Embracing a new year of old flames

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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