My interest in relationships colors everything I do. I majored in IR because I love the idea of countries in contact: the EU as a fractious clique or North Korea trying to prove stronger than the South. I chose to study languages that would help me communicate with distant relatives (and a long-lost babysitter). My dad once dubbed me “Little Ms. Chatterbox” and still all I want to do is have conversations with people about what they care about. In fact, over years of talking with close friends who think similarly to me, I almost got to thinking that this was everyone’s way of navigating social waters here at Stanford.
But that’s a hefty assumption. Despite our common age range, the motivations behind our relationship choices are radically diverse. The differences are audible in the content of our chatter, visible in our social choices and embedded in our daily schedules. Ultimately, many of us are looking for very different things in the people around us, and these are just three I’ve noticed.
Casual company: Because in a sea of strangers and unknowns, even small talk is a lifeboat. I remember freshman year, when many of us were roaming around campus in constant mobs, or swarming campus parties in well-dressed gangs. Within 10 weeks, BFF statuses were fixed, sexiling was in full swing and long-term plans with recent acquaintances were ambitiously scheduled.
For me, most of these rapidly-settled associations unraveled by the next year. The initial ease had a lot of spirit, but little depth to show for itself. In retrospect, “No one actually knew me” is a common agreement. That sense of anonymity isn’t exclusive to freshman year, but it’s certainly a time we see how much we value simple sociability as quick-fix relief from a deeper displacement.
Physical intimacy: Because we know that personal intimacy can manifest itself physically, and it’s easier to attempt the physical part first. This modern perception is well exemplified in the fact that “Sex & Love” or “Sex & Relationships” is the name of that section in the most popular women’s magazines. I’m not sure if the overall assumption is that physicality leads to ideal relationships or vice versa, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of them.
Otherwise, hooking up is a preferred way to “scratch that itch,” as a friend recently described it. Interestingly, this kind of connection has everything to do with an internal need, and nothing to do with the other person. Then again, repeated hooking up can actually slip into something committed, if “boyfriend and girlfriend” titling seems like the logical next step. It’s a trendy view that physical and emotional interactions are mostly equivalent, so this process probably seems pretty natural. In general, college is a common place where many of us decide how successful or realistic these approaches are for us. It’s not political and it’s not economic, but the definition of an ideal romantic relationship is probably one of the starkest and most rarely debated cultural divides on campus.
A place to give: Because some Stanford students concern themselves primarily with their time and energy and giving it away as much as they can. This, for me, has been the most unique perspective on friendship and love I’ve ever encountered. It has also redefined loaded phrases like “public service” and “social justice,” which I once assumed were meant for expensive organizations or students’ future careers. I judged too soon. Some students now have been supervising overnight shifts at Night Outreach’s homeless shelter (which closed Sunday) despite bad sleep and class the next morning. There have been past Operation Hot Cocoas, where students served warm things to late-night studiers during finals weeknights. There are students in the houses and dorms who just seem eternally ready to help you, not to be something themselves, but to think first of you.
The motivations here are actually really odd, as they ignore the ideal of perfect equality. Yet some students are seeking it, convinced that giving what they’ve got is the best “good” they’ll ever find.
At Admit Weekend four years ago, a Stanford authority said that this University’s greatest resource was its people. Four years later, I’m still convinced that this is true. For zero credits, it’s here I’ve learned that relationships can be driven by extremely different objectives. We have choices. And if relationships are as powerful as we say they are, recognizing which choice we’re making could be crucial.
Email Nina at ninamc “at” stanford “dot” edu.