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?


“Buttercup do you copy?”


“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.”


“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.



  • Shopping list

    Short, bald and a smoker? Cross henry James off your list—which unfortunately sounds like a shopping list.

    Capitalism has done its work well.

    Even Yale won’t be able to fix that.


  • P.S. Sex Talk

    So let me ask:

    Has “making out” come to mean the opposite of “making in”? In other words, does it include the safe-sex techniques of outercourse?

    Here’s an antique jargon from the Roman Catholic 1950’s:

    Necking; Petting; Heavy Petting.

    Nice little triptych.


  • awesome!

    It’s about time, opinion editor! You’ve finally stepped up your game and gotten people who can not just write, but write extremely well! Great column, keep up the good work.

  • Yep.

    I love reading good writing.

  • Y09

    Nice work – great column!

  • ehhh

    i don’t object to anything said in the article, but who go the idea that this was good writing?

  • Gabriel

    “Do we take dating too seriously? After all, we take everything too seriously.”

    Love you, Baumgartner.

  • Unseen by ABG’s Vision

    @6 I “go” the idea that this was good writing after alternating between cracking up and nodding my head vigorously throughout the entire article. Where did you “ge” the idea that it wasn’t?

  • Yale ’10

    “Do we take dating too seriously? After all, we take everything too seriously.”

    I’ve actually felt the opposite about Yalies in regard to relationships among other things. Seriousness in the essay seems to be to treat things, including humans, as commodities (this sort of instrumentality is seen as “practical” or “serious”). This sort of seriousness, much practiced by us busy Yalies who feel that really valuable activities involve those which produce something, isn’t really seriousness at all. In the case of love and sex, seriousness involves, I think, caring and passion in a way which lists and notions of “productivity” can’t capture.

  • Lynwood

    I love this. Wise words oh-sage-one-Baumgartner.

  • FailBoat

    This is my favorite thing I’ve read in the YDN in about a month.

  • Wenbo Li

    This is a wonderful article, Alice!

  • Vanessa Vasquez

    Dating at Yale? pfft.

  • 10

    well done, baumgartner

  • Sorry for Being Critical

    “…not at Princeton, whose graduates…exercise a monopoly over The New York Times wedding section”
    –> Are you saying Princeton is less serious about dating because they’re more serious about marriage? (I’m not sure this was really clear.)

    “The University selects for such students.”
    –> Yale admits more serious people, or people who specifically take dating seriously? (Weird sentence.)

    “…the contents of refrigerator.”
    –> * “the refrigerator.”

    “My sister, whose first word was money, works in finance.”
    –> Kind of a jarring side-note. It seems like this sentence would make a great story in itself. Her first word was seriously “money” (not a mispronunciation of “mommy”)? Wow.

    “…he mispronounced the word…he wanted to be a liar.”
    –> Sounds like an old joke from a Jim Carrey movie. Maybe it’s a common mistake…

    “When I was 11, I made a list of rules…”
    –> Are these rules real or just intended to be funny? #3 is funny and believable, definitely the best of the four. #1 sounds like a bad approximation of a kid’s voice, #2 sounds like it’s forcing a reference to prostitution as a punch-line, and #4 sounds exaggerated and oddly similar to a Fox News slogan (“fair and balanced”).

    “I had it right at 11. Love has to be planned, and so I have to be selective.”
    –> Confusing tense-change; this would be more consistent: “Love had to be planned, and so I had to be selective.”

    “Otherwise, old men would force me into prostitution.”
    –> Sometimes comedians repeat a joke that they consider really funny, even when it’s a little self-indulgent. The repeated reference to prostitution kind of comes across that way.

    “…from a 13-year old named Max…”
    –> * “13-year-old” (two hyphens)

    “…asked for my number at pottery class.”
    –> Again, a detail that seems too interesting to mention in passing. You took a pottery class at 11? Did you go to like…an art school?

    “‘The men don’t have any BALLS.'”
    –> This didn’t really tie in to the other parts of the essay; you didn’t make any literally or figuratively ball-related complaints earlier, so this bit of dialogue didn’t make sense. Maybe it was a reference to something that you said earlier in the conversation (when it actually took place), but it just seems out of context here.

    “…not even a date with a Republican.”
    –> Was the guy who asked you out a Republican? Or…was there a reason why you said this?

    The conversation w/Shelley was great (although it was kind of a huge bomb to drop on the reader, mid-dialogue, that he was 35 years old), but the final dialogue seemed conveniently rushed.

    Also, more generally (no specific attacks on the author), almost every personal piece the YDN has published on romance has been about how dating is tough at Yale because students are too serious, too busy, and/or too picky. What makes “Modern Love” (and what could make “Post-Modern Love”) great is the diversity–novel points of view, you know?

  • Former Chicago Teacher Guy

    Dear Alice Baumgartner:

    When you were a senior at Latin you came to the high school where I was teaching at the time to talk to our senior history class about your work on Darfur. Your presentation was inspiring.

    Certainly, going to college usually entails a bit of disenchantment, at least in the short term, and certainly when you’re a senior.

    I commend your strong writing voice. It’s compelling. But “Seriously high standards“ is one of the most cynical things I’ve read by a young person in a while (“love is not kind but mercenary;” “I have relationships for the same reason I attend classes: I expect to get something out of them.” That last is of course true of everyone, but not quite in the cold-blooded way you state it, I think). What happened over the last four years?

    Another question (sorry, but it’s clear that, if nothing else, Yale has toughened you up). When you made your presentation to our class and told us you were going off to Yale I figured you were going to be another Samantha Power. Now you’re writing a column about dating?

    Hey, it’s a free country (more or less.) Columns about dating are interesting and yours is, as other comments have noted, well written. It just seems, from the little I knew about you (i.e., nothing), an unexpected choice.