When Kai Chen ’14, a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College, tried to get a door open for Grace Zhang ’15 on freshman move-in day, he was so nervous that it took him a minute to figure the lock out.
Zhang had known exactly how to open the door and had only been trying to initiate contact when she asked Chen for help — just a twist of the knob to the left.
“I was like, ‘I blew it,’” Chen said. “I seemed like a fool.”
But Chen soon tried his hand again. He asked Zhang out to dinner and just 20 minutes before this first date, which happened to be on Zhang’s birthday, his electronic keyboard arrived in the mail. He hastily set the instrument up and taught himself a few notes. When Zhang showed up, he performed an impromptu “Happy Birthday.”
“It was really cheesy,” Chen said. “I didn’t expect it to work.”
But the two went on their first date, a next date, and then some. They’ve been a couple for nearly two months now.
What Chen and Zhang have others would gladly swap for drunken nights flinging their scantily clad bodies around SigEp in the hopes of being taken home. Others, though, are somewhat envious, sick of their #yalegrlproblems (and #yaleboyproblems too) and drinking alone on Valentine’s Day. How exactly does Yale in particular serve these varied romantic (or antiromantic) needs?
THE RESIDENTIAL COLLEGE EFFECT
Intracollege couples, like Chen and Zhang, are not anything out of the ordinary. One student claimed that, just within her year and college, she knew of five distinct relationships that existed or still exist — a full 10 percent of that college class’s student count. Another student said he knew of three relationships in his year and college. It appears that the residential college community has some effect on dating life.
Being in the same college (Jonathan Edwards) is precisely why Harry Larson ’14 and Natasha Thondavadi ’14 became friends and then began dating. They first met in the September of their freshman year while setting up for a mutual JE friend’s birthday party. This initial encounter blossomed through chance meetings in the JE dining hall, library and Farnam suites.
“Obviously circumstance plays a role in whether you become comfortable enough to take the next step,” Larson said. “If Natasha and I weren’t in JE together, we probably wouldn’t have met, much less dated.”
If residential colleges foster closer friendships, then it’s likely they’ll foster more relationships.
Like Larson and Thondavadi’s story, the constant intermingling of students in a college oftentimes ignites a relationship, as was the case for Chase Young ’13 and Natalie Ivanov ’13, two juniors in Calhoun.
“[Natalie and I] met due to the inevitability of meeting everyone in your year in your college,” Young said. “The high-stress environment and busy lifestyle can limit the time you spend with each other but the relative smallness of residential colleges makes your significant other accessible at all hours.”
Young and Ivanov also pointed to a downside in dating someone in the same college; that is, the messiness that ensues in the event of a break up: tension in intersecting friend groups, awkward glances in the dining halls, constant reminders of what could have been, the list goes on. Two ex-couples interviewed — each person individually, of course — all declined comment.
But this isn’t an issue for those who are in it for the long haul. If an intracollege couple makes it past graduation, a Yale urban legend predicts that the two will have a significantly greater shot at marriage. And for Saybrugians Alison Hoppin Murchison ’83 and Bob Murchison ’82, parents of Gabe Murchison ’14, the legend holds true.
“Bob and I met in the Saybrook stairwells and dining hall, so our relationship is directly attributable to the residential college system,” Hoppin Murchison wrote in an email. “One big advantage of meeting someone at college is that you can get to know each other in a realistic way, without having the awkward construct of dating.”
Both the Murchisons agreed that the college context was ideal courting space because they had a lot of common ground but were still able to maintain separate lives. At times, though, they did notice their social lives contracting due to the time spent together. But in the end, it all worked out. Even with Bob graduating a year earlier, the two managed to tie the knot not too long after both graduating.
“We married two years after I graduated,” Hoppin Murchison wrote. “We’re still going strong 26 years later.”
DATING AT YALE, NOW AND BEFORE
Edward Zelinsky ’72 LAW ’75, father of Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, claims that he was one of the first lucky Yale men to have met a special someone in the undergraduate female student body. Just two years before, Yale went coed and Doris Zelinsky ’71 was among the first female students to arrive on Elm City turf.
The two became the first undergraduate couple to get married.
“From a [heterosexual] male perspective,” Edward Zelinsky wrote in an email, “dating culture was an oxymoron.”
Despite the now-even gender ratio, Zelinsky’s words still ring true. Many students claim that Yale’s is not a dating culture but rather a hook-up culture. Those who date don’t necessarily expect it, those who actively want to date aren’t necessarily successful and those who don’t enter the dating scene are staunchly opposed to relationships.
When Sib Mahapatra ’13 went to the Electro dance last semester, he hadn’t planned on going out nor had he been on the lookout for anyone special. It just so happened that he reconnected with an old acquaintance, Linda Lai ’13, who he would later start dating.
“In retrospect, I think it was the casual mindset that made all the difference,” Mahapatra said. “I had no intention of staying long but then I ran into Linda with a few of our other friends. We started dancing and just kept going for two hours.”
Lai said that, after Electro, Mahapatra invited her to come watch a movie in his suite. She accepted the invite with no particular expectations in mind.
“I don’t know why,” Lai said, “but I said yes.”
With neither of them actively looking to find a relationship at the time they met, their relationship progressed organically. They began officially dating a few months later — during Camp Yale 2011, after becoming closer in August.
Likewise, neither Andrew Fleming ’14 nor Margaret Lee ’14 was seeking a relationship when they came to Yale. But the start of their romance had a small catalyst — a mutual friend.
“As much as many of us aren’t actively looking to date, we’ll still spot good prospects,” Larissa Liburd ’14, Fleming and Lee’s mutual friend, said. “And with all the screws at Yale, we’re especially on the lookout for our friends.”
But even with mutual friends, not everyone — and a significant chunk at that, students claimed — can find what they want in terms of dating at Yale.
“The guys I’ve met here have all been kind of boring or have no game,” an anonymous sophomore said, who is seeing someone who lives in Milford. “A good first conversation that doesn’t revolve around academics or extracurriculars — that’s refreshing and a good sign of what’s to come.”
Others are just too busy to even consider dating.
“I have a really hectic schedule,” an anonymous junior said. “At this time, I’d just prefer hooking up.”
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
As Sophia “Yoshi” Shapiro ’11 noted, graduation often either pulls a couple apart or tests their willingness to stay together. After graduation, Shapiro stayed with her girlfriend, Kate Parker ’11.
“There’s definitely a trend in that a lot of people break up at times when people are changing,” Shapiro wrote in an email. “But I know people who are in long-distance relationships after they graduate, people who move to a new city together and people who work each other into their plans.”
Shapiro and Parker still live in the same city and Shapiro said that they still spend a lot of time together. She also emphasized that it’s always nice to have someone to come home to at the end of the day, whether that be at Yale or in New York City.
“It’s different than being together at Yale,” Shapiro wrote, “but not as different as I thought it would be.”
For married couple Jon Liebman ’81 LAW ’85 and Jill Greenwald ’83, who met during their “History of the Soviet Union” class, their love was for the ages.
Liebman mentioned the close environment of Yale as a factor in the success of their relationship.
“When you know someone that long, there is a special bond and a language you create together,” Liebman wrote in an email. “That is friendship. That is love. I am a lucky man.”
Greenwald, too, seemed to be thankful that things happened the way they did.
“I’m so glad I met Jon when I did for a million reasons — we knew each other during a formative time in each of our lives,” Greenwald wrote. “Plus, when he sees my wrinkles now, I think he also sees the 18-year-old girl.”