LARSON: Yalies can grow old happily

Nothing in Particular

As I’m something of a sucker for romantic comedies (I only cry for a few minutes per movie, on average!), I was sad to have missed last Thursday’s panel of Yale professors discussing their marriages. At it, attendees heard three faculty couples share their love stories à la “When Harry Met Sally” on everything from their first meeting, proposing and sharing their lives together.

It sounds like a sweet event. Reading afterwards that Professor Toni Dorfman’ heart still beats faster whenever she hears Professor John Gaddis come downstairs each morning elicited a couple fast beats from my own. (I didn’t quite have the same reaction to some of University President Rick Levin and his wife Jane’s courtship tales, which involved reading “War and Peace” and studying at Oxford.)

It’s encouraging and uplifting to hear from people whose passion for each other has endured the long haul. It reaffirms your faith in your own future happiness. It reminds you that somebody who knows you better than you know yourself might still love you. Perhaps most of all, it convinces you that growing older won’t be a totally a bad thing.

But while part of the reason behind last Thursday’s event was to give college students a glimpse of the domestic happiness that people older and wiser than them enjoy, another part was to give Yale students a glimpse of the domestic happiness that highly successful Yale professors enjoy. Implicit in that message is the assumption that students at Yale need to be convinced that long-term romantic happiness and professional success are compatible.

Indeed, panel participants put the case explicitly, urging Yale students to make time for love and relationships during — and in spite of — their busy Yale careers.

It’s a story that’s told so often that it’s almost become an assumption: Yale’s student body is made up of ultra-high achievers who are secretly dying to date each other. Such desires go unrealized because Yale students are too busy and too self-involved to make time for something that can’t go on a resume.

The result, the argument goes, is our assumed-to-be vapid hookup culture. Optimists hope Yale students will one day grow out of their narcissism. Doomsayers argue that we will continue to be victims our pathological need to succeed, which will lead us continually defer happiness in favor of more professional accomplishments.

What nonsense.

Our generation may be less likely to go on dates, but that’s because we are able to meet the people we end up dating through more authentic and numerous interactions than a few trips to the movies or bowling alley. There may also be fewer couples at Yale than at some other colleges, but I’d argue that our couples tend to be at least moderately serious. In other words, it’s not that Yalies don’t refuse to date each other; they just don’t call the participants of a three-week repeated hookup boyfriend and girlfriend (or whatever gender combination of those terms makes sense).

It’s true that several single students here claim that they don’t want to be in a relationship. But people’s stated views on the big subject aren’t usually a great predictor of their future relationship status; lots of people who say they’re too busy to date end up in committed relationships when they meet the right person. Moreover, Yalies will mostly prioritize a friend in need over that near-due paper; the narcissism narrative only goes so far.

The reason more people aren’t dating at Yale is because, as with academics and future careers, Yalies don’t want to settle for less than what they know is possible. Meeting the right person can take time, and getting that person to reciprocate can take a lot of luck. But judging from the professors at last Thursdays panel, the possibilities for love to grow our happiness are practically unlimited. Why fake the real thing?

Harry Larson is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at harry.larson@yale.edu .

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