The entire article is worth thinking about, but I’m going to use a paragraph from the third section as my springboard for this blog post:
A friend shared an experience she had as a freshman at a well-known and well-respected Christian college. She and a few classmates were excited to be invited to a breakfast with the college president. She was surprised when the president suddenly asked the gathering of students, “So, what’s wrong with the dating scene here? Are you all just wimps, or what?” She thought he really wanted to know—until he called them all wimps. She went through college believing dating was reserved for “pretty girls who attracted handsome men who would escort them out of their dorm and down the aisle.” She realizes now this “marriage hunt” mentality put a lot of pressure on young adults who were serious students and hadn’t completely figured themselves out yet.
The college president’s attitude is not out of sync with what I’ve encountered from some well-meaning individuals who lament the death of a dating culture in modern universities. Some have been surprised by the fact that, between the pseudo-married couples on one hand and the hook-up culture on the other, there’s a large group of students who “opt out” of dating entirely for most of their college careers, and this “opting-out” is treated as a bad thing: if college students aren’t pursuing dating relationships, it is assumed that it’s either because students don’t know how wonderful romance can be or they’re (and this seems to be applied more often to men) “wimps.”
It is important to note first of all that the people I’m talking about don’t see dating as an end in itself, but as courtship- that is, a preliminary step for marriage. and I think that many of the people who are “opting out” realize on some level or another that romance finds its fulfillment in married life, and that because marriage (be it the companion or conjugal model) is not in their foreseeable future, neither is dating. Attempts to build a culture of healthy dating relationships have generally focused on the problems of the hook-up culture, but it seems (judging if only by the apparently low participation in the hook-up culture) that the problems of hook-ups speak for themselves to many members of my generation: what remains is to demonstrate the desirability and feasibility of dating relationships pursued in college.
The media narrative about college and hook-ups is neither factually accurate nor apparently particularly appealing to most undergraduates (exceptions notwithstanding); it is necessary to look to other reasons for students’ lack of interest in looking for serious dating relationships while in college. The reason that presents itself in the article just parenthetically cited is career concerns: students at prestigious universities are likely to be ambitious and driven: not only is their career their primary concern, but they realize how hard it will be to synchronize their plans and ambitions with someone with rather different professional ambitions. It’s easier to find a good job opening for one person than to find a career-advancing position for both husband and wife. Although a cultural preoccupation (perpetuated primarily by the media) with sex is probably a significant factor in the hook-up culture, the lack of a widespread healthy dating culture in college is more likely due to the demands placed on college students by the potential career tracks laid out for us.
The creation of a healthy dating culture, particularly in prestigious universities (as one Princeton alumna pointed out, the best dating pool some of us are ever likely to be in), is dependent on the likelihood of dating relationships formed in college lasting through graduate school, professional school, or whatever jobs we get after graduation. As things now stand, it’s generally a lot easier to navigate the professional world alone (despite the fact that the rest of life’s challenges are usually better met by a couple than a lone individual). The mainstream media’s disdain for virginity is insignificant compared to the professional culture’s demand for eunuchs. I know of a number of young couples who have taken on the challenges of combining the demands of married life with career concerns, but not every career path is equally compatible with married life.
This, then, is the sense in which the fight is not with Hollywood, but Wall Street- not with the media gatekeepers who shape our cultural perceptions, but with the corporations that set up career incentives and thereby shape the cultural reality.
At Notre Dame in particular, then, the battle to create a healthy dating culture or healthy relationships between men and women in general may have less to do with dorm parties and more to do with the Career Center. Take, for example, the letter sent out by Dean McGreevy of the College of Arts and Letters to rising seniors: each of the five pieces of advice he gives are aimed explicitly toward professional development or career concerns. His letter to rising juniors and sophomores is no better: in his advice to Arts and Letters students about how to make the most of their remaining time at Notre Dame, no mention is made of the impact students can have on each other, either in college or after graduation.
The importance of interpersonal relationships, I think, is the most important omission on the part of Dean McGreevy. Our peers are our friends and mentors, and making the most of our time at college means taking the time to build up friendships that will affect us for the rest of our lives. I’ve spent hours upon hours researching and writing papers that are read once and forever forgotten, but I’ve also had fifteen-minute conversations with friends that I still find myself contemplating from time to time.
The impact that my friends and classmates have had on me, though, is a subject for a different blog post with a less intriguing title: the fact remains that Notre Dame is a school full of people with similar values and intelligence levels: if there was less institutional emphasis on professional development and more on the importance of personal relationships formed in college, I think a more robust dating culture would form naturally. The fact that this would require a massive change in America’s professional culture is yet another story.