While most Yale students woo within the insular world of the 12 residential colleges, a minority of us seek older companions — among the graduate schools of Yale. It may be surprising, but it does happen. At first, the age difference between two students may seem disconcerting.
But the realms of undergraduate and graduate life often collide in ways other than the casual encounter in Sterling Memorial Library or Atticus Book Store-Cafe.
Pepper Schwartz ’70, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and a former advice columnist for Glamour, said the maturity levels of students is a key to the success of a relationship between people of different age groups.
“You can have a very old 19-year-old and a very young 21-year-old,” she said, “It depends upon the maturity of the student.”
But Schwartz offers one warning.
“The relationship can become more or less unusual based on the age difference,” Schwartz said. “There is a greater chance for glorification of one partner when [the partner] is older. Or even hero worship, based on the greater accomplishments [of the graduate student]. You must be careful, but I do not think the relationships are abusive.”
Not all Yale College students find graduate students in their daily life. Besides an occasional sighting in a class or at a restaurant, the two groups do not seem to mix.
But extracurricular activities can be an arena in which graduate and undergraduate students cross paths. For a Yale Drama School student, this was the case. Working in the Yale theater scene, this graduate student, who preferred not be identified, met an undergraduate who acted in a show under her direction.
“[My friends] thought it was ridiculous and scandalous,” she said. “[But] it’s pretty uncommon especially among drama school people. We’re a close-knit community. We usually either date within the Drama School or completely outside of Yale, in the real world.”
She now has a different perspective on the possibility of dating an undergraduate after a year as a teaching assistant.
“Now that I am a TA, I couldn’t imagine [dating an undergraduate]. I mean, I teach them, and I grade their papers,” she said.
Not everyone meets through a structured activity. One Branford College junior met a grad student through a mutual friend.
“We dated briefly,” she said, “Much of our time together was just hanging out. I had a group of undergraduate friends who would hang out at his house.”
The graduate student was seven years her senior.
“[There was] definitely some heckling, but [the age difference] never felt uncomfortable,” she said.
But the situation became awkward for one of her close friends.
Planning to meet her boyfriend and a small group of students at a movie, she invited her close friend to join them. But after a miscommunication, the graduate student, the Branford junior and her friend were the only ones who met for the show.
Unbeknownst to the Branford junior, her boyfriend was the TA for her friend’s course.
“The look on her face when it was all brought out to light was hysterical,” she said.
The situation did not remain awkward for too long. Grades had already been passed in for the course, and in a matter of days classes were over.
Regardless of the rules, teaching assistants certainly talk about dating undergraduates. One language department teaching assistant smiled when asked if her group of friends ever discussed the possibility of dating undergraduates.
“There are definitely rumors about graduate students who have dated undergraduates,” she said. “For a non-TA, I don’t see anything wrong with it. If it’s a relationship between a TA and a student it’d have to be secret. We discussed this in training. Nothing is allowed. Not even a hug.”
There can be other strains on a graduate student relationship.
The work load for both parties can be unusually strenuous. The Branford junior noticed a key difference in the type of work she and her boyfriend had to complete.
“Work was more of a problem on my side. His work was more like a paper that had to be eventually done within a few months.”
The language teaching assistant warned that any relationship between graduate students and undergraduate students is usually “not permanent.” Many graduate students who live in off-campus housing are far removed from the undergraduate community, which sometimes makes for uneasy situations, she said.
“After one date early in the relationship, it was too late for me to walk home, so I had to spend the night at his place. It was pretty awkward,” a Morse junior said.
But a hiatus from exclusive college-aged relationships can be worth it, despite the inevitable shared differences that may exist.
The Branford junior concluded that her dating experience introduced her to “a fun group of friends.”
“It was a good time,” she said.