ones to hang out with. But it isn’t a summer camp. You’re going to be around these people for four years. So after a few weeks, if you realize that the people you began the year hanging out with aren’t the ones you want to keep hanging out with – you have a problem (this part isn’t autobiographical – I don’t have this problem).
What astounds me is how luck-based it all is. You randomly hang out with someone the first few days of orientation, and suddenly you are in some sense friends, while you have no connection to any of the other 300-whatever freshman, many of whom might be equal or better friends than this random person.
I suppose that this is how it worked in elementary, middle and high school, as well, and that it works out in the end. But since we’re much more mature and aware of what’s going on now, it seems stranger. I haven’t the vaguest idea how I became friends with the people I was friends with in elementary school, or if describing them as friends is even the right word (‘friend’ has kind of been corrupted by things like MySpace and Facebook, of course…).
Another rather amusing feature of the first few weeks of college life is the romantic tension, I suppose is the term, in the air. Perhaps I’m just more aware of it because I went to an all-boys school and now, going to school with girls, I view any such tension as a giant increase. But I think it also has a lot to do with the fact that a bunch of people who have never met are introduced at the same time, and there has to be some time to sort out what’s what. For some reason that I don’t understand, these people think that because they have a crush on someone after the first two weeks they have to act on it. It seems to me it would be much wiser to wait a bit longer and let everything settle down without adding the additional factor of relationships to the social mix. The consequences of not doing this are, well, amusing, at least to the observer, but they sound like they really suck for the people involved.
I also don’t understand why people feel the need to have relationships at this point at all. After all, we’re freshmen in college, none of us plan on marrying while in college, most of us are good Catholics who aren’t going to have sex before marriage, and so what exactly are you going to gain from starting to date now as opposed to waiting until your junior or senior year?
There are essentially three possibilities that can arise from a relationship in college – you break up and hate each other, you break up and are still friends, or you keep going out until graduation and end up getting married. If you break up and hate each other, the relationship was obviously a bad idea – whatever emotional satisfaction you got from it, it’s erased by the break up. If you break up and are still friends, it’s not a total loss, you might have some good memories, whatever. But it still seems like a bad idea, because you’ve poured a bunch of time, energy and money into it and gotten nothing back – nothing that you wouldn’t have gotten by just remaining friends with that person. (Though I can see an argument that such a relationship would actually strengthen and deepen your friendship, I don’t believe it. In most cases ‘breaking up but still friends’ really means ‘breaking up and not hating each other but not really interacting a whole lot afterwards’.)
The final possibility is that you end up getting married. If so, that’s wonderful, congratulations. But… first of all, this seems very unlikely. Secondly, even if this does happen, did you really get married because you started going out your freshman year? Or wouldn’t the same thing have happened if you had asked the other person out your junior or senior year? I suppose she might have been ‘taken’ by that point, but it seems unlikely. Thirdly, not dating exclusively your freshman and sophmore year means you have more opportunities to scope out the possibilities, if you will. If you start dating this person your freshman year and have eyes only for her all of college, it might turn out that someone in all ways superior was waiting for you but you never saw her because you were blind. That wouldn’t be terrible, but it isn’t great either. Finally, if you start dating your freshman year then the pressure over the next four to have premarital sex is just going to keep increasing.
I sound like my theology teacher (sans the Hungarian accent). I suppose that’s not altogether a bad thing. Of course, I talk the talk, but I’m not sure if I can walk the walk – I don’t plan on actively seeking out relationships and whatnot, but if a perfect opportunity comes along I might end up taking it….
: I use this word with some hesitation. I don’t think most of us are particularly mature, but we are significantly more so than we were at age, say, seven.
: I should probably make clear that I’m not laughing at the people who get screwed over by this. I’m friends with some of them, and I do sympathize with them. I’m laughing at the absurdity of the system that brings it about.
: I’m assuming a male perspective here because I’m male and, since the roles of male and female are very different in relationships, I can’t claim to really know anything about what girls should do regarding this issue.