My natural tendency toward rebellion used to get me into trouble. I had a sense that rules were made to be stretched, that codes of conduct were negotiable and that most orders were really just unnecessary. Once, in high school, I was arrested for dancing on a school roof in the middle of the night — an act that, in the police officer’s words, was not only breaking curfew and trespassing, but also vandalism. I got away with probation, and after that, I reformed.
At Yale, the orders were fewer and the authority figures easier to respect. And certain codes of conduct are dangerous to rebel against. An obvious maxim when considering things like University regulations, where the consequences for rule-breaking include ExComm hearings, or worse, suspension and expulsion.
But there are some important codes that aren’t written down in University handbooks. If today’s Yale students are still defining boyfriend, they are even further behind in making rules for general romantic behavior. Just this past weekend, I was asked about this column. “What kind of advice can you give me? What are the rules for ‘Post-Modern Love’?” He was teasing, but the question stayed in my mind, mostly because I couldn’t answer it except as a joke. Post-modern love exists in a space empty of rules but full of consequences.
The few rules that are quoted often seem like remnants from middle school. One such code — even older than the misogynistic formulation “bros before hos” — forbids dating a friend’s ex. But in a place as small and awkwardly intimate as Yale, avoiding exes can be difficult. Although I had heard friends debating whether it was even acceptable to greet another friend’s ex-boyfriend, I thought it was mostly ridiculous. And when I started dating my friend’s former boyfriend, it seemed a small sin. Or not a sin at all. I didn’t feel much like a rebel.
They had only dated briefly several months before, and I had barely known either of them then. She had moved on quickly afterward and, when we tentatively discussed my new relationship, she said she was happy for my happiness. I had friends who thought it was not a big deal, but others warned it was going to turn out to be a huge mistake.
It was a mistake, although I didn’t realize how much of one it was until she started avoiding me. When we finally talked about everything, curled up into opposite corners of a bench in the Pierson courtyard, we both cried. At the time, I didn’t really understand her objections. But I did understand that if I didn’t end the relationship, I would lose a friend.
As we mended our friendship, I started looking for relationship rules that didn’t feel like relics of simpler times. I took classes on ethics, but Directed Studies had wearied me of philosophy. I asked my friends for advice, but they didn’t take me seriously; one close friend, embittered by a recent breakup, told me, “The truth is that everything bad is all the fault of girls, not boys” and offered nothing else. I tried to make rules for “Post-Modern Love”— on standards, rejection, sex and religion — rules with a capital R, but each time I write I wonder if making them is even possible, if it is a worthwhile occupation.
I started writing certain that there were rules and that if I searched the right sources, I would be able to make a convincing argument for a romantic code of conduct. The world of university life, or university dating, as messy and indecipherable as it so often is, isn’t the world of “Fight Club.” There should be rules. I think we should place our friends above our boyfriends and girlfriends (my version of bros before hos) and that dating your friend’s ex is rarely permissible.
But the childhood rebel in me is too willing to make exceptions, to bend the rules. Directed Studies is much more fun when you can identify with Rousseau or Rimbaud. And there was something thrilling about being on the roof.