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You’ve just crossed over into the friendzone

in Campus Journal by

The splash zone is fun to be in, “The Twilight Zone” is fun to watch, and the subduction zone is something I’m sure natural science students love to learn about. But the zone that no one likes, the zone that makes people cringe, the zone that screams GET OUT is that of (drum roll please) … the friendzone.

We all know what this is. It’s the time when you ask someone if they want to see a movie and they reply with “who else is coming.” Or maybe it’s the time when your high school crush texts you saying “OMG Sasha interrogated me the other day,” and then you reply “TELL ME,” and then he texts you back saying “She’s like are you and Lauren in a relationship or something lol,” and then you ask “What did you say?” He replies “I told her we were just close friends.” That, that right there is an example of a HARDcore friendzone. And I just want to let you know that I scrolled through my texts all the way back to 2015 just to find that.

Friendzoning is an art form that honestly can never be mastered. Picasso himself probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. Neither Van Gogh nor Dali. The only person who maybe could’ve done it was Frida Kahlo because she is awesome. I would have put my money on her, no question about it. But at the end of the day, friendzoning is just awkward. However, there is a spectrum of awkwardness and I, of course, have reached the highest level of it, more than once.

It happened when I was in the 4th grade. I was swinging next to Tommy, the cutest boy

in the whole class who had the bluest eyes and the Justin Bieber hair, making him that much more to die for. The bell rang so he and I started walking back to our classroom. Little did I know that at this moment, my whole life was about to change. I asked Tommy if maybe we could be more than friends. He, or course, replied with, “Best friends?” and I said “No, no something more than that!” At this point anyone, and I mean ANYONE, would’ve known what I was talking about, but not Tommy. No, no, Tommy thought I wanted to be “mega best friends”! And on that day, Tommy slipped through my fingers forever. This is the day I discovered the friendzone.

My embarrassment level was through the roof, and I thought I was incapable of doing that same thing to anyone, but then 6th grade happened. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I walked into my classroom and sat down and found a note folded inside my desk. I opened it and read: “Will you be my girlfriend?” There was a box next to the word “yes” and a box next to the word “no” where I was supposed to mark my answer. First off, there was no name saying who it was from. Second off, what the heck, and third off, THERE WAS NO NAME SAYING WHO IT WAS FROM. Maybe it was from David who definitely never brushed his teeth or Sam who picked and flicked literally every time I looked at him. Or maybe it was Tommy, good lord the things I would’ve done if it were Tommy. Being the idiot I am, I simply folded the note back up and put it in the desk next to me and then that person passed it down until it landed on Mike’s desk. Mike, being the loudest and most obnoxious kid, stood up and yelled asking who put that note in his desk and read the note out loud! Poor Ben, his face got instantly red. I still can’t believe I did that. I am so so so so so so so so so sorry Ben. I hope he and I can one day move past this even though we haven’t talked in seven years.

There is a saying that goes “It’s only awkward if you make it awkward,” and I find this true for friendzoning. The two ingredients to create the best possible friendzoning friendship are communication, and simply being yourself. Don’t avoid a conversation or eye contact, say “hey” when passing, and just be yourself! Mind games are immature so don’t engage, just don’t do it! But for clarification, “hey,” “heyy,” “heyyy,” “heyyyy,” and “heyyyyyyy” do indeed mean different things. “Hey” means “friends,” “heyy” means they think they like you, “heyyy” means “take the hint already,” “heyyyy” means “dtf,” and “heyyyyy” means they are drunk. I repeat, all of that is NOT a mind game.

It is essential to understand that friendzoning is natural and very important, because it represents individuals doing what they want and what is important to them. One is not obligated in any way, shape, or form to give something in return if someone is being nice. People can just simply be friends; in fact, people who are sexually attracted to a certain gender or genders can just be friends with people of that gender(s) — it is very real and very possible! Pop culture portrays friendzoning as such a horrible thing, but it is not! Sure, it may suck to be friendzoned but it is an act greater than simply placing someone in a “no benefits” zone. It is the freedom of choice, individuality, and the use of a voice play an important roles in the “art” of friendzoning. If you are the one being friendzoned, listen to what your friend wants and respect it. Just like what I did with Tommy (written with a heavy heart…still).

Now, if you are trying to friendzone and still want to salvage the relationship, this is what you do.

First, give subtle, yet obvious hints. Drop a “you remind me of my brother/sister.” Or if you are given a compliment, you may just reply with a “thank you.” You are still remaining polite and nice, just not picking up what the other person is putting down.

Second, always suggest group hangouts, ALWAYS. If you like spending time with that person but do not want to give the wrong idea, invite friends! Show that person that you only like hanging out with them in a friend-environment, not so much one-on-one.

Third, don’t ignore, but don’t lead the person on. My 6th grade boyfriend broke up with me by ignoring me even though we were neighbors, which honestly made life that much more awkward (thank god I moved). So, don’t ignore.

And lastly, be completely and utterly honest. Voice your opinion and your wants in a respectful manner. It’s helpful and important to voice your opinion, wants, and desires when trying to salvage and maintain a relationship.

Friendzoning is something that is normally out of everyone’s comfort zone, but welcome to life. So, what is the moral of this article, you may ask? Don’t have friends. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone, and don’t breathe on anyone. Just get a dog, because they are really good friends, almost on Tommy’s and my “mega best friend” level. Just kidding. Do what you have to do, and move on, that’s the moral of this article. Actually, kidding again. I still love Tommy, that’s the moral of this article.

 

Week of events hosted by WRC, Title IX team promote healthy sex and relationships

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

 

Every young sexually frustrated teenager dreams of the freedom of college. Having sleepovers whenever you want, with whomever you want, and never having to say a thing to your parents. It seems like sex is the one thing everyone is certain happens in college — but is it? And when it does happen, is it good, enjoyable sex? If it’s not, how do you make these encounters better? The Title IX team and the Women’s Resource Center attempted to answer some of these questions, as well as many others in a series of workshops and talks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, in collaboration with many others, organized the week of events to discuss sex and relationships on campus.  “The narrative shouldn’t just be ‘oh those are the rape prevention people,’ it’s more than that, we’re the good sex people too,” commented Harris. The week included conversations that addressed the good, the bad, and the awkward in different contexts: everything from ‘textually active’ a workshop that examined sacred texts and their relationship to sex and relationships, to queer dating, to sexual empowerment and getting what you want out of a sexual encounter. The events presented conversations that are not usually found in formal settings.

“I think it’s really important to create spaces where talking about sex and relationships is fun,” said Becca Bernstein, Title IX Fellow and one of the main organizers of the events. “I really just want students to be able to have some space to think about these issues and have the chance to reflect on their own relationship to sex and relationships.”

The administrators involved in these events, including Harris, Bernstein, Alice Holland and Isaiah Thomas, took charge of creating that space. The staff made an effort to really engage with the topics, in order to create meaningful conversation with students. “[Harris] was pushing to move beyond a thought like ‘if I ask, he’ll think I’m weird’ to questioning why that is weird, or not ‘hot’ and why we should care,” commented Morgin Goldberg ‘19 who attended the Sexual Empowerment event.

The wide range of topics for these workshops came out of student input, mostly based on last year’s Healthy Sex & Relationship week last year. Multiple collaborations with student groups and different committees from the WRC and Title IX liaisons resulted in events that covered all different aspects of sex and relationships students saw as prevalent on campus. Even some of the slogans for the events came from students, such as for the Beyond Hooking Up event, during a Title IX student advisory team meeting, said, “The last time I was on a date was … literally never”.

Students such as Clare Pérez ’18 also helped organize and run the events the person quoted in the flyer for ‘Beyond Hooking Up’. “The main intention for Beyond Hooking Up is that there are ways to meet new people, romantic or not, that isn’t at the frats on a Saturday night or Pub Nite on Thursdays,” Perez stated. The event began with a presentation on intelligent flirting and healthy relationships and included speed dating/friend making, then ended with a mixer to reconnect with people students had met earlier in the night. “We wanted people to walk away feeling more confident in their ability to talk to new people and put themselves out there,” Perez said. These different kinds of social events, outside of Thursday and Saturday nights, can connect people who may not usually cross paths, and in a school as small as Swarthmore, new social events can be a breath of fresh air.

According to Nina Harris, students at Swarthmore have a slightly different mentality around the balance between personal relationships and academics. “I think Swarthmore doubles down on that ‘you’re only here for your academics’ thing,” commented Harris, “I’ve worked at a lot of top tier schools and it felt like the students had a lot more balance in their experience.” At times it can feel like Swat marriages or random hook ups are the only options for students. For many, the focus may be on academics and internships rather than their own relationships, and these events attempt to take time out of busy schedules to reflect on our relationship with relationships. “It’s like you’re all brain and then you’re all genitals,” commented Nina Harris on Swarthmore students’ hook up culture, “you can never just feel fluid in your experience.” This balance between intimacy and workload is something many of us still need to figure out.

The overall theme of the week was to reach out to students in an attempt to help find that balance and build that bridge between academic life and romantic life. The culture of Swarthmore can sometimes be dominated by academics and often times students can forget that college is also about experiences and personal growth rather than just success in class. The WRC and Title IX Office are working to bridge those gaps and offer the tools to make that balance easier for students to find time for themselves.

 

Swiping your way through Swarthmore

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

 

Last August, dating entered an apocalyptic stage. The culprit? Tinder.

“Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship,” Nancy Jo Sales wrote in a Vanity Fair article. As Amanda Hess of Slate summarized Sales’ piece, “In this smartphone-enabled hellscape, young men and women interact exclusively through distended text conversations that culminate in one serving of drunken ‘porn sex’ with a side of early-onset erectile dysfunction.” In the New York Post a few days later, Naomi Schaefer Riley declared, “Tinder is tearing society apart.”

Really?

In her response (“The Women! They’re Using Gadgets and Having Sex!”), Hess pointed out that Sales had ignored a peer-reviewed study of the nation’s millennials, showing that we have sex with fewer partners than previous generations — and that for at least the last 150 years, since women were allowed to exchange mail with men they found attractive, journalists have worked themselves into a moral fervor over dating networks and technology of any kind that help women “destroy the moral fiber of society with their whoring.”

I followed the ensuing Facebook comment debates with interest, since “hookup culture” is probably my least favorite millennial-panic discourse. And I wondered how this all fit into the context of Swarthmore: What are the implications of using Tinder to swipe through and meet up with people you already know, rather than a city of essentially infinite boys with pictures of themselves clutching giant tuna fish, lacrosse sticks, beers, or their fellow bros? And what if one made our small community even smaller, and looked at people who were using Tinder for same-sex hookups or dates?

 

***

 

As various media outlets pearl-clutched and angry feminists responded, Chris Eldrin’s* summer of swiping began to wind down. In the spring, he had set up an account on the app while abroad.

“Everyone was talking about it, and it seemed like a way to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet,” Eldrin said. He asked a group of female friends in his study abroad program to set up his profile, set the app to show him women, and began swiping. He then included men as well, and, back in the East Coast city where he would spend the summer, set the app to stop showing him women.  

“I just realized there was no chance of me wanting to meet up with any of them,” Eldrin said.

Thanks to his study abroad friends, Eldrin’s Tinder profile was fairly successful — he estimates that he matches with about seventy percent of people on whom he swipes right, and he gets a lot of compliments on his smile.  

At first, Eldrin was nervous about meeting up with his matches. He had never been on a date before, let alone with another man, and hadn’t hooked up with any other men at Swarthmore. Although none of the dates were particularly interesting, Eldrin slowly grew more comfortable using the app.

Back at the college in the fall, he matched with a Penn student whose idea of a good first Tinder meetup was to show Eldrin how to get onto the roof of a building with an excellent view of downtown Philadelphia. The two continued hanging out, started hooking up, and still see one another regularly.

On campus, though, there were fewer options. Eldrin swiped through everyone at Swarthmore in a matter of minutes, and estimates that there are only about fifteen or twenty male students who have their accounts set to include men (perhaps a reflection of just how small the queer community is at this small college, a topic often bemoaned by queer students). Eldrin did not find anyone he hadn’t already met or known to be interested in men.

“They’re all people I already knew of, most of whom I don’t like that much,” Eldrin said.

Still, Tinder seems to be the primary way through which Eldrin has sought out other men for hookups or dates, at least since coming back from study abroad.

Eldrin has used Grindr three or four times, and acknowledged that it serves its function perfectly well.

“If you want to just have sex, that’s fine — it gets that job done,” he said.

But Grindr requires its users to put up with a lot of what Eldrin described as “annoying stuff.”

“Grindr is about five percent people offering money for sex, which is vaguely tempting somehow because you could get so much money for so little work, but it’s also really gross, and then it’s about thirty percent people who just won’t stop sending messages,” Eldrin said. “People are just openly racist a lot of the time, and it’s unpleasant and just not a nice environment to talk to people in.”

Tinder’s orientation towards interactions beyond casual sex appeals to Eldrin.

“I like with Tinder that there’s not an expectation that you have to have sex with someone — I feel like with Grindr if you meet someone and don’t want to hook up, they’ll be mad,” Eldrin said.

Of course, there are still some expectations on Tinder, Eldrin feels.

“It’s sort of douchey to use it just with no romantic intentions — I don’t like when people are like, ‘I’m on here just to make friends,’ although I get it,” Eldrin said. “But I think it’s nice with Tinder that it could be one date that doesn’t involve hooking up, or it could be a couple of dates.” Though he has never used Tinder solely for casual sex, Eldrin does see the possibility.

“I like that it’s flexible, but in the direction of romantic,” Eldrin explained.

Eldrin also brought up the debate over Tinder pickup lines, a subject which has spawned many articles and conversations about whether these opening messages are an important element of one’s Tinder game or not. Eldrin doesn’t buy into all of this, and thinks that this might be a quality absent from queer Tinder.

“I think fortunately with gay people, they’re a lot less into the whole pageant of courtship, and they’re just ok with, ‘Hey, how’s it going, wanna meet up, sure,’” he said. “I’d rather just talk to people the way I’d talk to my friends and treat people normally than with some weird special tone.”

 

***

 

On a Monday evening in Paces, Shane McCutcheon* kept checking her phone, hoping for a naked Snapchat from one of her Tinder matches. McCutcheon was wary of what this anecdote might convey about her.

“Let me just preface this by saying that I’m not an asshole. I’m very direct and I don’t lead people on. Some people are just really nice, and they’ll be like, ‘Hey, you should add me on Snapchat,’ and that’s just how it goes from there,” she explained.

McCutcheon has had Tinder for a year and half, since, following a breakup last fall, her friend came to her room and declared that she needed to take action on moving on from her ex.

“She was like, ‘You have to get over this girl, this is ridiculous,’ so she made me a Tinder,” McCutcheon remembered.

At first, she used Tinder mostly for the confidence boost — matching with people who found her attractive felt good, McCutcheon explained, and she also didn’t realize that she could set it to show her women. There were barely any women in the Swarthmore area, but McCutcheon travels often and got quite a bit of mileage out of the app on the road.

But she didn’t meet up with anyone for an actual date until she got home. She matched with a girl who she described as “unbelievably beautiful,” and then messaged her, “because I’m forward AF.”

The two ended up talking for a while, and McCutcheon found herself intrigued.

“I was like, ‘Wow, you’re actually like, a decent human,’” McCutcheon said. “She ended up being really cool, so I was like, ‘Do you want to actually hang out?’”

McCutcheon showed up an hour and a half late to the first date, but the two ended up talking until 4 in the morning anyway. The two ended up dating for nearly a year.

After they broke up, McCutcheon, looking for another confidence boost, went right back on Tinder — though she refuses to use the app to match with fellow Swarthmore students.

“Fuck matching with people who go here — I would never, ever do that,” McCutcheon said. Like Eldrin, McCutcheon feels that she has mostly exhausted the pool of available queer women at the college. However, she does see Tinder as a decent way in which to discover that fellow female students are interested in women.

“Sometimes you find people you didn’t know were queer on Tinder, and not a lot of people know, and then they just pop up,” McCutcheon said.  

Beyond the one-mile radius of Swarthmore, McCutcheon talks to a lot of people but has not yet met up with anyone, though she has made some friends.

“I think it’s a fun time — people who don’t go here actually Tinder as this fun, hobby type of thing, and no one ever really takes anything seriously.”

McCutcheon has not entirely ruled out the possibility of going on a date with one of her matches, especially because she feels her options are so limited on campus.

“The pool of people to date is way smaller,” McCutcheon said. “If I was straight, I would never use Tinder, because I think it would be a small waste of my time. I would be on it for the confidence boost and would never do anything about it, but with girls it’s different.”

 

***

 

Juanita Reyes* swipes right on every queer person they see on Tinder, so their number of on-campus matches is extremely high. Sometimes, Reyes and their matches will never discuss the event. And sometimes, as on a Saturday night a few weeks ago, Reyes will look around at a party and realize they are sitting in between two of their matches.

Reyes had forgotten about the matches, when both women brought up the subject. Reyes laughed it off, as they were uninterested in hooking up with either woman.

“I feel like that’s happened to me a couple of times,” Reyes said. “I shouldn’t swipe right so much. I just want to know whether people are into me, and I don’t necessarily want to hook up with them,” they added, echoing McCutcheon’s interest in using Tinder for both a confidence boost and a chance to see which of their fellow students are intrigued by the possibility of queer hookups or dating. Reyes doesn’t think they could know whether they wanted to hook up with someone without a real-life interaction.

“You can never know unless you talk to those people in person,” they said.

For Reyes, Tinder has also facilitated hookups when they and another student had already acknowledged mutual attraction. Additionally, when Reyes was dating a now ex-boyfriend and came out as poly, they explained, Tinder helped them navigate the discussions of who would be suitable for Reyes to hook up with.

“That was a part of our poly relationship — knowing that I was looking for people,” Reyes said. “Tinder was a way of being able to discuss it without it being very immediate — just way of saying, ‘I’m available as well as being in a relationship.’’

Sometimes, Reyes’ Tinder matches fail to acknowledge the event. They have matched with several people who then fail to ever say hello, despite Reyes’ friendly greetings and smiles. Reyes had interacted awkwardly several times with another woman who they had found attractive, and thought that after matching with her on Tinder things would be different.

“I was like, ‘Ok, maybe she’ll be less weird,’ but she was not less weird,” Reyes said. “It just ended up being more of the same, being sort of next to each other at parties and making small talk and not really ever having a connections.”

For Reyes, though they were careful to acknowledge that this could be limited to their specific personal experience, Tinder fits with a certain ethos they have located in the queer community at the college, one of openly acknowledging attraction to other students.

“I feel like Tinder is a big part of the queer community, because it’s also a big part of openness — having that statement of, ‘I’m attracted to you,’ and that’s something that’s pretty specific to the queer community,” Reyes said. “I think it was harder to say that when I was not out as queer and would be harder to say if I were straight.”


All names of students in this piece are pseudonyms, all of which were chosen and/or approved by interviewees.

Expanding our conceptions of healthy relationships

in Campus Journal/Columns/London Calling by

About a year ago, I was catching up with a friend outside a bar about the usual — bad hookups, good gossip, confusing crushes. He took a drag from his cigarette, inhaling deeply, and waving around the glowing cig, mentioned in passing what might seem to many like an oxymoron:

“I feel so much healthier now, work has been so stressful recently that I really needed this.”

Of course, this could simply be in reference to my hopefully glowing company, but given his wide gesticulation and loving gaze onto the shining ember I’m pretty certain he was referring to his dirty little vice. To many people in this country, who’ve been fed a specific narrative about the importance of physical health, it’s easy to dismiss this as an addict’s delusion, but I’m interested in considering the repercussions of this statement. There are many different kinds of health and ways to be healthy, and different people value different ones. My childhood pastor is probably much, much more worried about my moral shortcomings (mostly that time I stole a candy bar on my way home from school, possibly the queer thing) than he is about the tar gently hugging my aching lungs. Whereas this thought process is common enough, it rarely gets applied to relationships, wherein we’re fed a picture perfect narrative of Brangelina, Charles and Diana before the divorce, or that one pair of grandparents who celebrated their 60th anniversary on a game show they lost. And so my question is: are we being fed a single model for a healthy relationship when a multitude of others may exist?

As much as the perfect relationship looks different for everyone, hopefully, we all know a few of the key tenants they all might share: communication, trust, mutual respect, and, if you wish, a sex life as fulfilling as your best karaoke performance or drunken selfie. These elements of a relationship look different for every couple but remain essential overall. Many mischaracterizations of unconventional relationship styles in the past have resulted from an omission of these tenants: stigma against polyamorous relationships always seems to forget all parties are consenting and happy, and people love to push fast, quick and fun sexual libido onto individuals and couples for whom it just isn’t going to work. Often, it seems that individuals get confused when they try to make other individuals’ relationships conform to their image of what one should look like. I’d posit that we do this because of the specific relationship model we’ve come to uphold, based on whatever evidence we have.

I’d also suggest that much of this evidence comes from the books and movies we consume. Mass media showers us with potential holy texts for relationships, and many of us chose a couple to stick by. I, for one, have often quoted some of the more iconic lines of “Sex and the City,” (such as Charlotte’s “Everybody knows you only get two great loves in your life”), and I structure most of my introductory paragraphs to this column like a monologue Carrie might have four to six minutes into an episode (and usually start with me in a bar, oops!). Others before us were convinced that men were martians and women appeared from seafoam, and some more desperate types might turn to Liz Lemon’s “Dealbreakers” on 30 Rock. We don’t necessarily love them because they’re always right (after all, who pretends to understand how Carrie ever got a second date?) but rather because each of these universes presents us with a compact set of values and morals, characters with narrow development who consistently rely on the same romantic philosophy, and a neatly categorized lens to analyse our own life. This process is flawed:  it’s hard to convince people in one fell swoop that this relationship can’t work for the same reason this one on TV didn’t, which is also why this acquaintance of ours is going through a rough patch. Even though we know they can’t work for everyone, whichever dating mantra that most appeals to us is going to determine how we perceive other people’s love lives.

At this point, feel free to call my bluff and remind me that my obsession with SitC is unhealthy, should be dealt with, and is not relatable to most other people. But I really do think there’s some truth to what I’m saying: everybody has been shaped by something, and if you’re like one good friend of mine who swears by Kundera, well aren’t you fucking fancy. To return to my initial question, there’s a distinction that needs to be drawn: all healthy relationships, to the best of my limited knowledge, should uphold standards of mutuality and respect. However, this emotional core is framed by a specific structure: monogamous, polyamorous, long distance, u-hauled, open but only to strangers on specific nights of the week between 10 and 12 p.m. I’d suggest that we remember to be open to how other people want to structure their relationships, and approach an attempt at a healthy relationship. After all, if we return to my initial friend, as long as he’s happy with his decision and aware of all consequences, can we really shun him for a few fags a day? Or am I really just using this platform to justify my smoking habit? Who knows, and you’ll never find out because this is my last column for a while. Bye kids!!

 

Am I always rejected because of technology?

in Campus Journal/Columns/London Calling by

“Hey sexy,” sent DICK LICKER over Grindr.

And people say the age of romance is dead. Technology has equipped us millennials with a myriad of platforms and social media outlets to court, flirt or cruise in ways our older peers couldn’t dream of. With the ease provided by these new forms of communication comes an equally large set of concerns: at what point do I make the transition from Facebook Messenger to iMessage? How many pictures is just the right number for a Tinder profile? Am I more likely to find my type on Grindr, Scruff or Grubhub? What the fuck is Bumble? If you have the time to waste, you can come up with enough questions that the larger concern is no longer how to answer each of them, but rather how to manage all these queries at once. Sometimes, I feel as though I’m 7 years old at the dinner table again, and my mother is barking a seemingly endless stream of instructions about how to hold a spoon properly, except that instead of ending up with a stain on the tablecloth, there’s one on my sheets when I fail to balance my computer in bed. In other words, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by these considerations to the point of dysfunction. And so I’ve been asking myself, is our sexual and romantic success bound to our online etiquette?

I’d assume the answer is yes. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but it must be something because I’ve heard the phrase “not interested” from boys on Facebook more often than I have from internship employers. I’ve been turned down on social media so many times I’m worried my account will be suspended for spam. I’ve been turned down enough times that I empathize with Anita XXX Arrizola’s loneliness, a regular of my junk inbox who calls on me to be her “groovy pussy sensei.” I’ve been rejected politely, jokingly then “no but seriously,” after the first date, before I even made a move. My bad streak, of course, stretches beyond Facebook. It took me a few months longer than most to learn “Tinder match” really meant “ego boost.” Similarly, there are few feelings like opening Grindr after a night of heavy drinking to see a string of unrequited “hey”s, each a tally mark on the walls of my cell as I count down the men until I’ve officially drunkenly asked everybody to sleep with me. However, I am inclined to believe I’m not that much less successful than average, and like to think of myself as mediocre at worst. Call me conceited if you must. If this is the case, and I’m not alone in this conundrum, then there must be something truly frightening about technology and relationships: how is it we can get turned down so many times? Surely, somebody wouldn’t mind me watching them drink coffee and then calling it a day?

I’d suggest it has something to do with the refracted medium of communication: individuals are much more honest behind their computers, even without a screen of anonymity. Take the following situation. You meet Bruce one evening at a social function amongst others, speak briefly and don’t think much about it again. A month later, you run into Bruce on a shuttle and although you don’t interact formally, he repeatedly catches your eye. You’re amused, remember said earlier social function, and decide to invite Bruce to grab a meal, with no expectations and no assumptions. Out of ease you send a facebook message. Would you have been so ready to do so had you needed to interact in person? Perhaps not, but it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had he said no. But do you think that Bruce, in all his wisdom, would have had the guts to refuse to grab a meal with me in person? I doubt that. Not that I’m particularly charming face to face (my hair usually looks a lot worse than I hope and if you catch me at the wrong time I’ll reek of stale cigarettes, weak coffee and disappointment), but the subtlety of real-life interaction makes the offer feel more genuine; intentions are clearer to read on someone’s face. If somebody friendly comes up to you and strikes up a conversation, it has a lot more character than the 3 letter, 200-odd pixel “sup” accompanied by a jolly popping sound. Of course, it’s just as likely that I’m just unappealing, or that Bruce himself is a bit odd.

Actually, I take that back. Bruce was definitely kinda weird, not that it matters. Why didn’t he just ignore me? The beauty of technology is that we all work under the false assumption of its unreliability: sorry professor, my computer was acting up, sorry group partner, I genuinely did not see your message. Had Bruce just ignored me, we would never have spoken again, and I probably would have forgotten him. Calling him out in person would have been awful etiquette. Instead, by actively rejecting me, he completely messed up one of those considerations I began my article with: now that he’s explicitly refused to plan to see me in person, do I need to avoid him? If I strike up a conversation because we stood next to each other, am I infringing on a sacred boundary established on the web? At this point, worrying feels silly.

In a way, I’m reassured: if Bruce’s manners were completely off but he’s the one who rejected me, my own shortcomings aren’t leading to my impressive track record. I guess this just adds another to the plethora of opportunities the net provides: turning to your friend next to you, showing your phone and asking: “isn’t this a dick move?”

 

Settling up at the bar while wrestling with gender dynamics

in Campus Journal/Columns/London Calling by

A couple summers ago, I was in a bar back home, taking advantage of a rare lower level smoking lounge, when I was approached by some boy who asked me in bad French for a lighter (“un lumière,” to be precise). Once he fell back into English, I learned that he was a “rising freshman” at Oberlin, that he was terribly bored at this bar with his friends, and would only be in Paris for a couple more days. Let’s call him Richard. Suddenly he turned to me and, with a look that spoke volumes, tried the following line on me:

“I’m so pissed off. My dad only gave me €200 bills and the barman won’t take them. I need to find someone to buy me a drink. Surely, somebody here will buy me a drink?”

I sipped on my vodka-cranberry and tried to avoid his gaze. A vodka-cranberry, may I add, which cost me an arm and a leg, so I wasn’t going to facilitate Richard getting away with a five finger discount. I never discovered whether Richard found a way around his €200 bill: we made plans to explore the city together the next day, but he cancelled for no good reason. He was cute, albeit an asshole, and I was bored enough that I didn’t really question the morals behind going on a date with him. In retrospect, I hadn’t fully grasped the terms of the exchange: €10 in booze would have gotten me a few hours the next day. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but as I revisit the memory I ask myself: do all dates have an hourly rate?

Of course, in many ways this money was just a symbolic gesture: a token gift that would have marked my interest. As foreign as this seems to me, it’s entirely possible, and even likely, that our plans to meet up seemed meaningless in the face of that initial rejection. Through a coincidental series of mutual friends, I’ve learned he describes the experience as “that time I got rejected by some guy in Paris.” A stiff drink must never have tasted so bitter (although I’ve heard pineapple juice helps).

Richard’s expectation also had logical inconsistencies. Straight stereotypes always loom somewhere in the back of my mind, regardless of how much I try to distance myself from them, and in this case they don’t really fit with what happened. I imagine a scene in a bar where a mediocre, slightly insecure dude will accost a woman who doesn’t have the time of day and offer her a drink in the hope of some repayment later on in the evening. What norm was Richard playing into that would justify him prancing over to me and demanding an old fashioned pick-me-up? I’d be disappointed if queering the hegemony really comes down to asking strangers for overpriced liquor.

This brings me back to my initial question: why was I expected to pay for this first drink? What made me the employer in this exchange of services? To me, there’s a certain amount of entitlement in his assumption that his services would be welcome. He made it very easy to build a negative stereotype of him: rich bitch abroad, fresh off the jet, is outraged to learn that Paris does not, in fact, pour itself all over him. However, I don’t think this experience can necessarily generalize to too wide a population because Richard, as we established, was a bit of a dick.

This situation should hit closer to home. I’ve noticed a contrast in my friends at Swarthmore between those who do and don’t treat on dates. Do you ask to split-fare the Uber ride to Media, or cover it yourself with a wave of the hand? Do you let your partner buy their coffee in Hobbs, or cover them, joking about the extra punch? Of course, everyone’s economic background is different, and there should definitely be a conversation about both parties’ comfort with being treated, and financial situation at large. I still shudder thinking back to a friend of mine who would take his girlfriend to Hobbs, only to watch her not order anything time, after time, after time. This very discussion assumes a certain level of financial comfort: in a situation where both parties can afford whatever good is being provided, what does it mean to cover for the other?

In a relationship that has already been established, the gift can be nothing more than a kind gesture, a treat. I’m more interested in those relationships where dynamics haven’t fully formed, where the dynamics remain raw. As mentioned, straight stereotypes lurk in the back of my mind, and a reason I’ve tried so hard to distance myself from them (to be more queer, less binaristic) is because I’ve realised many of the ways in which they used to govern my behaviour. The twinky gay, this slender, effeminate, scantily clad faerie that flutters his wings and eyelids at the men in the room, is a character I fell into regularly in high school. It was comfortable and easy: if I wasn’t a normal boy, I’d be a girly one. And now, for my reveal, I must say that I, too, would years ago lurk in bars waiting for men to buy me drinks — I know, the shock of it all is just too much. I’d lounge outside chaining cigarettes in rolled up denims, waiting to be hit on for the thrill, for the comfort, for the acknowledgement. A drink would equal a validation of the performance, and my self esteem was half-off on Wednesdays’ two-for-one night. I digress out of nostalgia, but the point remains that I firmly believe that money, in these situations, can be a gendering and categorizing force. The norm is never that far off, and abiding to a set of rules you remember from some TV show you’ve forgotten the name of provides a certain comfort. In this sense, to pay for a drink can be one of those little actions that, if you do it enough times, materializes the very social norm it’s come to represent. Richard must have pegged me wrong: maybe, deep down, we’re just the same kind of kid, looking for that same reassurance only strangers can provide, just a couple years apart. Could I have been… too harsh?

I’m probably just rambling. Richard was definitely a dick anyways.

 

Swatties seek comfort in grindr flings and Swat marriages

in Campus Journal/Columns/London Calling by

It’s only been a couple weeks since we’ve returned to Swarthmore and I can already see my friends fall back into their tried and tested favorite habits. Sharples quesadillas are being made with familiar ingredients, study haunts are bustling with life as students return to work, long distance crushes we’d forgotten about during the long summer months are returning to our attention with renewed vigor. This might be more apparent than last year because my friends and I are upperclassmyn now: this somewhat meaningless label instills us with a confidence in our routines that we lacked previously. When it comes to relationships, I’ve always said there are different strokes for different folks, but I’d add now that different folks stick to their strokes (I, for one, stick to slower vertical movement with a firmer grasp). And so, I began to wonder: just how much do these vary? How do Swatties clasp onto comfort?

I decided to ask a few friends about their preferences. The first person I turned to, Nick*, is a charming queer boy whose frustrations with the Swat bubble have driven him abroad for the year. Nick has always been very talented at pretending he won’t ditch you halfway through the party to follow some boy he was hitting on, only to run away with a stranger a third of the way through instead. A serial fuckboi, Nick had a messy relationship freshman year which flung him into a long spiral of amazing hookups and maddening dry spells. A piece of advice: don’t get between a thirsty boy and his milky nectar when the well’s been dry for a few weeks already. I’ve seen Swatties turn ruthless for long-yearned dick.

He was visiting last weekend, scoping the new class before he jets off for twelve months, and at the dusk of a weekend of average partying I asked him whether he’d had any luck. Unfortunately, he’d failed to find anyone, although I couldn’t complain since he would have sexiled me from my own bedroom. The best he’d gotten was a late night Grindr conversation with an anonymous Swattie. It reads like an HBO drama’s idea of youth speak. “yo” “Hey” “who ru? lol” “Freshman” “o woord” […] “dooo u have more pics ?¿” “Ummm,” and the conversation ends there. Time stamps went from 12:49 a.m. to 1:04 a.m. Hints of real-life mannerisms bubble through the hip, repeated vowels. It took them 15 minutes to have a conversation of about 75 words. What other meanings, unspoken, lay in the empty seconds between their two glowing phones? Desire, inebriation and hesitation blurred in these murky minutes. The ending, however, was to me the best sign of Swarthmore’s queer, masculine hookup scene: hesitation, and finally abandon.

Don’t disregard this anticlimax as a failure. After all, at a school like Swarthmore, you might wake up the next day relieved that the only evidence of your drunk, horny state are a few screenshots. Swarthmore is also a school where few people expect to hook up with someone new most nights they try. If comfort is routine, and failure is routine, comfort may as well be failure (don’t hold me to it though — I dropped Intro to Logic after the first week). On a different level, drunk hookups are often a bad idea, and many Swatties’ reluctance to use Grindr with each other (at least, that I’ve noticed) probably helps to avoid a fair few hookups that would have happened had these two strangers met in person in the Sharples tunnel. Small talk, picture swapping, and walking through the night to one another’s dorms requires both commitment and a certain level of sobriety. Cycling between hopeful instant messages and lonely 3 a.m. jack-offs may be, in and of itself, a routine that’s comfortable to many people.

On the other side of the spectrum is this acquaintance of mine Diane*. We’ve never been that close, but I’ve gleaned that the first two years of her time at Swarthmore have been marked by very emotionally committed and intense relationships, regardless of fleeting aspirations she may have had to find some random kid at a party. This year though, Diane decided to do something different: an open relationship, with one of her everlasting beaux. It was meant to solve all of her problems: the emotional turmoils of heavy commitment she’d been trying to run away from would be eradicated when both parties have to force themselves to keep other options open.

Things went slightly differently: rumor has it Diane’s now juggling some hot arm candy on top of her carry-over boyfriend from last year. What was meant to be the ability to explore other options has become a second routine in itself, dare I say another lover. It’s still early days, but already I’ve heard that the situation is unsustainable: there is apparently such a thing as too much sex (and I hate Diane for not sharing). Diane has ended up with two regular gigs, which is all the better for her, but means that she’s in a way failed her perpetual yearning for a more casual romantic life.

It seems that Diane is of the Swat Marriage type. A confusing breed of student that always ends up in large scale romantic turmoil, sometimes unbeknownst to herself, usually accidentally, for better or for worst. Regardless of Diane’s yearnings for potentially branching out, would she feel comfortable without this regularity? I don’t know whether she enjoys most the nature of the relationship she ends up in, or the relationships themselves.

The one thing Diane and Nick have in common is a longing for the other side of the fence. The last time Nick sat me down over a drink (or four) to moan about the cute, regular boy he was hoping on finding before the year’s end, I thought about Diane’s unfortunate predisposition for rapid emotional commitment. Why do they experience unease with what his clearly most comfortable to them? I use comfortable here in the sense of a favorite comforter: kind of gross, because you never washed out the stain perfectly from that time you jacked off a bit too drunk, but still just as warm and threaded with reassuring memories. I’d reckon the main reason is the fear of stagnation that most students in this school share: everybody needs to keep changing, keep growing, and old habits don’t indicate a fresh outlook. I wouldn’t worry too much though. Everybody seems to have their own habits, and their own frustrations with them, and that diversity is what makes gossip in this school fun. I’d say there’s one thing we all share though: swat sex is sloppy as fuck.

*All names have been modified.

Embracing a new year of old flames

in Campus Journal/London Calling by

As of now, I am halfway done with my degree, which is crazy. Returning to Swarthmore after my second summer is a bit strange because at this point I’ve done it all before: the bad fuck, the awkward Sharples conversation, the perfect first night and the uncomfortable morning after. I also, for the first time, didn’t spend my summer imprinting my ass on a couch for three months, and went out to meet people in — dare I mention the profane? — the real world. By the end of it, I was able to reflect on Swarthmore’s relationship dynamics as a whole slightly better than prior, and their usual toxicity. To be fair, there are some things I believe we do right.

Take this example. I spent eight weeks of my summer at a language program on a small college campus with a couple hundred other people, all of whom were desperately horny as they failed to flirt in Arabic. The situation was very reminiscent of Swarthmore: tiny and thirsty. At a middle school mixer we called a party (picture pub night, in Arabic, chaperoned by confused Middle Eastern adults), I was dancing in proximity of two boys. I had been under the impression that I’d been flirting with the first, whom we may call Steve, for the past couple weeks. I hadn’t thought much of the second, Theo, and assumed he was straight from his glistening gelled part and preppy, pastel clothing. In retrospect, that was my mistake: always assume queer until proven straight. In Theo’s case, I learned of my misassumption when he and Steve started aggressively hooking up, out of the blue, a few inches from my face. It was an iconic moment: I finally had become Robyn in “Dancing On My Own.” I immediately ran away, noticeably distraught but hopefully not too sloppy. Before going to bed, I sent him a delightfully passive aggressive text (in English, to get the point across): “Lol don’t talk to me for a few days.”

Now comes the good part: the next morning, I’m soothing my hangover at Sunday Brunch, when I’m ruffled by two hands energetically rubbing my back. It was none other than Steve! He left relatively quickly, since I was incapable of replying to his queries with more than a confused grunt, but the question remains: in what world was that a good idea? Who would tarnish the sanctity of Sunday Brunch, a time for solitary repair or gossip with intimates? Was there any decency left in the world? In short, how dare he? Steve had recently graduated from a large school, an environment radically different from our own: one where anonymity is within reach, and chance encounters avoidable. In that moment I missed the tacit understandings most Swatties share, the necessary measures we have in place to bear being within 50 feet of everybody we’ve slept with at most times. Freshmyn, take note.

The one aspect of this event that was very reminiscent of Swat is that I didn’t get laid. Which isn’t to say nobody gets laid at Swarthmore (fuck you, straight people), but rather that within some of Swarthmore’s more insular social spheres things either get very dry or very incestuous after a few months. It makes sense that most queer girls I know u-haul1 every year: it avoids the hassle of finding somebody new every time the itch comes back. In my experience at Swarthmore, a romantic or sexual routine becomes a solace for this reason: it makes that one aspect of your life a bit easier to handle when you remember you’re leading seminar the same day your midterm paper is due. As a sidenote, although I personally thrive better with a routine, to each their own: I have great and happy friends who don’t aspire to more than a one-off hookup.  A year ago, for my back to school column, I vouched for throwing one’s self back into the dating scene, trudging through the Paces rain to reach a hard, foreign twin-sized bed. This time around I’m not sure I can be bothered.

To me, that novelty gets boring. Sure, dissecting the new class on cygnet and facebook is fun, but once you’ve decided you’re interested in somebody the ritual that follows become monotonous to me. First, scope their movements, then rope in a mutual friend if necessary (freshmyn, if you’re curious, there’s always a mutual friend if you look hard enough), orchestrate a fortuitous run-in that leads to a conversation, lose half an hour a day putting more time into outfit decisions than usual so that you look your best for future encounters, figure out their evening plans for the coming Thursday through Saturday, organize a meet-up on whichever night best suits the vibe, flirt over a casual drink and a shitty song and go home together. Of course, this can fall apart at any step. Then, you have that usually awkward first hookup: “Are you ok? Wait, so I should bite your nipples, but not that hard? Why are you dry-humping me, don’t you have a pillow for that?” Slowly but surely, an awkward tug turns into a playful tease, technique gets refined, and you might finally reach something stable and fun. How much work did that sound like? Maybe I’d have time if I wasn’t taking that honors seminar, but as long as I’m drowning in reading every week I’ll stick to routine.

To me, this leads to Swarthmore’s great downfall: if I barely have time to try and find a regular gig in the first place, turning back to someone familiar is all the more tempting, and it’s virtually impossible for me to get over a Swattie until they graduate. I learned recently just how easy it is to revisit a previous relationship, be it just for a night and unexpectedly, and how instantly the broken intimacy is rekindled. If exes are around, and the option is available, it seems like a waste of valuable reading time to find someone new. So my question is, going into this new year and past the halfway mark, why bother? If I end up trying my luck, I assume my answer will be just as simple: it’s addictive. After all, who doesn’t like a good story? Regardless, I’ve got a column to write.

  1. ”u-hauling” is a practice observed especially within feminine queer circles wherein two people move in together midway through the second date, and spend the next few months fucking continuously or talking about the cat they have or want to have.

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