Today, unlike other days, our romantic expectations can be met with a box of chocolates or perhaps the serenade of a Yale a capella group. It is not these frivolous expectations but the more serious ones, however, that concern me — the ones that last after Valentine’s Day is over.
During my first year, I remember joking with my suitemates that I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a high-paying job after college because I’d find my life partner here. Although I didn’t want to admit it at the time, I wasn’t entirely joking. Like my peers, I had heard that college is the best time to find a serious partner because more like-minded individuals will never again surround you. During each new romantic encounter I’d ask myself, “Is this person the one?”
This is an expectation that I’ve gradually been able to shed as I’ve seen the way it affects myself as well as many other students at Yale. I will refer to this as “the culture of commitment.”
The culture of commitment has many symptoms. It affects the way we ask our friends about their love lives, for instance. If one of us mentions a person we’re seeing, the other one will likely ask, “Where do you think this is going?” You are then obligated to define the trajectory of your relationship, which ultimately confines it. This can be anxiety-inducing for all parties involved, as the answer to “What will be?” is always more uncertain and therefore all the more frustrating than “What is?” We start looking to other examples of relationships for guidance, which makes us create the type of relationship we believe we should have, not necessarily the one that we want to have.
The culture of commitment can encourage hookup culture itself. Although by no means the only cause of hookup culture — entitlement being one — the desire to avoid the expectation of long-term commitment can cause people to avoid intimacy in sexual encounters altogether. After hookups, people might end communication with each other entirely and even avoid eye contact when they run into each other on campus, for fear of coming across as if they are overly interested. This might not be as much of a problem if the emphasis during and after sexual encounters was on appreciating human connection and mutual pleasure rather than entering some sort of commitment.
Perhaps one of the most harmful effects of the culture of commitment on Yale’s campus is its effect on people who are already in serious, long-term relationships. Different opinions that might not bother you in your close friendships suddenly bother you in your romantic relationships. After all, the stakes are high. If you have these differences now, how will this relationship work in the long run? Say, when you’re raising kids together? One friend told me that part of the reason he and his partner are so compatible is that they aren’t concerned about the future; they can just enjoy each other in the moment. A different friend said she and her partner used to talk about getting married all the time; this caused possessiveness that was diminished once they decided to keep things in the present.
Why might that be? You have already written that person into the script of your life so if you lose them, the show can’t go on. Another friend of mine, who has been dating their partner for a while now, said that they used to go to couples counseling sessions through Yale Mental Health because of the level of emotional toxicity in their relationship. My friend is only in their twenties.
With the amount of academic stress we face, is it really necessary to make romantic relationships such a source of anxiety as well? I believe relationships at Yale are only as good as they allow us to explore ourselves, grow emotionally and deepen our compassion. Ironically, while placing a great amount of importance on commitment, we might be devaluing the people in the relationship themselves. We need to be careful of treating our romantic partners as means to an end — a financially secure life or quality marriage — rather than as ends themselves.
This is not to say that people currently in committed relationships should break up or that single people should avoid long-term commitment altogether. Rather, we should try to be as mindful as possible of the expectations we carry and whether or not they are necessary. Our relationships should empower us, not limit us. Just as we should critique the way society has defined for us sexuality and gender identity, we should also notice the way romantic relationships have been defined for us; by our parents, by our mentors, by our favorite singers and by our peers. We should only commit to what we are comfortable with while remaining transparent to avoid miscommunication. After all, love without expectations attached to it will still be love, and perhaps even more fulfilling.
Yasmin Eriksson is a junior in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .