Most people envy the few Yale couples who have weathered month after month of monogamy and appear to be well on their way toward marriage. They can inspire the rest of the campus when life begins to look too much like a cycle of irrelevant academic and extracurricular chores, interrupted now and then by a greasy hook-up. But couples have their own problems — for example, graduation.
It used to be easy for twosomes to map out their post-college lives together: there was a man and a woman, and the woman simply followed her boyfriend wherever he found work. Such is the medieval standard evoked by Carole King on her legendary album “Tapestry.” “I always wanted a real home with flowers on the window sill,” she sings. “But if you want to live in New York City, honey, you know I will!”
King goes on to promise her lover she’ll trail him wherever he tells her to go, hence the song’s title, “Where You Lead.” It’s meant to be touching. In this song, the brilliant writer of “It’s Too Late, Baby” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” has, apparently, found someone for whom she’ll drop everything and go “to the ends of the earth.”
She wrote “Where You Lead” in 1971. Today, for most Yale grads, life doesn’t quite work this way.
The few abnormal seniors in committed relationships probably won’t blush and cite King when asked what they’re going to do after college. They’ve spent four years at a fancy school, in a world of entitlement, and no one has really challenged their idea that they are too gifted not to pursue their professional ambitions with a certain self-centered resolve. So now they’re going to surrender unconditionally to some tyrant who won’t even honor a longstanding wish to have “flowers on the window sill”? They’re just going to pledge to follow their significant others, always, uncomplaining, whithersoever these others may go?
Honey, you know they won’t.
I’ve watched over the past few semesters as various Yale couples have weighed their love lives against the demands of their incipient careers. No student I’ve encountered is willing to play Carole King. Even when the love seems all-consuming and it looks like it could be permanent, most Yale couples don’t resolve the issues of post-college dating by rewinding a few decades and making one partner a permanent, placid follower.
An alternative is for both bedfellows to mail their resumes wherever they’d like, with no attempt to coordinate cities. If they end up in the same area, that’s great; if they don’t, they’ll try some time apart and see what happens. But it’s terrifying to “see what happens.” Many of my high-school classmates enrolled in colleges far away from their girlfriends and “saw what happened” in the arms of a new neighbor, a lab partner, or even a chummy RA down the hall.
Still, after four years of college, people can grow up. I’m sure several Yale couples have agreed to months of post-commencement, long-distance dating, and have made it work.
And a few lucky couples manage to commit easily to the same city. They amass so many achievements at Yale that they can target a place like New York, find two exciting jobs, and start their adult lives together, fulfilled, employed and without much stress.
But I suspect what happens most often is the opposite: a long series of sacrifices, some by one partner, some by the other, until it’s clear to both that their relationship cannot withstand the stress of two careers. At a famous, sappy moment in the novel Love Story, former Yale professor Erich Segal writes something to the effect that love is never having to apologize. A teacher of mine once mentioned the idea and scoffed at it; he had urged Segal to substitute “constantly” for his “never.” I’m guessing many Yale seniors in long-term relationships, already familiar with the art of apology, will need to learn it all over again when they’re released into the adult world.
They shouldn’t despair. And they shouldn’t respond to these difficult semesters by longing to return to the Dark Ages recklessly called forth in “Where You Lead.” I’ve scanned King’s biography, and I don’t think she has ever really believed that one partner should just mindlessly trail the other. If she rewrote the song today, I think she’d make the moral a bit more complicated.
To the committed couples of Yale ’04: you are the Hope for the Rest of Us. Girls with girls, guys with girls, guys with guys — whoever you are, you aren’t alone. Relationships are burdened with this problem every year, and some of them survive.
Go to UCS. Get out your maps. Make smart sacrifices. I’m rooting for you.
Daniel Barrett would follow Carole King where she leads — especially if she’d give him a job.