Thrive on Campus//

We Should Date More

You’ve promised that you’ll finally get off campus more this semester — why not actually do it with someone you'd like to get close to?

Courtesy of Man As Thep / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Man As Thep / Shutterstock

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

This past Sunday, I went on the most aggressively mediocre date of my life. I’ll admit it — I wasn’t super into him (his favorite activities were ”eating, sleeping, and table tennis”). Still, I agreed because I’ve been trying out spontaneity in the smallest doses possible. The unknown structured scenario realistically meant I spent the three hours before the date looking for an excuse not to go.

Sure enough, when I got there, my usually foolproof friendliness fell flat. When I asked about his life, the responses weren’t uninterested but undetailed — I was given basic information with no personal flourish. Occasionally, I would drop in detail about my own life, and it would pass through the conversation without comment. We left shortly after sitting down so he could get to a meeting within the hour.

Perhaps our “date” was so lackluster because I simply wasn’t interesting enough. Maybe he had a lot on his mind, or whatever Saturday night activities he had participated in were impacting his ability to enjoy himself. However, I suspect (or would like to believe) that his feelings about the experience were similar to my own: The most mediocre date of my life was still worth going on.

As I walked back towards my apartment, I considered the “date” as it exists on campus: seemingly non-existent. This is a culture of late-night hangs, Mel’s encounters, and dining hall meals. We’re all locked into a stress culture that glorifies a lack of free time, so going on dates seems like an inconvenient waste of time, energy, and effort. Compartmentalizing our human needs into boxes that never intersect is exactly the kind of type-A solution I expect from this student body. Still, almost every day, I have a conversation with a friend in which they unhappily mention their extreme singlehood. Perhaps going on more, better dates is the simplest (and most efficient) way to improve our social experiences.

The Oxford English Dictionary very simply defines “date” as “a social activity or meeting with a person… [of] interest.” Yet, we refuse to engage in this long-standing ritual that seems painstakingly simple — citing business, fruitlessness, or lack of incentive as half-hearted excuses. Let’s unpack this.

Dating is first and foremost a social interaction, and humans are social beings. In fact, according to most psychologists, our need for interpersonal interaction is prioritized directly after physiology and safety — far above the education and prestige that we value so much. Yet, so many people on this campus have written about their feelings of isolation, it has become a cultural staple. We seem to bond superficially over shared loneliness more often than we actually spend time together. It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten how to facilitate positive interactions: waves in the hallway, pleasantries after class, follow-up texts are all lost in waves of awkwardness. So, when it comes to the high-stakes romantic encounters, the immense internalized social anxiety outweighs the benefits. So, overachievers, you know the only way to get better at being social, and meeting our basic needs, is to lower the stakes and practice. Go on “dates” with anyone you know: your best friend, the girl in your biology lecture who always walks in 10 minutes late, the boy who won’t shut up in your English seminar, or that cutie in the library who you’ve been making eyes at for 20 minutes.

Maybe this seems impractical, and besides, you’ve already decided that your study group and the 45-minute conversations you have in your suite kitchen while you make dinner are just fine for satisfying your social needs, thank you. Maybe you even think they could be considered “dates,” but by definition, a date is an “activity or meeting.” It involves planning and purpose outside the regimented schedule of university life. Socialization during stressful or necessary activities means that your brain is prioritizing those activities above the person you’re with. Perhaps, then, you consider a party on the weekend your allotted hours for social interaction. But are those hours, in which conversation is difficult, and clarity even more so, really cutting it? For a few hours each week, attempt to spend time with interesting people, apart from stress, necessity, or intoxication. Plus, you know you’ve promised that you’ll finally get off campus more this semester — why not actually do it with someone you’d like to get close to?

For the perfectionist, this “someone” may seem like an abstract dream, as your left swipe on Tinder is committed to muscle memory, and the arrogance practically oozes from every Canada Goose you see. Admittedly, finding your very own “person of interest” is difficult. Statistically, there is a very small chance of finding a totally compatible match when randomly choosing from all individuals within the general population. However, there is a zero percent chance of finding a compatible match when you refuse to explore your options at all. And of course, this chance increases if we all make an attempt to be more interesting, engaged and enthusiastic people. If you’re tired of being single, make an effort to be the kind of person you’d want to date. Bring up literally anything but your classes and internship applications. Smile at dogs on the street and laugh way too loudly at bad jokes. Do things that make you mildly or ridiculously happy, and talk about them — like going on dates.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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