MASK OFF, MIDD: A college senior’s take on romance amid Covid 

By Maria Kaouris

SARAH FAGAN

We’re in his American-made car, this blue beast equipped with two Lysol cans and enough sports equipment to outfit half a hockey team. As he rolls to a stop next to my Honda, he expertly (maybe a little too expertly) toggles to Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands” and the sensual lyrics fill the car.

Slow hands, like sweat dripping off our dirty laundry. No chance that I’m leaving here without you on me.

We make initial eye contact — you know, that look — and I’m ready to close off our date with a smooch. Unsure if we’re supposed to kiss through our masks (that could be hot, right?), I make the executive decision to take mine off. In a manifestation of my unparalleled sex appeal, the mask strings get caught on my dangly earrings and, when I finally wrestle them free, I’ve broken a sweat from the stress of my unexpected skirmish. Oblivious to my struggle, he seamlessly removes his own mask, revealing a set of lips destined for Chapstick advertisements. I ready myself for the soft impact of the kiss. 

And then, in all of my wisdom, I lunge forward and give him a side-hug — a side-hug — and blurt out, “Thanks for such a fun time!” before bolting.  

I’m a natural at a lot of things, but boys have never been my forte. Add a global pandemic into the mix, a healthy dose of personal anxiety, and Middlebury’s “We encourage sexting during Phase One” policy, and I am left wondering: what could possibly go wrong? 

While I’m undeniably outgoing, have a deafening laugh (some would dare call it a cackle), and say “hi” to people I follow on Instagram but have never had a conversation with, my boldness does not necessarily translate into romance. Sure, I’ve asked out guys first, mailed some love letters and, most recently, private messaged my Zoom crush (ballsy, I know), but these spurts of confidence are nevertheless intertwined with my (somewhat endearing?) clumsiness. 

You might not find “chronic awkwardness” on Web MD, but trust me, I have all the symptoms. 

A relic of my high school love life (or rather, the wasteland that resembled a love life), my romantic awkwardness developed when my eight closest friends all started dating each other. The ninth wheel of my friend group, I was on my own to navigate proms and first dates while it seemed that everyone around me had already figured it out. 

I’d like to think that I’ve stockpiled enough good karma to carry me through my love life, but I have stumbled through nearly every romantic milestone. Namely, when I had my first kiss, I pulled away after ten seconds and exclaimed “I’m a virgin!”

Even more famously, one week after “Cupid Shuffling” my way through senior prom, my date, a dashing lad with a penchant for backflips, started successfully pursuing the 2016 U.S. Olympic gymnast, Laurie Hernandez.

And finally, lest I forget the times during my freshman year that I would wake up in the morning to booty calls and, worried that not responding would be rude, message back with a genuine, “Sorry didn’t see this, was asleep!” 

Thankfully, I have managed to survive these cringey moments with only mild bruising and a considerable amount of laughter. For the most part, I have kept my awkwardness at bay during college (I no longer flirt by sending my class crushes unsolicited Quizlets) and, despite hook-up culture at Middlebury, have found myself on a number of dates. With time, patience and a bit of hopeless romanticism, I have gained some footing when it comes to love. 

Romance in college, naturally accompanied by its own anxieties, is even more challenging when you’re a girl of commitment. In truth, there’s a part of me that wishes I were comfortable with casual flings, those drunken hook-ups that end nearly as soon as they start (I’m talking figuratively and physically here, boys). However, through the years, I have learned that attracting the people you desire, whether that’s a short-term or committed connection, hinges on being honest with yourself and others. 

As we begin at Midd, I wonder what love in our rural Vermont town will look like this year. The musky autumn breeze, usually crisp and sweet, will now mingle with the potent smell of hand sanitizer. Friends who typically reunite on Battell Beach will be replaced by individuals waving to each other as their masks hide their elation. Even Atwater, the setting of many freshmen’s first college party, will be overwhelmed by the sound of crickets chirping rather than drawn-out tones of “Mr. Brightside.”

Despite limiting our physical connections, both romantically and platonically, our desire for love and acceptance remains steadfast. Now, more than ever, we will seek comfort in one another and search for unique ways to show others we care about them.  Tune in to my Middlebury Campus column, MASK OFF, MIDD. Laugh with me (or at me) as I navigate relationships during the era of Covid and have honest conversations about college romance. 

MASK OFF, MIDD, I’m telling all.  

 

Maria Kaouris is a member of the class of 2021.