February 14th is one of the most dreaded days on my calendar. When I’m single, it’s lonely; when I’m dating, it’s stressful. It feels unnecessarily punishing to set up a day dedicated to high expectations and general letdowns. It seems an appropriate time to ask a question that nudges its way into too many conversations on campus: why don’t people date at Stanford? I put my feelers out with some friends and classmates, and here are the reasons I heard most frequently.
Number 1: We don’t need to date. There is an alternate hook-up culture that serves many of the same needs. Besides, there are too many options on campus and people are hesitant to settle for just one. With a thousand shiny banners (and attractive people) competing for your attention, it can be difficult to focus on one thing that you really want. It’s much easier to constantly stimulate a short attention span than to invest in something long-term.
Number 2: With the demands of school and friendships, people don’t have the emotional bandwidth to date. It’s simpler to focus on school if you take all of the messy feelings you have and tie them up in a box until the end of the quarter. Hence the nervous breakdown the first week of winter break when the box gets untied. People compartmentalize, and smartly so. At the end of the day there isn’t enough storage left for the uncertainty of pursuing somebody you care about or the energy reserves you need to take care of somebody else.
Much of this could be said of any college student, Stanford or otherwise. There is one reason why we don’t date that seems Stanford-specific to me, though – which brings me to Number 3.
It goes like this: “Dating will make me too comfortable, and if I get too comfortable, I’ll lose my edge.” The cutting edge is a strong motivator in the land of limitless startups. And this hot-off-the-market mentality spills over into more than entrepreneurial ventures. Better, faster, newer is the name of the game, not good, stable and time-tested.
A relationship that is comfortable and reliable can all too easily be interpreted as dull and stagnant. After all, everybody here stretches themselves to uncomfortable lengths because discomfort equals growth. The ocean may be scary but the lee shore is where you get shipwrecked. Or so we imagine.
Here I’m going to get sappy so if that makes you sick, avert your eyes. Among the highly motivated students here, I think comfort is underrated. I think investing in something long-term is underrated. I think shuffling your priorities to free up emotional space for another person is underrated. Do something corny for me tomorrow. Get up your nerve and find a Valentine. I know it’s scary and I know it’s not easy – I promise you you’ll be okay. At worst, you get disappointed on an otherwise anticlimactic holiday. At best, you break the Stanford mold and you prove me wrong.
Prove Renée wrong, and tell her about it, at firstname.lastname@example.org.