For many Yalies, stable, fulfilling relationships are the stuff of myth — Sisyphean feats often frustrated by the reality of time constraints, Yale’s purported hookup culture and uncommunicative classmates leaving single Yalies disappointed.
Logan Levkoff, a sexologist and relationship expert, identified the hookup culture as the path of least resistance: “If there’s no real incentive or push to find love, we’ll find a way to get what we want. College relationships are often the ADHD of relationships.”
Students interviewed mostly agreed: It’s hard to maintain a relationship at Yale. Many students don’t bother, instead seeking casual connections. For those who do take the plunge, it is often a struggle to balance romance, academic and extracurricular commitments, and personal time, all while feeling stigmatized by their single classmates. Furthermore, 20 percent of Yalies in relationships admitted to cheating, based on the results of a Yale Daily News poll, sent last week to 5,186 undergraduates, of whom 1,770 students responded.
Such difficulties left many students interviewed wondering if they can overcome a campus culture that may be hostile to the traditionally defined relationship.
‘TIME FOR EXPERIMENTATION’
The best solution for Yale’s relationship woes, most Yalies interviewed agreed, is a middle ground between inordinately time-consuming relationships and anonymous hookups.
Although many Yalies believe open relationships — in which students are committed to one person, with the possibility of seeking other romantic interests — exist on campus, 20 students interviewed said they could not think of anybody involved in one.
One senior in Calhoun College said she has been in a relationship with a long-distance boyfriend for three years, while also pursuing relationships with several Yalies. She described her situation as “ideal.”
“College is the best time for experimentation,” she said, requesting anonymity to protect her privacy. “People want to see what’s out there, but they also want a stable emotional connection. It’s the best of both worlds.”
With adequate communication, all parties come out satisfied, she said, noting that some of the men she’s been involved with have seemed relieved upon hearing her relationship status.
Still, she said such a setup is not suited for everyone.
“You have to be incredibly communicative,” she said. “It wouldn’t work for jealous types.”
But for some couples, the communication comes too late. One Saybrook sophomore recalled her boyfriend’s blunt admission of cheating.
“He came to my room one night and said he just wanted to tell me he was sleeping with his ex-girlfriend over break, and he wasn’t a virgin,” she said, requesting anonymity to protect his and her privacy.
According to the News’ poll, about a quarter of freshmen who have been in relationships at Yale have cheated, a fact some attributed to the dissolution of long-distance relationships that carried over from high school.
“My girlfriend goes to school in Wisconsin. I go to Toad’s. You get the picture,” one freshman said.
But Margaret Clark, a psychology professor who specializes in relationships, said students may be conflating sexual liberation and emotional fulfillment. She said most people believe relationships should be exclusive, adding that open relationships do not provide a good middle ground. Instead, she said a middle ground allows partners to spend less time together while still remaining exclusive.
For those who do make the full commitment, couples interviewed said their classmates are rarely understanding of their priorities.
“It’s really discouraged to have relationships because you don’t have a lot of time and you’ll get sh– from people who want you to do other things,” said Stephanie Schuyler ’12, who has been dating her boyfriend for almost a year.
Clark said this perception is inevitable.
“People do form hierarchies of relationships,” she said. “To handle their close relationships, people implicitly decide whose relationships take precedence over whose. In the event of a conflict, who do you attend to?”
Moreover, given that many Yalies allocate their time carefully, spending many of their waking minutes with a significant other can be construed as an affront to friends, Schuyler said.
This dichotomy of relationships at Yale — in which students either commit fully to what are often dubbed “Yale marriages” or simply hook up — exacerbates the seclusion of students in relationships, students interviewed said. T.J. Smith, for example, said he and his girlfriend watch TV in bed “like an old married couple.”
Although some like Smith find the intensity of such relationships fulfilling, others said they think the so-called Yale marriage is ultimately unsustainable.
“It can be overwhelming, since there’s no real down time,” David Edwards ’12 said. “At least adults have work where they can be apart for eight hours. When people mention marriage, I hit the brakes.”
PERFECTION AND COMPETITION
Some Yalies locate their relationship troubles internally, saying the perfectionism that granted them admission to Yale might hinder relationship-building.
“Many of us here have never failed at anything,” one female Yalie said during the Sex Week talk “Getting What You Really Want,” “and we don’t want to start now.”
One anonymous DKE brother said the notion of one’s sexual prowess as a quantitative measure plays to some brothers’ idea of “perfection.”
“The higher your kill count, the more respect you get in the house,” he said, referring to the number of girls each brother has “taken down” or hooked up with.
On top of all this, Yalies admittedly have trouble communicating their desires, both out of pure embarrassment and an insufficient vocabulary.
During a Sex Week presentation, Diana Adams ’01, a polygamy activist and relationship coach, asked a group of about 40 Yalies how to convey to someone that they are “just hooking up,” and the room fell silent. When she asked if students could foresee an improvement in communication, one girl raised her hand.
“I have a question about the real world,” she said, suggesting that better communication is an impossibility.
Often, students elect the walk-of-shame method instead of talking about their feelings, creating a nebulous sphere of emotional limbo, Schuyler said.
“The hookup culture creates messy emotional stuff that goes along with any hookup,” she said. “You don’t know where each person stands.”
Adams encouraged students to speak their minds, creating “a vocabulary that describes what we want” and using specific communication tools such as the “affirmation sandwich,” a way to let someone down easy by “sandwiching” rejection with compliments.
Students, though, were skeptical.
“I could either use an affirmation sandwich, see what happens, and probably find myself in an unimaginably awkward situation, or I could peace,” said one student after the talk. “Guess which option I’m going with.”