I went on one date in high school. My gentleman-caller kept trying to play that game from the movie “500 Days of Summer,” where two people say the word “penis” progressively louder in a public place. I told my mother that I would never date again.
Amidst Camp Yale free pizza, I changed my mind.
At Yale, there are boys. There are smart boys who talk about cultural appropriation. There are boys who’ve written poetry about my hair. There are boys with beards and plaid shirts and voices that have, on occasion, made me want to sacrifice a goat to a higher being.
In three years, I’ve heard many complaints about how Yalies date and hook-up. A lot of people claim that we’re incapable of relationships, but according to a news article from last year, about 40 percent of us are currently in a monogamous relationship.
The remaining 60 percent must be grinding below neon lights and taking shots of tequila from another’s bare midriff. Right?
Well, sometimes. Hooking up can be fun! In three years, I’ve never called anyone my boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had real romances. There are people who fall in the nebulous space between DFMO (Dance Floor Make Out) and SO (Significant Other), and those relationships mean something.
When discussing these unofficial relationships, a friend came up with the term: a Whatever.
Yalies like to be good at things, so we don’t like to fall short of textbook definitions. We want to bring home someone special for Thanksgiving, like that Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy. When we can’t commit to this ideal, we discredit these romantic entanglements as whatever happened that night. I think this sucks.
My interactions have led me to believe that Ivy League students from all sorts of backgrounds, for whatever reason — because they’re hyper ambitious or hyper smart — are particularly challenged at being vulnerable. And therefore, we don’t like to confront our desires for closeness.
One time, a boy told me that he couldn’t hang out with me anymore because he didn’t know if he could marry me. I had known him for less than a month. Another guy didn’t want to enter a relationship because he was too busy working on a play. We’ve all heard ridiculous excuses, whatever feels like the cleanest cut way to make someone disappear.
Many of us are just too busy doing other things. We are directing or managing or coding or writing or acting. We are somewhere else, kissing someone else or just plain scared. Sometimes a Whatever doesn’t click no matter how much our horoscope compatibility chart says they should. Sometimes the very nice person is too overwhelmed. Maybe they’re just a jerk. Maybe they don’t see what you see.
We think we can just discard our Whatevers with smiles and niceties at the next off-campus party, but I think they deserve more than that.
Marianne Williamson once said, “If the train doesn’t stop at your station, it is not your train.”
And yet, there are things that are mine, or that were.
There is a cap somewhere in my room from a bottle we shared years ago.
The time I said I didn’t write much about you was a lie. I have entire folders.
The night we just sat on a windowsill and took shots of vodka (when we still took shots of vodka), and then you watched me dance but texted someone else.
Fall break with Annie Hall and the cookie dough.
Whatever it was, it was all something.
Sexuality is a spectrum, as we’ve learned from the Women’s Center pamphlets and professor George Chauncey. But so are the other aspects of romance and love. Intimacy is a giant gradient of colors and textures, like collage paper in the Michael’s Art & Crafts scrapbooking aisle.
Ex-Whatevers abound: at our dining hall tables because they’ve become dear friends, and on High Street where we avoid eye contact. Maybe you didn’t date or even make out once. But there are moments when an ex-Whatever appears, and I want more than a polite nod or a bizarre attempt to dance against me at a party. Whatevers aren’t always “Princess Bride” loves, but can’t we hold ourselves to a higher standard? “So what, it’s over” isn’t true when it doesn’t feel that way.
I’m tempted to say: Yale men, get your act together. But that’s harsh. The most enjoyable, grittiest intimacies lie in a gray area, in the thrilling site of the iMessage typing ellipses.
Maybe just say this: I don’t know what this is, but whatever. I like you and your face, so let’s spend a semester or seven figuring this out.
Adriana Miele is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .