Fresh out of a messy break-up with my high school sweetheart, I entered university with a mission: Operation “Thank U, Next.”
A unique opportunity arises when you enter your first year of university. You can throw the person you once were right into the abyss. You can reinvent yourself entirely: try styles that you weren’t confident you could actually pull off, meet new people, and run with different crowds. Most importantly, you can give yourself over to a new obsession and start exploring something that is central to your newfound adulthood. For some people, that looks like enjoying the wonders of a cheap 12-pack of AGD or clubbing at Beercade (ugh). Not for me.
After my break-up, I became fixated on the idea that I was finally going to fall in big, real adult love. I would be able to explore the pleasure of sex and sexuality with someone (or someones). From making out with strangers in dingy bar bathrooms to going on one date with someone and deciding “It’s a no from me,” there’s a freeing anonymity in university. You can have encounters with people you’ll never have to see again. In my mind, there was no sweeter release from the end of an important relationship than to experience a thousand new and interesting relationships.
Or so I thought.
There’s a pervasive societal narrative that in order for life to have meaning, you have to have a romantic partner or an interest in love. There’s this emphasis on the singularity of it all — that if you love somebody, and they love you, you have an undeniable purpose to life. With sex, there’s a sentiment that everyone ought to want it, and those who obtain the most sex “win.” University is unfortunately not free from either narrative. In fact, it can often exacerbate both.
Have people ever suggested to you that maybe you just need to get laid in order to deal with a stressor in your life? Has your self-esteem ever been incredibly tied to the fact that every one of your friends is in a relationship and you aren’t? Have you ever been made fun of for not caring about love and sex? Even if you haven’t been the direct target of such comments, you probably know a friend who’s had these things happen to them. Maybe you’re the person unwittingly pushing this narrative onto others.
Honestly, for a really long time, I was all of these people.
A friend once described the university dating pool to me as a buffet; there’s a little something for everyone. You could go for the guy in your political science class who rolls his own cigarettes, or the girl in your women’s and gender studies class with the rose-pink hair and the septum piercing. Maybe the right person is the guy you see every Monday at the rowing machines in Van Vliet, or the girl who’s always sitting by the fire in SUB. Perhaps your soulmate might even be found in the 43 Tinder messages you’ve left unanswered. With so many options, it seems impossible not to find somebody you click with.
But what everyone fails to acknowledge is just how draining and exhausting the search for that “somebody” is. Bad dates, sleepless nights, dramatic fallouts, ghosting, and loneliness come part and parcel with the anonymity and potential for newness of casual dating.
I’m nearing the end of my university career now, and I have some advice for the people who are trying the whole love and sex exploration thing and starting to realize it isn’t making them happy: it’s alright. You really, really don’t have to do this. Stop wasting your time, money, and happiness on a pursuit that isn’t working for you right now.
I’ve found some of the most meaningful love I’ve felt in university sitting in Rutherford, absorbed in a book by David Hume. I’ve found love in sharing yet another UNI-code Domino’s pizza order with a group of equally-screwed friends studying for an exam; in drunken karaoke at RATT, specifically during Michael Jackson’s “Want You Back;” in learning how to argue at debate club.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that a cheap pizza is directly comparable to a great dick appointment, nor could a book by David Hume ever replace that fuzzy-sweet feeling of finding your special someone. What I’m saying is that love and dopamine can come in all sorts of ways.
There is such a multiplicity of places to discover love and experience pleasure in university, so don’t sweat missing out on your “one true love,” and don’t worry about the pressure to want or have consistent sex.
In university, the only big, real adult love you need to focus on finding, and the only person you really need to focus on giving pleasure — is you.