My freshman year, I lived on a floor below a group of senior boys. To my untrained freshman eye they seemed perfect. They were decently handsome, decently smart and decently funny, and my suite worshiped them. Early in the year, one in particular caught my attention.
He was cuddly like a teddy bear, and we got along fabulously. Often, I would venture up to his room to study or just to hang out and watch movies, as his collection far surpassed that of anyone I knew.
His name was Jim. He was from Arkansas and had a penchant for chewing tobacco. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. He would stuff a huge chunk of it in his mouth and work it around until his jaw was sore. Then, into a pot across the room, he would spit out the “juice,” bit by bit until there was none left stored in his cheek. I was at once fascinated and revolted by his habit. Dipping was sort of sexy and rugged, but at the same time, it made me want to vomit — mostly because of the dip residue that would fill various receptacles around the room and the little bits of brown stuff that would make their way to the corners of his mouth.
One evening, during a late viewing of “High Fidelity,” Jim laid his cards on the table.
In his charming Southern drawl, he remarked,
“Ya know what I want?” spit spit, “I want a girl who dips.” And with one final spit, he concluded, “Yup. I want a nice girl who’ll dip with me all day long.”
I looked at him in disgust. A girl who dipped would be like a guy who knit sweaters for dogs — grossly unattractive.
“That,” I said, “is the most absurd thing I have ever heard.”
“Well,” he replied, “I guess we can never hook up then.”
And we never did.
At the time, I thought that Jim was a jerk. Who would say something like that?
Now, though, I recognize what a favor he was doing me. He was completely unambiguous. Totally up front. He knew what he wanted. He laid out his parameters. That was the first and the last time that ever happened to me in college. Why are dating and relationships so inherently ambiguous? Jim’s comment was so shocking to me because freshman year was completely ambiguous. As a freshman, you go to Naples on a Thursday night. You meet someone there, someone nice and funny. You talk to that someone for an hour even while your friend is violently vomiting in the bathroom. You keep talking through meatheads spilling beer on you and pizza crusts whizzing past your head. You even get past the “what college are you in?” and “who are your roommates?” conversations.
When you arrive home, you tell your suitemates about this guy. Together, you all facebook him and then sigh about how cute he is. You spend the rest of the weekend building him up in your mind. He has become a world class athlete, a master chef who can do wonders with a rice cooker, and an endearing basket weaver who recites poetry in Spanish — the whole nine yards. He becomes your Chandler on “Friends,” your Dylan on “90210” — whatever tugs your chain.
Fast-forward to junior year.
Now, you go to BAR on a Thursday night. You know everyone, except for five people, and two of those go to Quinnipiac, and one of them is the bartender. You end up talking to one of the remaining (two) wild cards. He seems nice and funny and smart. You’ve even taken the same political science seminar.
When you arrive home, you tell your suitemates about this guy, and the floodgates of gossip open up. All of them know who he is and at least one of them has hooked up with him. He has the tendency to be kind of sketchy. He has this weird friend who he’s always with and they’re ambiguously gay. His feet smell. He has an itty bitty member and like six hairs on his chest, but only on his nipples. They heard he hits his mother.
All ambiguity flies out the window. There is no mystery. He went from today’s hit to yesterday’s favorite faster than a New Kids album.
When there is ambiguity surrounding someone, a mystique, a little something that you don’t know — that is the good kind of ambiguity. But, like lubricants, there is the good, the bad and the cherry-flavored.
Ambiguity in relationships, on the other hand, can be maddening. As one friend of mine remarked, “Relationships? At Yale? I don’t know if I’ve ever had one.” The worst part is that girls and guys are ambiguous at completely different times. The big turning point is always the ill-fated hookup.
It’s true that women know within the first five minutes of meeting a man whether they are going to hook up with him or not. But the trick is to never let the guy in on her little secret. Female ambiguity is the pre-hookup chase, O.J. style. She may be driving a white Bronco, and yes, maybe she’s speeding a little, but you have the entire LAPD behind her, sirens and all, and you STILL don’t know whether she’s going to stop and smell your — roses.
Women don’t want the guy to know he’ll be hooking up until he’s actually doing it. But soon enough, the power dynamic — and the source of ambiguity — are flipped.
Post-hookup is when guys tend to get ambiguous. It’s their payback.
Do they want to hook up again? Dunno.
Do they want to date? Dunno.
Are they straight? Dunno.
They really don’t now very much. AT ALL.
In both of these cases, both parties are protecting themselves. Ambiguity, I have discovered, is not inherently bad, nor is it inherently hurtful — though sometimes it has this effect. What it does do is successfully avoid a committed relationship that would leave one vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary. And scared is not something Yale students like to be. If we are more honest about what we want, someone gets hurt. No one wants to be on the injured list. So how much is too much ambiguity? There are almost no limits, because vulnerability is out of our control. Ambiguity is a factor of our own fear.
But at the same time in some ways, it’s good. After all, if everyone was totally up front, where would the mystery be? The what ifs? The maybe, maybe nots? The unknown?
Perhaps if Jim had never told me what he wanted, I would have voluntarily dipped and we would have fallen in love. OK. That’s a lie. The truth is, a little ambiguity goes a long way.
Natalie Krinsky doesn’t think she’s better than you just because she hasn’t written two weeks in a row.