When rough winds start shaking darling buds, and that once-eternal summer finds itself wanting a bit of heat, Yale undergrads sometimes look to each other for a snuggle-buddy to cozy up with. If this search happens to turn up any result, it’s usually a disappointing one, and in the end we’re left with yet another Valentine’s Day stained by tepid Caffe Verona droppings and lukewarm tears.
So we sigh and repeat falsely comforting phrases like, “There’s always next year” and, “After I graduate, my Yale degree will be impressive enough to land a date with a stupid person.” Despairing, we swallow the 14th “last” Hershey’s kiss (with almonds) and peer out our frosted windows just in time to see a happy couple walking arm-in-North-Face-protected-arm. “Why can’t that be me?” we ask ourselves, and then, when our desperation turns to insanity, we think: “Maybe I should try hitting on grad students.”
Not so fast.
While there may be plenty of reasons to believe that the way to find a loving, intelligent, emotionally mature companion is to step out of the proverbial undergrad sandbox and play with the older kids, a requisite lowering of expectations might be a more appropriate way to gain satisfaction. Relationships at Yale are as diverse as the varied shapes of New Haven’s snowflakes, but — as anyone who’s dated a grad student can tell you — none of them are perfect.
But if you’re hell bent on dating up, the first and biggest obstacle is finding a grad student who’d be willing to date you.
“Some of them are not here to be socializing with the undergraduates,” said Jeremi Szaniawski GRD ’10, a grad student in the Film Studies and Slavic Languages departments. “They’re here to get their Ph.D. and then leave.”
Furthermore, the inherent hazards of dating someone outside the undergrad bubble — as described by the following survivors — can be enough to make you crawl back to Old Campus begging for a date with a hot freshman. Or any freshman.
‘Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need.’
For some undergrads, the desire to fill their empty bed goes hand-in-hand with a streak of latent rebellion. Meet Anonymous Undergraduate Female #1: She dated an A&A grad student last semester, but failed to secure a lasting romance. AUF #1 points out that one of the best things about this kind of relationship is the thrill of doing something forbidden.
“The very idea of it is attractive and exciting,” she said.
Conversely, AUF #2’s relationship with her grad-daddy ex-boyfriend sent significantly fewer tingles up her spine, at least at first. She spent an entire semester hunched over her course packet in a class he TA’d for without giving her future with him more than a passing glance, then — after final exams were turned in and a new semester had begun — AUF #2 and the TA came together in a more social, less “I’m grading your papers” kind of atmosphere.
AUF #2 says that, after she and her beau-with-a-B.A. hit it off, a whole host of new social opportunities arose.
“It was nice because his world was a little bit different from mine,” she said.
In the end, though they dated for a while, the pair broke up for reasons that had little to do with the fact that he used to be her teacher. AUF #2 may not have met the love of her life, but still enjoyed a relatively normal relationship with her GPSCY gallant.
“I had a great time dating him,” she said.
‘A bird can love a fish, but where would they live?’
Grad students do, after all, live decidedly different lives from the body of Yale College. They hail from places all over the world and speak multiple languages. They study non-stop while trying to juggle personal and social lives with community-oriented activities. Some of them have beards. Some of them even drive.
The obvious truth, in case you missed it, is that most grad students are not that different from undergrads. Like all Yalies, they run the gamut when it comes to intelligence, attractiveness and, yes, even maturity.
“The relationship seemed more mature because it was pretty distant from the undergrad scene, but it turned out he was just as immature,” AUF #2 said. “I had to teach him how to cook and things like that — just like any boyfriend.”
More than culinary coaching, though, most of the awkwardness in grad dating seems to arise from the question of where to go. Some undergrads might see the appeal of taking in a few drinks at GPSCY or sitting in on a discussion about Russian formalism in HGS, but who wants to dispose of trashy L-Dub parties forever? Being an undergrad means doing what undergrads do, and dragging a 24-year-old boyfriend around Old Campus can cause some tension, to say nothing of disapproving stares from the boys who share your bathroom.
“You feel awkward because you can’t bring them to undergrad parties, and it’s weird to hang out with their friends,” AUF #3 said.
‘The bad things in life open your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before.’
But perhaps grad students have little reason to think they’re superior to the undergrad scene. Blair Epstein ’09 — who has never been in a relationship with a grad student — recently attended a sorority mixer with a group of first-year Yale Law School students, who find dating difficult when surrounded by mostly married L1 females. At the mixer, Epstein saw proof that immaturity knows no age limit.
“I was reassured that Yalies of all ages can still be socially awkward from time to time,” she said.
Likewise, AUF #3 found that the thrill of dating a grad student doesn’t protect against juvenile threats like rumors and gossip. Her relationship was plagued by concerns that her boyfriend was uneasy with her undergraduate-status.
“You are always kind of wondering if they are trying to hide your relationship,” she said.
At least at first, though, it seems Yalies don’t have too many moral qualms with the idea of dating someone who just happens to be a teeny bit older and a tiny bit more educated.
“I think it’s kind of a surprise when I tell people that I dated a grad student,” AUF #1 said. “But I don’t think there’s disapproval from either front.”
Whether there is actually a social stigma powerful enough to upend a healthy relationship, or whether AUF #3’s boyfriend was just too insecure to tell his buddies he was dating younger — that’s up for debate. But the threat of ridicule or the fear that friends and family will disapprove can definitely cause some anxiety.
‘I would rather have three minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.’
Disapproval, if any, usually comes from classmates who worry that hanky-panky outside of section will result in unfair points added to test grades, and “Teacher-Student Consensual Relations” are strictly outlawed, as per item XI B in the Yale University Faculty Handbook. Szaniawski, who was a TA last semester, assures us that TA-student love simply does not happen.
“Dating is not allowed when I am an undergrad’s TA,” he said. “There would definitely be an interference with objective grading.”
Still, that doesn’t mean that grad students and undergrads can’t have a more-than-professional relationship after the semester ends. Remember that AUF #2 dated her TA after grades were submitted.
So there you go. Whether we’ll be spending our Valentine’s Day writing a dissertation or a Daily Theme, we each have four letters in common that, when you add them all up, essentially u
nite us in the natural desires to hook up and stay warm: Y-A-L-E. Even if dating a grad student didn’t exactly work out for AUF #1, #2 or #3, rest assured that AUF #4 is out there, and while the rest of her friends are freezing their asses off and idiotically eyeing undergrads at DKE, she’s snuggling up to a Ph.D. candidate whose warm embrace keeps her from shivering.