The L-word — 4/28/11

By Middlebury Campus

When I started this column at the beginning of my fourth semester, I had just come out of a series of non-relationships and random hook-ups. I possessed a bright-eyed determination to show this campus the evils of not committing, the perils of casually hooking up without emotional investment.

For someone who has very few prejudices about how/with whom/where/when people decide to sex it up, I was surprisingly convinced our generation was going down a dangerous route. I thought the strongest tethers we wanted to form to each other were late-night sexts and maybe the occasional morning-after spoon. We were sloppily making out in McCullough and having drunken sex without talking about it. We were playing all sorts of games when it came to expressing our feelings: you can’t ask him to come over every night because then he might suspect you actually like him, etc. I heard the same stories over and over in the dining hall and from my friends about potential love interests that culminated in a couple weeks of sleeping together, nothing more.

I grew despondent. Where were all of the feelings?! Where were the dates and the romance, the secret love notes and less secret dining hall serenades? I browsed the Proctor crushes thread on Middlebury Confessional with hope, but I left frustrated — is it really that hard to say “I like you” in person?

I wanted people first to have deep feelings, then to share them and then to put them on the line every chance they got. Essentially, I wanted everyone to do things the way I do them. And then I realized that everyone would be a crazy (albeit cuddly) emotional train wreck half the time, and around here people have to get sh*t done. There just isn’t enough time and people don’t have enough energy to go around constantly pouring our hearts out. As reluctant (and terrible at it) as I was to compartmentalize my feelings occasionally to do my work, I think there comes a time when every MiddKid has to sacrifice a little bit of our essentiality in the pursuit of productivity. It’s something I still don’t like about the Middlebury experience, but I can recognize that I knew what I was signing up for. I can also recognize that, in little bursts, we get our essentiality back, and just because we sometimes sacrifice it doesn’t mean we’re not consciously trying to reclaim it.
I think casual sex is one of those sacrifices. We need to take shortcuts sometimes, and a lot of important interactions — romantic or otherwise — can feel like distractions when we have seven nights’ worth of work ahead of us. I used to look around and see only those shortcuts. I thought efforts to understand each other were missing; I thought we weren’t really connecting if we were just boning. But in the two years of increasing responsibilities and workload since I started this column, I’ve begun to see how our shortcuts might actually mean we do understand each other. We’re making space for each other’s productive selves by dropping a lot of the rituals and formalities around sex and dating; it’s easier to be close to someone if you take the casual route. In all my clamoring for compassion and recognition of each other’s humanity around sex, I missed the attempts at exactly those things.

People don’t necessarily go out to the bar or the Bunker thinking, “I am going to make as real a connection with someone as I can.” I don’t think we always actively appreciate that we’re interacting on a level that fits our abilities, and I definitely don’t think that everyone consciously wants a “meaningful connection” — on the surface, we want sexy time and simple relief from our everyday stresses. But my grand point is that where I used to think we were missing something as a generation, I now see that, like most generations, we just approach things differently. We have to reframe tradition to fit our needs and goals, and we are.

And if the shortcut gets us there, I still hold out hope for the scenic route taking us back.