Imagine, if you will, a bright-eyed freshman arriving at Swarthmore, hoping to find a beautiful gay utopia where everyone who was a lonely queer kid in high school will find love and be swept away on a beautiful rainbow unicorn. Now imagine, 1.5 years later, that innocent child is hunched over a table in Kohlberg, venting her angst about queer dating at Swat while occasionally casting a jaded eye at Tinder. (Hint: it’s me.)
Complaining about one’s loneliness and the lack of attractive dates is typical of most college students. Swatties, however, have a particular passion for complaining about how miserable their lives are within the limits of the Swat bubble. And the 1-in-6 stat about finding your future spouse be damned— this school is not known for encouraging budding romances. How does this work out for LGBTQ+ students, a small group in an already tiny school? For all the still-hopeful freshmen and disillusioned upperclassmen out there, I have produced the 10 Commandments of Queer Swarthmore Romance.
- Thou shalt commit friendcestuous acts.
This will inevitably happen. Maybe not with one of your best friends, but definitely one of their friends. You will then endure at least one semester of avoiding their gaze, and greatly enjoy telling people all about it while scanning Sharples to make sure they are not within earshot. As Justin Peters* ’21, whose already experienced the joy of friendcest, puts it bluntly,
“[Swat] is incestuous. It feels like there’s a [cultural] expectation for gay people to hook up, maybe because it was harder to do so in high school. But there’s not enough people here, so you end up hooking with a lot of the same people.”
Isaku Shao ’19 is part of that rare species— a queer Swattie in a long-term, on-campus relationship.
“[Swarthmore] is cliquey. And the workload makes it so people have very little time, so we only have the time to hang out with our cliques. There’s no time to meet new people, so it’s especially hard for queer people, where we have to actively look for each other.”
- If into a relationship thou enterest, thou shalt be an idol.
Queer couples are looked upon by the wider gay community with borderline adoration. Their every move is adorable, and the Sad Lonely Gays (me) tend to stare in a mixture of longing and sheer bliss. As openly LGBT-friendly as it prides itself on being, Swarthmore does have more demonstrative straight couples than gay. I’ve seen queer couples be mistaken for best friends, while male blonde athletes and their wholesome-looking girlfriends hold hands and make out at every possible moment. Art Davis ’18 describes the envy and intensity around queer couples:
“Swatties are very engaged people who want to succeed, and for whatever reason, success is seen as a happy, settled romantic relationship. Also, seeing happy straight couples makes you want to be happy and visible in that way. Every time a TV show buries its gays [kills off a queer character, or teases and ultimately does not show a gay relationship] or something, that desire gets a little stronger.”
Which brings us to the Third Commandment—
- Thou shalt learn to live with loneliness.
Drink enough Franzia and you will get sad and bemoan your lack of a sex/love/emotional life, preferably alongside other Sad Gays. If a straight person dares join in the complaint chorus, you may be tempted to bite their head off. As prevalent as hookup culture is at Swarthmore, options can be sparse, particularly if you prefer to avoid parties. Davis is one of the chosen few— he has had a steady, committed boyfriend for the last four years— yet he cheerfully admits:
“I 100 percent would be single if I hadn’t come to Swat already in a relationship. I’m not a big partier and not big on sex, and a lot of the [queer] interactions here are through Glitter Booty Slap [one of the most famous and successful queer parties in recent memory, thrown a few years ago], people hooking up, Tinder, that sort of thing. They’re very much things I’m not really into, personally. The scene is great for discussions around safe sex and stuff, but not so much if you’re not really into sex.”
- Thou shalt always be dogged by gleeful gossip.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single gay woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Swat is rife with Austen-style gay gossips, who attentively watch every self-proclaimed LGBT person for signs of romance. I’ve spent the better part of a year telling various people, from a professor I’ve never had to students I’d never spoken to, that NO, one of my best friends and I are not a couple, and why are they even asking? If you are not aware of any active rumors claiming you and one of your closest friends are together, start asking. You’re not paying enough attention.
- Thou shalt turn to dating apps in thy darkest hour.
With such a small pool, it’s not surprising that many students— particularly queer students, who constantly have to figure out whether their crush is straight— end up on apps, mainly Tinder and Grindr. That’s how I know a surprising number of classmates I believed were straight are bi or pansexual. Of course, Swatties are about as awkward online as in real life, so if things go poorly with your match, you will be stuck seeing them on a weekly basis for the next few years.
“…it is hard to meet Swatties through apps, because they tend to swipe left on other Swatties – I think it depends on what you’re looking for and Swatties think it’s awkward to hook up with each other,” notes Shao.
Hence the necessity of the Sixth Commandment:
- Thou shalt never acknowledge another’s app profile in public.
I don’t care if you recognize them from Tinder and think they look better in person, you do not use “I matched with you! How’s it going?” as an icebreaker at SQU events. Even though many Swatties use dating/hookup apps at least occasionally, a veil of discretion hangs around the subject.
Of course, there is the option of looking at people outside the Swarthmore bubble. I’ve caught myself daydreaming about meeting a nice Bryn Mawr girl so often. But actually going off-campus just for a hookup, or to see a partner, can be hard.
“There’s always UPenn and other Philadelphia colleges, but that’s not always accessible for people— it takes time and money to get there. Who has the time? If I don’t have the resources to go out I’m going to stay on campus and try to do things here,” explains Peters.
- Thou shalt be plagued by regret over thy romantic life.
As a result of the aforementioned staying on campus and always seeing the same people, one can easily make some bad decisions. For queer students, there can be a strong pressure to hook up, leading to impulsive and ultimately- probably unwise decisions.
“It’s different to want to hook up and to want a relationship, but there’s so few options you end up getting confused. You do end up making mistakes and hooking up with people you’re not really into and then regretting it, and sometimes someone gets hurt,” says Peters.
Davis, although in a happy long-term relationship, notes that many queer students can feel destined for loneliness and end up making said bad decisions.
“It might be a feeling that you have to lower your expectations, like you’ll never find love, and by and large because LGBT people are less visible, less safely able to be out. You feel you sort of have to lower your expectations.”
- Thou shalt endure great pain from the straights.
The sheer number and visibility of straight couples, especially as opposed to gay ones, can be demoralizing. That can make it hard for us to attend events such as frat parties, which can feel aggressively heterosexual — particularly when there are so few explicitly queer parties on campus. Furthermore, drunk straight girls making out with you at a party, then finding a boyfriend a few days later, can make it pretty confusing. There’s also the fact that most queer students tend to really seek out each other, rather than straight people.
“It’s so much better to be in a relationship with a queer person than straight, for me. There’s this mutual understanding of experience I haven’t gotten with straight people, and it feels like we can really talk about stuff that’s important to us,” explains Shao.
- Give us this day our daily memes, that we may fill the voids in our hearts.
Enough said. Gay memes have become increasingly visible on the main Swarthmore page. And when they don’t involve terrifying straight people with the Gay Agenda, they often deal with Gay Loneliness and Sad Feels (bonus points if they include complaints about the lack of tops). The memes speak for themselves.
- Turn to elder queers for advice, for great and all-encompassing is their wisdom.
From Art Davis, possessor of much coveted four-year-relationship:
“When you’re queer, you can get the message that you don’t deserve love, that you’re bad, even if you don’t consciously internalize it. It’s like walking through water on the beach, you keep walking and it’s not stopping you, but you get so much more tired, because just that little resistance is weighing you down. It can feel hard to integrate a community that’s so theorized and politicized. But you have to be willing to engage, mess up, and allow for a little messiness to work towards something better.”
From Isaku Shao:
“Just stumble into it awkwardly. Don’t try to be smooth, just embrace the awkwardness. That’s what Swatties are!”
From me, not an elder queer but an unsolicited advice giver: you don’t need a relationship. You deserve love and you will find it, if that’s what you’re looking for. If what you want is hookups, have fun and get ready for a lot of awkward encounters. If you’re not interested in the hookup/party scene, no stress — there are lots of people in your situation, even if you think you’re alone.
If I haven’t dissuaded you from your quest for love, however, figure out your favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor and have a network of people to drunk text about your sad feels. That will be a staple in your future.
*Names changed for privacy