Tea Time: Defining the Relationship

Besides the Swat plague, something else seems to spread around Fall Break: the love bug. After one and a half months of getting to know fellow Swatties, some of us may find ourselves head over heels in the Quaker Matchbox. But is it love, lust, or merely a figment of your imagination? This week, I try to decode Swat’s dating scene to help you make sense of your emotions and relationships. 

Swat comprises a small community of mostly young adults trying to establish their identity and social circles among their peers. Because we are always so close to other Swatties and interact with them in various contexts, there is a good chance that we will run into someone who catches our eye. Maybe you met a cute person during orientation and found yourself walking back to ML together. Maybe you kept seeing the person of your dreams in class, but could not work up the courage to talk to them. 

Whatever the case, we often feel compelled to become romantically involved in college because it seems like an essential part of “growing up.” So many coming-of-age movies feature romance magically blossoming between two conventionally attractive, heterosexual college students, perhaps with a dash of PG-13 bedroom scenes. College appears like the perfect setup for satisfying romantic desire as we emerge into adulthood and attempt to define who we are, especially in relation to others. 

Although Swat seems like the ideal campus for building intimate relationships, the road to romance is paved with uncertainty. We may not know how to approach the person that we are interested in, or find ourselves tongue-tied when we are actually face-to-face with them. We may gossip with our friends about whether our crush really reciprocates our feelings. 

More frequently, uncertainty stems from our own insecurities. “What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m too unattractive? What if I don’t share the other person’s sexual orientation or preferences?” These are all common questions floating around our heads when we find ourselves falling in love. 

RuPaul, one of my favorite people ever, always says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else?” Navigating relationships is deeply intertwined with reflecting upon our values, identity, and self-esteem. That process is never easy as we leave the familiarity of high school and home in search of our role in broader society. 

Building a strong sense of self, as well as psychological resilience, will help you to understand what exactly you are feeling. Are you attracted to this person because of who they are, or because you are afraid of being lonely? Do you feel socially pressured to find a significant other when so many of your friends are in romantic relationships? These are some questions that I unfortunately cannot answer on your behalf, since they depend on what you hope to achieve in college. You might want to think about them in your free time or talk to others.

There are Swatties who are trained to guide you through your most pressing issues when you are confounded by potentially complicated relationships, whether romantic or platonic. Diversity Peer Advisors are available in every dorm if you are grappling with your identity as you strengthen your relationships with your peers. The Women’s Resource Center is also a great place to learn more about gender identity and mingle with Swatties from different backgrounds. For more specific questions on sexuality, sexual health, and contraception, you can contact any of the Sexual Health Advocates in the residence halls. 

Now, after much consideration, perhaps you have decided to pursue somebody. The best thing is to take a genuine interest in what they do, according to Dale Carnegie who wrote the bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” However, romance is not necessarily a game of strategy, where doing all the so-called right steps will eventually get you a partner. Luck and opportunity are crucial, and sadly they are often out of our control. 

Being open-minded and curious about what others do, however, can open a path to friendship or something more. Most people love sharing their activities, hobbies, and passions in life. If you listen and respond attentively to what they enjoy — not just because you want to date or befriend them, but because you genuinely like learning about people — then that is a major stepping stone towards building stronger relationships. Consider inviting them to a concert, museum exhibition, sports game, fitness class, or anything that you both can have fun at. These are also great opportunities to know someone better in a non-academic setting. 

But keep in mind that relationships are not supposed to be transactional. Just because one person does favors for another does not mean that they are entitled to anything in return. It is toxic to assume that spending time, energy, or money on somebody means that they are obliged to befriend or date you. Most people can sense if someone is hanging out with them because of some ulterior motives, so only be around someone if you enjoy their company.

When you are interacting with anyone, but especially romantic interests, always prioritize clear and honest communication. Social pressure built around archaic, heteronormative notions of gender can sequester us into harmful roles and expectations. Be wary of assuming that you should act in a particular way because movies, television shows, or books tell you to do so. For example, not every relationship begins with a game of cat-and-mouse with one party in serious pursuit and the other acting coy until they fall into each other’s loving arms. 

Shying away from communication will only further muddy the waters and increase the stress of dealing with uncertainty. If you are looking for something casual, or searching for a long-term partner, make sure to discuss that upfront with the other person. If you are unsure about committing to anything, or are struggling with some aspects of your identity, tell them gently but directly. Keeping quiet will most likely result in further confusion, or worse, issues of contention may fester in the long run and affect your relationship in future. 

Relationships are tough but rewarding if both parties invest sufficient time and energy into them. Everybody leads a different life and it is perfectly okay if you go at your own pace to figure out the kinds of relationships you want in your life. Remember to prioritize self-love above all and take charge of your own journey. 

Lijia Liu

Lijia '20 is a semi-cultured heathen who believes sour cream is a kind of yogurt. She would rather spend hours making the computer do her math problems than 30 minutes doing the same things by hand.

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