If Brown were to have a relationship status on Facebook, it would be “single” with no hookups or partners to complicate the situation. Despite stereotypes that describe Brown’s population as sexually experimental, about 48 percent of students reported in an October poll conducted by The Herald that they are not in any kind of romantic or sexual relationship.
About 25 percent of student respondents said they were in exclusive relationships with one other person. Some students said this percentage did not surprise them, mainly due to the University’s intense academic workload, extracurricular demands and experimental culture.
“People at Brown are experimenting and doing their thing,” said Michael Franklin ’15, who is not in a relationship. He said this experimenting likely helped explain the reason for what he considered to be a relatively small number of students in monogamous relationships.
Aaron Reyes ’13 agreed that Brown has a culture that fosters exploration when it comes to sex – but not necessarily relationships.
“People commonly associate experimenting with anything having to do with sex, not experimenting with having a partner,” he said.
Giuliano Marostica ’15 said commitments outside and inside the classroom hinder some students who may want relationships.
“A lot of people want exclusive, one-person relationships, and I think there are plenty of students for people to meet and make that connection,” he said. “The fact that there aren’t that many just goes to show that the reality is Brown students work really hard inside the classroom and outside.”
Balancing work and play
The poll found a disparity between the number of people in monogamous relationships and the number of people who wish they were.
The percentage of students polled who indicated in a separate question that they want to be in an exclusive relationship – around 56 percent – surprised many students, often for the same reasons that the 25 percent did not.
“I didn’t think that people would necessarily have that much time to put into an exclusive, one-person relationship,” Marostica said.
“It is easier not to be in a relationship,” said Melissa Orozco ’16, who is not in an exclusive relationship. “There are so many other things to focus on, like academics.”
Andrea Sassenrath ’14, who has been in a relationship with the same person for a year and a half, acknowledged those difficulties. “Being in a really good relationship is a commitment, and there are a lot of commitments that could get in the way at Brown,” she said.
Other students told The Herald the percentage of their peers who wish they were in relationships reflects a natural tendency.
“All across human nature, a lot of people would think it’s nice to be in a relationship, as an ideal,” said Teddy Golding ’14, though he added that he is happy not being in an exclusive relationship.
As someone in a relationship, Sassenrath said she finds this majority understandable.
“(Being in a relationship) is great. It’s like having a companion there all the time, and who wouldn’t want that?” she said.
Seeking the one
While many students interviewed said the Brown culture does not discourage or encourage a particular relationship status, most said they share the same relationship status as their friends.
“People are influenced most by their immediate friend group,” Reyes said. “Couples and couples hang out. It’s just easier.”
Reyes said he is not in a relationship, and most members of his primary friend group are also single.
Chae Lin Suh ’15, who is not in a relationship and is not actively pursuing one, said the relatively small student population acts as an obstacle due to the limited pool of potential partners, which is often accompanied by awkwardness associated with dating and breaking up with someone who runs in the same social group.
“Word travels so quickly. You have to manage to be in the same scene, yet detach yourself emotionally,” she said, describing two friends of hers who broke up and had to navigate mutual friend groups.
Golding said he believes the disparity is consistent with the challenge of finding the right person. “In reality you have standards and demands. It takes a long time to find somebody you want to be in a relationship with,” he said.
Along the same line, Sassenrath said there is more to being in a relationship than wanting one.
“It’s hard to find someone who is really compatible. It’s one thing to want a relationship with someone else, but that’s not a decision that you can fully make,” she said. “It takes a bit of chance too. You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right person.”
Many students also acknowledged that while people may want exclusive relationships, they may not actively seek them out.
“It may not be the highest priority,” Reyes said.
Wishco every Wednesday
Another Herald poll result many students found unexpected was the small number of students currently in consistent or casual hookups with multiple others – 1.4 percent and 11.2 percent respectively – as well as the percentages who indicated they want consistent or casual hookups – 3.3 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.
This number does not match with the perceived dominance of the “hook-up culture” that a March 2011 USA Today article states is becoming more and more popular on college campuses.
At Brown, this culture is often exaggerated, Suh said. The “going-out scene” and events like SexPowerGod perpetuate the perception of the student body as sexualized, Sassenrath said.
But consistent and casual hookups are relatively easy to find at Brown, Golding said. “It is pretty easy to hook up with random people – you can easily just go to (the Whiskey Republic) every Wednesday night,” he said.
While both a majority of males and females reported wanting an exclusive relationship, there was a significant difference in the percentage of each who did – around 52 percent of males versus around 60 percent of females.
Students interviewed attributed these results to human nature as well as American culture.
“Men like to sleep around, and that can be linked back to increasing their chances of producing offspring, whereas women want to be maternal with one man who can protect them,” said Sassenrath, a life sciences concentrator.
Suh, who has female friends both in and looking for relationships, said she finds her female friends to be more insecure than her male friends. She attributed the desire to be in an exclusive relationship to the commitment it promises. “Girls tend to have less confidence in relationships and are constantly looking for greater stability,” she said.
In addition, the double standard in today’s society – that men are allowed to have multiple partners, while women are condemned – also counts towards the disparity, Marostica said.
“If men hook up with a lot girls, they’re con
sidered a player, and that’s great. But if females hook up with a lot of guys, then they’re often considered promiscuous,” he said.
He added that men and women both have sexual desires, but it is easier for women to avoid societal judgment by being in a monogamous relationship.
Many students suspected that the disparity between these numbers would be larger at schools other than Brown, where gender norms and stereotypes are not so actively discussed.
“Brown students in general do not subscribe to gender norms as much,” Marostica said. “(They) make a very conscious effort.”
“The misogynistic attitude of big state schools and the Greek life and all of that is definitely not present here,” Franklin said. “It’s a much more equal gender dynamic at Brown versus other schools.”
Settling in, settling down
Poll results also revealed that a higher percentage of seniors – around 31 percent – are in exclusive relationships, compared to around 23 percent of non-seniors.
This eight-point difference did not surprise students, as seniors have had the chance to experiment, meet more people and find a person they believe is a good match.
“They’ve gotten their good-time urges out,” Sassenrath said. “They are looking forward to settling down with someone as they grow older.”
“There are obviously a lot of incredible people here. People realize they want to make the most out of their experience and put significant effort into finding a significant other,” Marostica said.
Underclassmen, on the other hand, may feel inclined to avoid a relationship due to Brown’s experimental culture.
“As a freshman, sophomore or junior, there is a pressure that maybe not all of your friends are in a relationship, or if you get in a relationship that maybe you’ll be missing out on something,” Reyes said.
Eve Dill ’16, who is not in a relationship and said she does not want to be in one right now, agreed. “People who aren’t seniors are still kind of figuring things out. They want to experience more,” she said.
As a first-year, Dill said she is overwhelmed by adjusting to Brown. “Just figuring everything out and being in a relationship would be ridiculous,” she said.
Seniors also think more about the “real world” and life after Brown, students said.
“I notice conversations in my friend groups more recently gearing toward the real world,” Reyes said. “‘College was fun, but let’s get jobs and stuff,’ and I think that it is easier to connect with people on that level and be serious about it.”
Written questionnaires were administered to 959 undergraduates October 17-18 in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson and the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during the day and the Sciences Library at night. The poll has a 2.9 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. The margin of error is 4.4 percent for the subset of males, 3.9 percent for females, 5.7 percent for first-years, 5.5 percent for sophomores, 5.9 percent for juniors and 6.4 percent for seniors.