Al-Salem ’17: Why are we scared of dating?

Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I started off freshman year with a loud declaration to the world that I was not going to fall for the first cute boy who smiled my way. I mean, my goodness, I was here for education! To strive to become a well-rounded human being! To gain experience for the real world! How could I have time for boys if I was planning on single-handedly conquering my own little version of the universe?

That was the plan, at least. I had this armor set up before I even set foot on this campus, because I envisioned college to be one big romance-fest like I’d seen in all of my CW television shows: A bunch of attractive, hormonal 20-somethings landlocked on one campus. I thought walking through campus would be like darting Cupid at every corner, and I was not interested in that. I had to keep my head straight on my shoulders.

But here’s the thing I majorly overlooked. I should have realized that CW is not a source on which I — or anyone, for that matter — should base beliefs. College is not a place where couples appear out of thin air. If anything, I’ve come to resent just how much Brown’s dating scene emulates its academic system: an open curriculum that eschews typical dating regimes.

To understand this, let’s dissect what constitutes “typical dating regimes.” For a drawn-out explanation, watch any chick flick available on Netflix, featuring characters that go on candle-lit dinners after professing their love to windowsills. For a shorter explanation, dating is modern-day courting. A tango between two people, if you will. In place of an invitation to go out to dinner, there’s a Facebook message that reads, “What are you up to tonight?”

Why would this upset me if I strolled into college without any intention for romance anyway? Valid question. Here’s why I’ve begun to pick at this wound that CW created: I thought I had a choice not to date. I didn’t realize it’d be set in stone.

After fawning over certain gentlemen who kept a good 500-mile distance between themselves and any notion of dating, I’ve begun to accept that college is a place for 20-somethings to be as selfish as they can ever get. I think the rest of our lives will require us to sacrifice something as employees, parents or spouses. So why give up this four-year period of pure self-interest to someone else when it’s most people’s only chance to let every selfish part of themselves unfurl?

College students shy away from dating because love is not selfish. Without trying to sound like a worn-out Nicholas Sparks novel, I do think love is the most selfless thing someone can give himself or herself up to, and that is terrifying. But the campus of hormonal young adults still exists. So in place of dating, hookup culture begins. Here, nonchalance and masked emotions thrive. Everyone puts up a front that they’re “only trying to keep it casual,” but it’s within this hookup culture that the rare couples on campus exist. A lot of the couples I know are two people who spent every weekend “hooking up” only to realize, after several months, that they’d been exclusively hooking up with one another and that the commitment was not as terrible as previously perceived. So they begin to tentatively date, and voila! They turn into a couple.

What is flawed about this system is that all those romantics who stay at home are doomed to stay single. It’s a grim-sounding conclusion, but it’s one I firmly believe is Brown’s curse. You’ll fall for someone who fits in either of these three categories: those who have been dating the same person long before coming to Brown, those who only meet romantic potentials in a hookup environment or those who are stuck in their own rooms with their own fears of the no-dating stigma on campus.

Some people might say this kind of culture of romance — or whatever this is — empowers every individual and breaks power norms. I do agree with the destruction of power norms and the idea that boys can only ask girls out, but I don’t believe this precludes dating. I think a campus can foster both empowerment and a dating culture without pitting the two against each other.

Could it be possible to create a space that encourages equal dating platforms without shunning the idea of courtship and actually showing emotion and interest? Let’s remember those pining away by Faunce steps or writing that Brown Admirers post for the umpteenth time when we make grand statements like “dating is outdated and overrated.” Let’s strive toward a campus with more fluidity in its dating scene.

I entered freshman year thinking I had a choice when it came to the outcome of my love life. But settling into my sophomore year, I realize it’s not really up to me anyway.


Sara Al-Salem ’17 is making the most elaborate move to let everyone know she’s single and ready to mingle and can be reached at 

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  1. Gael Herzenfelder says:

    Oh..sorry…you were saying?

  2. student '15 says:

    Some good points. It’s a shame how selfish many students here are. And what’s more upsetting is all the positive feedback I hear endorsing this behavior. My advice: start courting. No reason to wait around.

  3. When I got to grad school, I looked around and realized that most people were already in a relationship, and pretty much on their way to marriage. The Brown alums and myself were not. What you’re observing is a deliberate policy to discourage dating and relationships to keep alums single by marriage.

    The campus culture is one where there is an intense stigma associated with relationships in general… perhaps even including non-romantic ones. In fact, there is a celebratory tone when a girl rejects or breaks up with a boyfriend. Girls are encouraged to even laugh at boys who are attached to them and to observe them distantly. Somehow, it is funny to watch a boy try to court a girl meanwhile she rejects him for the pleasure of rejecting him.

    The campus culture reinforces the idea that no relationship is permanent in any real sense. After all, every semester, students’ friendships change based on their classes, housing and activities. This reinforces the idea that friendships and relationships are merely transient. They revolve around and change with one’s classes and work. This becomes more extreme when students study abroad.

    The author here assumes this is because boys are hormonal. Of course they are. But college boys are hormonal in every other college campus. This alone cannot account for this observation. In many other college campuses, most women are in relationships. When a breakup occurs, other people hungrily step in and new relationships form. Even if some women decide not to be in a relationship to focus on their career, this is usually temporary.

    Why this macabre state of affairs? The purpose, as hinted above, is because it get’s Brown alum to be good office fodder. Face it, most Brown alum are destined to hit the offices on Wall street, work for someone’s election campaign, work abroad, teach for America, teach English somewhere, or Peace Corp. Likely, they will be mobile for a few years, if not more. Keeping alum single is conducive to this lifestyle. A single Brown alumna might be more attractive for the office, then an engaged one.

    Feel free to sit around an wonder why the campus culture is like this, or open your eyes.

    • well this Brown alum has seen almost his entire circle of friends get married already (myself included – about half of us to other brown alumni, the other half to people met in grad school) so I’m going to say that while that may have been your experience, to assume it’s the norm is false.

    • Brown student says:

      Why is this so depressingly true 🙁

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