Counseling staff discusses dating and loneliness at Colby

“I need a date”, reads one ‘yak.’ “Just looking for Colbae” reads another. You can find similar posts all over the College’s Yik Yak page—with students complaining about loneliness and wanting a relationship. One thing you do not find in abundance on this campus, however, are couples. There seems to be a lot of debate regarding the hook-up culture at Colby, both in formal events and among students, but there is no denying that this culture definitely exists in one form or another.

Some may argue that the culture is simply more noticeable at Colby due to the small size of the campus, but according to sociologist Michael Kimmel, it’s something that can be found at almost any campus across the nation. In his book Guyland, Kimmel wrote, “Hooking up defines the current form of social and sexual relationships among young adults” and that “now hooking-up is pretty much all there is; relationships begin and end with sex.”

Many activists and researchers worry about the effect the culture may have on students’ behavior and mental health and the role it plays in strengthening gender roles. But what seems to make the Colby Campus unique among others is the disproportionately low ratio  of the number of couples to the number of students. 

There is a large portion of the student body that wants to engage in long term relationships, as evidenced by the numerous yaks (for instance “Just looking for Coldbae” was the leading yak of the day with 152 upvotes). According to Director of Counseling Services Eric Johnson,  28 percent of the students who visit the counseling center indicated dating/relationships as the reason for their visits and 27 percent indicated loneliness. So why is the hook-up culture so prevalent and dating so rare?

One reason may be that many students simply feel they do not have the time to engage in relationships. Students at Colby face an immense time pressure, and in trying to balance classes, homework, athletic practices, clubs and socializing with friends it can be difficult to find the time to engage in a full-fledged relationship.  Hooking-up provides students with a quicker way to enjoy intimacy and sex without having to give a full time commitment to a romantic partner. Some students may feel that they get all they need from one-time hook ups and see no reason to pursue anything deeper.

Another more troubling reason for the prevalence of the hook up culture may be the fact that some students feel pressured to partake. As Johnson explained, “If we assume that the perceived norm in their social group is to hook up and not to pursue a committed relationship, then it can be difficult for some students to put themselves out there in ways they believe run counter to the perceived cultural norm.” Fabrice Charles ‘15 and Joseph Whitfield ‘15 of the Gentlemen of Quality (GQ) Club have discussed the topic many times during their “Real Talk” discussion sessions. They say that gender roles can be exasperated as a result of the hook-up culture, and, “at least half the panel tend to say it can be a dangerous and powerful thing.” 

According Bridge Steering Committee member Will Wagner ‘17, the hook-up culture on campus does not “overly marginalize the gay/lesbian/bi/pan community simply because nearly everyone choose to participate in it….But it can be [marginalizing] for non-cis folk who are often put into challenging positions.” Nor does he think LGBTQ couples are faced with additional challenges as a result of the hook-up culture. He explained that the LGBTQ community faces other challenges, including having a smaller pool of potential partners to choose from. For this reason, many rely on online dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr to find partners instead.

To counteract these effects, students who have identified the lack of dating as a problem are actively working against it. Noah Tocci ‘17 has organized a whole array of events for the upcoming week, which are designed to “get students out of their comfort zones and to give those stuck in a routine a chance to get out,” which includes a wine and cheese tasting and ballroom dance classes. The events culminate in a big, restaurant-like dinner in Roberts dining hall. The events are inspired by the CA dinner hosted by President Green at the beginning of the year, as well as the Date Week organized by GQ, among others. However, this event is focused on campus to make it more accessible. “People are stuck in their routines, they have their group of friends and they don’t expand much outside of them so this will provide people with an opportunity to engage with people they have not previously engaged with,” Tocci said. For those who prefer the privacy of being off campus, discounts in local restaurants will also be effective during the span of the events, much like during Date Week. Noah hopes that the events will make students think more critically about the hook-up culture and to “get a better perception of real life and realize that this is not how things work there.”

But by no means does hooking-up have to be an exclusively negative thing. It can work as a stress reliever and can provide students with a way to experiment and explore. According to Johnson, as long as students are comfortable with their decisions and the activities they engage in should not be shunned: “It is important that students pursue the types of relationships, sexual and otherwise, that are consistent with their values and what they want in a relationship, otherwise they run the risk of feeling dissatisfied in their relationships, feeling regret and/or feeling confused.” 

For those who wish to find someone to establish a deeper relationship with, Johnson encourages them simply to “go for it, 20 percent of the students who visit our office acknowledge being in a serious relationship and there’s a critical mass of students who want to date. Students should know they are not alone.”

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