MASK OFF, MIDD: Commitment and Chill?

By Maria Kaouris

I have such a spectacular talent for making a fool of myself that, when it happens, I’m hardly surprised anymore. 

Take, for example, the dashing Scottish server at Molly Malone’s Irish pub who definitely and I mean definitely was not into me. Egged on by my friends to flirt with him (bad idea), I botched my order, which contained slivered almonds, and ended up rambling on to the poor lad about nuts for upwards of fifteen seconds (“Cashews, walnuts, macadamia…”). Unsure if my nut-related comment was a sexual advance, the server gaped at me and said, “Um, so, like… do you still want that salad?” To which I replied that, yes, Frasier, I most definitely still want that salad, after which point he walked away wordlessly and refused to make eye contact for the rest of the meal.

You’d think that with the pandemic, I’d have fewer rather than more — opportunities to put my foot in my mouth, but I never cease to amaze myself. Last October, I went out to coffee with a guy I liked and, in a series of unfortunate events, ran into his friend — with whom I had gone to lunch the week before (pro tip: don’t go to Otter Creek Bakery unless you’re ready to go public). That night, losing sleep over my faux pas, I reminded myself that at least I’m consistent — albeit consistently awkward (I did not end up with either guy). 

While Middlebury’s social life has been defined by a dominant hit-it-and-quit-it mentality, I have found myself on a remarkable number of dates with too many awkward stories to boot(see above).  Sure, I’ve had my share of dance floor makeouts (cheers to men’s hockey, am I right?), but that phase lost its thrill the moment I got mono. Armed with a burgeoning fear of germs and a waning zeal for wanna hang? texts, I tapped out of casual romance when I realized that many of the guys I was spending time with cared little about getting to know me (and, trust me, I’m worth getting to know).

Since then, I have approached romance with more intention. 

Curious about what sober interactions at Midd looked like, I began to tell guys what I was looking for. I had dated around while abroad in Fall 2019 and returned with a newfound self-assurance, one that motivated me to pursue authentic connection rather than accept a relationship I found unsatisfying. Until that point, I had been so concerned that I would never find romance at Midd unless I was willing to be casual. 

A lot of guys ran away from me. Like, I-wouldn’t-touch-her-with-a-ten-foot-pole vibes. 

But others, either looking for something similar or just…curious, started to trickle into my life (this is not because of my stunning looks or unparalleled personality, but rather because interested guys didn’t have to guess what I wanted — I just told them).  

Interestingly, I’ve found that Midd’s romantic landscape amid the pandemic has been receptive, if not inviting, of this alternative to hook-up culture. Sure, those who want to be casual are going to be casual (there is always a market for romance sans commitment), but the pandemic has made relationships — the full-blown kind — far more palatable. For the first time, students have been forced away from the drunken parties they usually rely on to connect with each other. Now, you no longer need to play the game (i.e. hook-up culture) if you want someone to cuddle. 

On top of this, we now have health obligations to our roommates, suitemates and close contacts. Especially when we were still finding our footing with Covid-19 protocol and positive cases, it was far more acceptable to ask your crush to go on a Knoll walk than send a u up? text. (Now, perhaps that latter is risky because you don’t know your love interest’s comfort with Covid-19 protocol.)

Despite being the self-proclaimed single gal of my friend group — I could never quite find someone who matched my energy before — I settled down this past semester with a lovely guy who accepts, if not welcomes, my overwhelming affection for sloths and black coffee (note to him: don’t get too comfortable… there’s always room for improvement). 

Our first interaction entailed grabbing a  meal together at Ross, which materialized from a sober text. Had it not been for the pandemic, we probably would’ve met in a less intimate setting (perhaps a pregame or party), had a drunken conversation, and been more inclined to reach out on Friday and Saturday nights, when rejection stings less. When we decided to date, we never had to cross the threshold from booty calls to boyfriend/girlfriend — we were, simply, a natural couple.

And so, my greatest realization has been that, especially with Covid-19, there is no set romantic landscape in college; by no means have relationships of convenience disappeared. But with fewer parties, their waning accessibility has created space for alternative forms of connection and a realization that maybe we don’t have to be so drunk to find romance. 

MASK OFF, MIDD: For the first time, we have options.