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.