MASK OFF, MIDD: Situationships are dead, long live intentional connections

By Maria Kaouris

Sabrina Templeton

“You know, you really remind me of my little sister,” my dinner date declared, his thin-lipped mouth broadening into a cheerful grin. “She tries to be perfect all the time. Like you.”

Few men have left me speechless. This one, however, had a way with words.

In a corporeal manifestation of my horror, I accidentally swallowed a mouthful of fettuccine alfredo — unchewed, no less — and began wheezing. Rather than acknowledging that I was, in fact, hacking uncontrollably, my date gazed into my watery eyes and told me they reminded him of “beautiful black holes.” 

I almost ripped my clothes off right then and there.  

While I’ve always had a propensity for men who make bold statements — and trust me, this one gets bonus points for the unprecedented creativity — my date soared far past brazen, crashing and burning somewhere between heinous and unbearable. 

In his defense, had I responded with a weak smile, an “Oh, that’s nice,” or even simply ignored the comment, I could have allayed some of the tension (to clarify, it was the awkward, not sexual, type). But no, in all of my wisdom, I croaked out a sarcastic joke, congratulating him for bringing up both incest and perfectionism on a first date. Good one, Maria.

When the night ended, I walked home alone under the orange streetlights and eavesdropped on couples strolling by. Their shards of conversation, injected with playful banter and surreptitious whispers, belonged to a language even the Rosetta Stone could not uncode. 

As the early February chill wrapped around my waist, I knew one thing for certain: this boy and I were never going out again. 

The next morning, my Kim Possible ringtone woke me up, mercilessly. 

Maria, had such a great time with you. Dinner on Friday? 

It was the text’s muted enthusiasm that made me perspire. Did I give him a hand job under the dinner table and simply forget? Did he have a fetish for girls who make slightly off-color jokes? Was I being featured on some new reality TV show called Civilians Finding Love? Momentarily enthralled by my third explanation, I envisioned myself as a hometown celebrity, swarmed by Fairfield County soccer moms desperate to get my autograph (a girl can dream, can’t she?). 

I returned to Middlebury for the spring semester days after my chaotic date, slightly scarred but with high hopes for connection. Short of discussing it in therapy, I recounted the absurdity of the story over Ross brunch and vowed that, this semester, I would be gunning it for Nicholas Sparks-esque romance, rather than that cheap Adam Sandler sh*t. 

My attempt at love was far less than successful. Only weeks later, we got sent home for the semester. 

Packing up my bedroom, I peeled my feminist posters off the walls of Starr 205 (a room whose quality time with me was tragically cut short) and stuffed my oversized sweaters into duffels. I couldn’t help but think the universe wanted me to be perpetually single. Slow and steady in the right lane, I drove home, wondering how my love life would pan out in isolation.

The truth was, I came to realize, that romance was now unequivocally inconvenient. 

At Midd, B.C. (before Covid), we could grab-and-go some combination of intimacy and connection with relative ease. The pure existence of options (namely, other students and a lack of parents) wrangled into a 350-acre campus created an arena for attachment, both profound and superficial. It was common, natural even, to be hooking up with someone on Friday nights, Snapchatting someone else who added you “by search” but didn’t acknowledge you in the dining hall, and doing homework with your friend-that-you-may-have-feelings-for all within the same week.

And so, I have found myself in a number of situationships, contending in a ring of convenience. My weekends were marred by boozy bonds and daylight dates with boys who didn’t quite fit into my romantic life. In an effort to “keep an open mind,” I went out with a number of guys who I had little in common with, some of whom were emotionally unavailable and others whom I wasn’t even attracted to. The common thread throughout all of these interactions, however, was that I somehow managed to flee with nothing short of a preposterous story (see above). 

But in the wake of a pandemic, it is no longer feasible to flit around without considerations of our health and safety. Now, more than ever, we are forced to be discerning about who we let into our lives and how, if at all, they fit in. Gone are the days of utilitarian connections, making out with someone at a party who is cute enough or maintaining a fizzling relationship for the “good of the friend group.” 

Now that human connection is spatially inconvenient, even on our small Vermont campus, I wonder if the pandemic has given us a rare gift. 

For arguably the first time, we will be forced to form intentional relationships, ones that are neither stained by poor communication nor misunderstandings. 

Our school year will be differentiated by a marked cognizance: an obligation to briefly discuss our physical whereabouts with each of our new partners. Without explicitly expressing that we’re planning to “toot it and boot it,” if you will, or, alternatively, longing for a Taylor Swift-inspired romance, we can use Covid to broach the subject of desired commitment level. Not only has the pandemic impacted each of our individual comfort levels with physical intimacy but it has spilled over into those of our roommates and suitemates. Consequently, we each have an unprecedented responsibility involved in romance that may just remove the ambiguity that usually plagues love at Middlebury.

Romance, in whatever form we seek it, might come to fruition for us sooner than the vaccine.

MASK OFF MIDD, blurry lines are so last season.


Maria Kaouris is a member of the class of 2021.