Baumgartner: Seriously high standards

No caption.
No caption. Photo by A. L. Baumgartner.

Editor’s Note: Post-Modern Love is a new column about relationships and sex at Yale. It will appear each Monday, with A.L. Baumgartner ’10 writing one week and Elisa Gonzalez ’11 writing the next.

If I had composed the first epistle to the Corinthians, it would have said that love is not kind but mercenary. Or, at least it is at Yale. I have relationships for the same reason I attend classes: I expect to get something out of them. No one says it better than Marla Singer, when at the end of Fight Club she accepts a wad of cash from her schizophrenic ex-lover. “I’m not paying this back,” she says. “I consider it an asshole tax.”

Do we take dating too seriously? After all, we take everything too seriously. That is why we’re at Yale — and not at Princeton, whose graduates seem to exercise a monopoly over The New York Times wedding section. The University selects for such students. I, for one, come from a family that values plannedness. The wine in our cellar is organized alphabetically. So are the books on the shelves, the spices in the cabinet. Sometimes my father wakes up in the middle of the night to rearrange the contents of refrigerator.

Our lives are as planned as our pantry. My sister, whose first word was money, works in finance. My father decided to become a lawyer in elementary school when he mispronounced the word and told his parents that he wanted to be a liar.

I wanted to order my life in the same way. When I was 11, I made a list of rules:

1) Do not be by yourself with a guy. Ever! They are very bad.

2) Do not act sad or depressed. Otherwise old men will force you into prostitution.

3) Don’t ever have sex. Never.

4) Your parents are always fair and right.

I took my plans very seriously. Otherwise, old men would force me into prostitution.

I had it right at 11. Love has to be planned, and so I have to be selective. I did not return the messages on the family answering machine from a 13-year old named Max, who asked for my number at pottery class. Several years later, in high school, I threw away the Valentine’s Day card from Tony, which began, “I didn’t know what to write, and so I decided to do my homework.” What luck that his assignment was a selection from Romeo and Juliet!

I continue to over-select at college. Yale has standards for admissions, and I do too: not short, not bald, not conservative. The admission rates of both are approximately 7.5 percent. I refused Shelley, who asked me out via walkie-talkie, the summer I measured trees and collected moose poop on a forestry research crew in New Hampshire. To pass the time, the two field crews asked would-you-rather questions over the radio. Shelley nicknamed everyone on the crew. He called me “Buttercup” after the Princess Bride. Flattered, I called him “Humperdink.” It was an appropriate nickname. He was short, bald and a smoker.

“Buttercup, do you copy? Over.”

“I copy, Humperdink. Over.”

“I have another would-you-rather.”

“Roger that.“

“Would you rather stay at home on Saturday night, or go on a date with a 35-year-old non-traditional student?

(Silence)

“Buttercup do you copy?”

(Silence)

“I guess that means no.“

Maybe I should have given Shelley a chance. But I didn’t because it probably wouldn’t have worked out, and I did not want to waste my time. The closer I come to graduation, however, the more I realize that outside Yale, the principle of waste-not-want-not only applies to food. There is value in wasted time — the dates that do not work out, the relationships that do more harm than good or the times that serve no practical use, except to remind us that life need not always be so practical.

Last week, in a meeting with my senior essay advisor and his other advisees, I got into an argument with another student about dating at Yale.

He began, “not to make sweeping generalizations about women at Yale, but …”

“Don’t even start.”

“What?”

“The men don’t have any BALLS.” I turned to my professor and apologized for being crude.

“I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to ask you out on a date.”

“See! Hasn’t this been a productive day!” my advisor said. I laughed.

“How about Wednesday?”

I said yes. Not everything has to have a point — not even a date with a Republican.

A.L. Baumgartner is a senior in Berkeley College.

 

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