The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



All or nothing

Claire Heininger | Monday, November 17, 2003

Gender relations. It’s a phrase that I doubt many of my sorority-and-fraternity pledging or seven-floor, co-ed dorm residing state school friends even stock in their vocabularies, much less spend countless dining hall conversations and CORE discussions debating. We all know Notre Dame strives to be an exceptional place – hence the upbeat blue and gold recruiting brochures splashed with the pretentiously convincing “Nowhere Else But Notre Dame” slogan – but when it comes to gender relations, it is clearly more harmful than it is bragworthy to be unique.

Notre Dame is one of the few campuses that still subscribe to the “meet the special someone you’re going to marry” mindset of our parents’ generation. True, the much-scorned goal of earning the famous “Mrs.” Degree is not nearly as pervasive as it is at some other schools, and the academic, career-driven focus of both males and females here is outstanding. However, the fact remains in the back of our minds that these years of our lives are widely expected to produce a partner with the potential for serious, long-term romance – a pressure-packed and extremely scary thought that can make the omnipresent chiming of the Basilica wedding bells feel more mocking than joyous.

The bells represent one extreme of gender relations at ND: the dreamy-first-walk-around-the-lakes, candlelit-proposal-in-the-Grotto fairy tale. Freshmen approaching their first “choose a shoe” dance at Frosh-O are told that maybe, just maybe, the boy or girl of their dreams is just a New Balance shoelace away. Three weeks (and I’m being generous here) of disappointing parietals-shortened parties and gender-segregated SDH tables later, they find themselves hitting the other extreme, and hitting it hard.

The easy scapegoat of the University’s Catholic priorities and antiquated policies, while certainly playing a role, is only partly to blame for Notre Dame’s skewed gender environment. After witnessing almost three semesters’ worth of my friends’ and my own disappointing relationships, random hookups, few and far between purely platonic friendships and painful mistakes, I’ve realized that it’s not that simple. Chalking Notre Dame’s pitiful gender relations up to parietals and single sex dorms, while tempting, would be wishful thinking. The real issue is our expectations – in a community populated with perfectionists and strivers, our relationships are just another area of our lives in which the reality is never quite good enough. For those of you who have found the “all,” congratulations and enjoy those bells. For the jaded rest of us, life goes on, and we keep hoping that – like so many other aspects of the world – the potential for love doesn’t end at the edge of the Notre Dame bubble.