On the night of Oct. 6, I was led into a dark room illuminated solely by fake votive candles. A tribunal of three men asked me nonsensical questions. I engaged in a mock debate between Republican presidential candidates, playing the role of Gingrich.
No, I’m not the only freshman inductee to a secret society, nor was this YPU hazing (is that something they do?). This is how I was set up with my date for Branford Screw.
Look, I’m familiar with the school dance “ask” phenomenon. In high school around homecoming season, the hallway buzzed with girls recounting the ways their dates selected them — “He brought me a cookie cake!” “He recorded his voice into a teddy bear!” “He plastered the school with posters!” “The editor of the lit mag gave me a signed copy in which he asked me in the inscription!” (Three guesses which one was mine.)
Nonetheless, I was a bit taken aback by the whole ordeal — and also by the kid handcuffed to a tree waiting for his date in the Branford courtyard.
Yale loves its traditions, but it loves screw for more than just sentimental reasons. Why does it captivate us? Why are we fascinated by a night with an anonymous date (wouldn’t it almost be more fun to replace Screw with its sister phenomena, the crush party)? Why do freshman talk about Freshman Screw in September, the same way freshman in high school talk about winter formal the day after homecoming?
Screw is the lowest commitment relationship among the low-commitment relationships that Yalies know and love. Screw can lead anywhere from a DFM to a ring (right? It has to have happened). Screw promises unlimited potential, and the best part is nobody has to make the first move. Plus, if you’re unable to locate a match within your real-life social network, you can consult Screw Me Yale because really, it wouldn’t be an Actual Thing in College if there weren’t a companion app.
On the screw-ee side, there is practically zero pressure — they aren’t the ones planning a set-up that strikes the right balance between cute, original and embarrassing. They aren’t the ones deciding if the concerned parties are compatibly hot — or have similar personalities. They aren’t hedging their future screw-happiness on a successful match.
There is no room for self-selection — that takes the fun out of it. There is no way for a mismatched Yalie to blame him or herself for awkwardness or lack of chemistry: “It’s not my fault I was rejected … it’s my roommate’s,” goes the reasoning. And even the most disastrous of evenings are just funny stories by the next day, because hey, you didn’t even know your date in the first place.
Perhaps it’s the flickering hope that maybe, just maybe, this rando date will be the one you’ll actually want to screw that keeps the tradition going. But screw serves another unintended purpose: bringing the Yale community a little closer together (and no, I don’t mean it like that). Screw only happens because Yalies are able to draw upon an extensive network of friends of friends of friends to come up with pairings that are both plausible and untested.
Every set up, successful or otherwise, connects two more dots in a community so often divided by residential college or major or favorite New Haven pizzeria. It forces us to take a moment to consider what really matters to our suitemates and to reach beyond our immediate friend group. However superficial the circumstances may be, it brings people together in a way that no other campus tradition can.
So the next time I arrive at what appears to be a candlelit vigil, I’ll know what to tell the assembled council: Yeah, I’m totally DTS.
Caroline Sydney is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org