Romance at Williams: Is it dead?

Alexandra Pear

On campus, there are two types of romantic relationships: people who are dating and people who casually hook up. This might sound like a pretty standard divide that can be applied to any dating atmosphere, but there is something notable about the stark contrast between these two categories on this campus. People who are dating frequently become inseparable, spending most of their days and nights together. Meanwhile, people who are not dating, but are engaging in hookup culture, treat each other as casually as possible, usually with the pretext that their intimate moments will never be acknowledged by each other in a public sphere. With the pervasiveness of hookup culture on campus, and the desire most people have to continue it, the question must be asked: How does one actually go from casually hooking up to dating? And, most importantly, in the age of hookup culture, is romance on campus dead? 

Last weekend, I joined the swarms of people flocking to Hoxsey to enjoy a fun night out. When I walked into one of the houses, I was immediately struck by how much everyone was checking each other out. The music was too low to dance to and there weren’t any fun games to be played. There was only one reason that I could think of for why so many people were still at this house: the chance of meeting a casual hookup for the night. Now perhaps I’m being too harsh, and people really do just genuinely love dimly lit houses that reek of beer and are so overcrowded that you can feel the sweat radiating off of others around you. If this is the case, power to you; I’m more of a dance party kind of gal myself. But the reason I stayed for as long as I did — and I’m sure the reason others did as well — was for the chance to get to know someone new and to play wingwoman for my friends.  

The pressure on any given night out to hook up with someone is significant if you care about social conformity and the possibility of an intimate moment with another being. Hookup culture is the main way romance plays out if you’re not part of the subpopulation of people who are inseparably dating. There is something very appealing about the idea of hookup culture to many Williams students; you get to maintain independence, play a field, not have to devote the time of being in a relationship and obtain potential social clout depending on your circle. During the week, students are frequently too busy or simply too awkward to get to know new people outside of their immediate social sphere and engage in meaningful flirtations. There is something about the party setting where people are perhaps drunk enough to lose their inhibitions and where social norms are thus disregarded, allowing students to finally act upon their romantic or physical desires. Drunken hookups, however, should rarely be mistaken as actually being meaningful or long-lasting, and the tendency more often than not is to feel awkward about them the next morning and to avoid seeing each other on campus.

So this brings me to the big question: Is romance at Williams dead? What happened to taking social risks and asking that cute person you know to get lunch in a not purely platonic context? What happened to maybe taking it slower and not starting with immediately hooking up? What happened to genuinely caring about one another and wanting to continue that mutual care to the point where it is no longer platonic? And why does being exclusive have to be such a big commitment that you’re spending nearly all your time together? Where is the space on campus to simply date each other? Maybe I’m being too cynical, but I think we all lose out by not being more romantic with one another. So I leave you with a quest: Ask that person out! Write them a cute note or give them a flower. Take them to Spring Street, share some Lickety, Tunnel or Pappa Charlie’s. Maybe it won’t lead to anything, but also, maybe it will.

Alexandra Pear ’22 is from Philadelphia, Pa.