By Liat Clark
College is a pretty selfish time in life. It’s all about my schedule, my resume, my internships, and my future. No longer do we take all the same classes as our friends, care about all the same things and do all the same extracurriculars. More than ever, we long for a person to care about as much as ourselves, to talk to on a daily basis about the minutiae of daily life (and no, my phone calls home to Mom don’t fill the same void). And as we think about what we want our futures to look like, we think about who we want in them, and with whom we want to plan them. We crave physical intimacy, intellectual stimulation, and emotional support. So while it might not be healthy, it’s not too surprising that we feel this insatiable yearning and crushing pressure to date and find that person.
I don’t think our culture is as unique as we think. Every large group of Jewish women in their early 20s has dating and marriage on the brain in some form or another. For some, it starts earlier, perhaps manifesting itself as Senior Kallah (Bride) Syndrome (SKS), as my friends and I dubbed it in our last year of high school. For others, the pressures don’t build until much later. Yet, it feels unavoidable in Stern College, as more heads don hats (even in the summer months!) and engagement rings blind like flashbulbs in the elevators.
Perhaps because our community, shall we say our “available options,” are so much vaster than in a 40-person Hillel community in other colleges, and so people feel they must take advantage of the large pond they find themselves in, before they move on to grad school or wish to move beyond the New York “singles” community. Maybe, for some, this is their first time being in a co-ed institution, so the excitement and drive to socialize and create relationships with the opposite gender is heightened in its novelty. Especially because YU has elements of both single-sex and co-ed environments, the ways in which we navigate interacting with the opposite gender seem to be judged from all angles: not talking to or having friends of the opposite gender? Get judged. Talking to them too much, finding yourself flirtexting throughout the day, going uptown “just to study in the library?” Judged. Everyone is trying to figure out how much of one or the other is right for them, but it’s hard to strike our own balance when we compare ourselves to our friends and peers. The herd mentality plays a large part in perpetuating the culture and pressure, so that although one person may not be ready to date, he or she feels it’s “normal” and “the right time” to be dating at this age because his or her peers are doing it.
It is this last point that feels the most unhealthy to me. Although we live in our own worlds most of college, we allow others to dictate our social expectations. If one friend is dating, if one friend thinks they’re ready to get married, it doesn’t mean we all have to be. Even if more than one friend feels those things, it shouldn’t dictate our own personal timelines and emotional maturity! Yet dating, and talking about dating, has become a hush-hush, almost taboo topic among my friends; who got set up with whom, who is dating whom and for how long, when will they be getting engaged and married and all of a sudden we get swept up in the craze of wanting all that happiness and security and validation for ourselves.
For me personally, college is too early to be getting married. My father trained me well to believe that marriage is about declaring maturity and independence, and if I can’t support myself financially, I can’t get married. Nor do I want to be–I’d like to experience all that college has to offer, with dorm life and late-night events and all-night study groups. Finally, college is the time to be self-centered, and although we frown upon that and we crave investing and giving to others, it is important to think about ourselves and what we really want and need out of our lives! While I believe in growing with another person, and I know that we don’t exist in a vacuum, we agree to compromise and plan with and around another person when we enter into relationships, which can lead us to sacrifice or ignore things we may really need.
I do understand the difficulties of waiting. For those who meet someone naturally, and the chemistry is there and things falls into place, it’s unrealistic to expect that they say “no” on principle. And if they’re dating, especially if they are observing the Jewish laws of shemirat negiah (not touching members of the opposite gender), they are going to want to rush to get married to end that waiting and act on the sexual tension.
I get it. I’m not pro-marriage in college, but I don’t claim to be immune to the pressures and anxieties and loneliness. And the truth is that when people suggest a set-up to me, I generally take it. Is that hypocritical of me? Maybe. I can admit that sometimes I’ve taken a set-up even when I knew I wasn’t really ready or in a place to start a relationship. But I also believe that everything happens for a reason. If something lands on my doorstep, it’s okay to say yes to an opportunity that presents itself. Maybe it’s a sign that this is the right thing for this point in time. Relationships help us learn about ourselves, what we need or don’t need, want or don’t want. Not that we should enter into relationships for selfish reasons, but even if the timing isn’t right, or the person isn’t right, there is definitely something to be gained from going out with someone.
For those of you who have tied the knot, maybe you’ve never experienced these things, or maybe you remember these feelings as distant and thankfully behind you. For those of us who aren’t already hitched, and are just sitting with the turmoil and stress of the dating culture, we should allow ourselves to consider what we actually want, need, and are ready for. Pace ourselves, be patient with ourselves, and enjoy our personal journeys.