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Dating and relating

David Moss | Sunday, February 26, 2012

Things happen very fast in the current generation. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, there is a good reason why top chefs do not prepare elegant meals in a microwave. Clearly one of our issues on campus is the sometimes frantic pace with which we build relationships. There is no one to blame for the demise of the dating ritual on this campus. It is what it is. In my curiosity to understand why men and women have abdicated ownership of this social norm, I engaged ten students (5 women; 5 men) in single-sex conversations about their opinions around this issue. Although I cannot extrapolate these comments to all men and women on campus, this is what I discovered.

The women I talked with were unanimous in their belief that the Notre Dame environment is packed with pressure. They described the pressure to look a certain way (hair done, make-up on, never wear sweats) and to behave a certain way. “You always have to look as good as possible. Men talk about putting on their ‘ND goggles.’ I know a lot of beautiful girls on campus so I don’t understand how the men here can think that all of us are ugly.”

There is a belief that this creates an environment where women are willing to take any attention they can get from men, hook-up or otherwise. They compete against Notre Dame women out of the classroom and Notre Dame men in the classroom. “And we can’t forget about the pressure added by the presence of St. Mary’s students. You are fighting so much already, that the pressure really gets to you.” Some of the women said they felt stuck and wondered if coming to Notre Dame was a mistake. Others have decided to place relationship formation on hold, to wait until they leave Notre Dame to pursue this portion of life.

The women also talked explicitly about the dining hall as a source of stress and judgement. Whether it is the men who “moo” at those who get fro-yo, or the other women who meticulously watch what your plate looks like, the dining halls have contributed to a negative atmosphere where women don’t feel valued.

Many of the frustrations the men talked about revolved around the perennial issue of parietals. It is noted, however, that not every man interviewed had a negative view of this Notre Dame tradition. They also commented that differing expectations about the college experience is part of the problem. They believe that many women come to Notre Dame looking for committed relationships and others hope to achieve the coveted “ring by spring.” The men used the term “American Pie” to describe what the typical college man expected.

All the guys I talked with agreed with the notion that women have some pressure to always look good/perfect. They believe, however, that much of this pressure is either self-induced or imposed on women by other women. They also commented that when a woman receives a negative comment about her apparel, she may have the tendency to inflate the importance of that comment. In the end, they admitted that how a woman dresses does impact their impression of her, but added that the same is probably true from the other side.

Some of the men agreed with the notion that it might be better to wait until after college to focus on relationships. One stated that doing this now makes “girls panicky and guys frustrated.” One young man said eloquently that “doing a relationship the right way is not easy. It takes a great deal of effort and I would rather focus my attention on making sure my academics are in order. If you can get involved and do it the right way, go for it. But typically once two people get involved, it is only then that they realize how involved the process is.” In terms of waiting on romance, one young man commented that, “good things come to patient people.” Other common frustrations guys experience on campus include women who are “jersey chasers,” being trapped in the friend zone and the fact that when a certain type of athlete shows up at a party the game is over.

From what I can surmise, the issues presented here, while serious, are not insurmountable. It will just take authentic and honest communication. To that end I am inviting the ten individuals that offered their opinions for this editorial to join me for a meeting of the minds and some great food. This extended conversation will be the first of many and the topic of a future column. Until then talk to your friends about what you have read and decide if these comments ring true for you. I look forward to seeing you at the Notre Dating program tonight at 7 p.m. in Legends.

Dr. G. David Moss is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and the Interim Director for the Gender Relations Center. He can be contacted at gmoss@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.