Dear Walla Walla, it’s time revitalize the casual dating scene. It’s healthier than jumping from relationship to relationship, it fosters friendship and clear thinking, and frankly, it is a lot of fun.
“Western Wedding University”: That’s what we call ourselves in jest. And like any good college, we have plenty of events arranged throughout the school year to help people connect. But between the "freshman frenzy" and the race to the "ring before spring," I find myself wondering if we aren’t putting too much pressure on ourselves to "find a mate and graduate."
I’ve heard far too many fun and attractive people voice the fear that, if they don’t find someone while they’re in college, they’re somehow permanently doomed to single life. But the national average for marriage amongst women is twenty-six, and it's nearly twenty-nine for men (or so says Wikipedia). This means most of us have not only our entire college career to find that special someone, but a four- to seven-year window after we graduate. This doesn't even mention the outliers. Plenty of people get married for the first time after age thirty. Why? Because they’re busy pursuing life goals and getting to know wonderful people in the meantime.
And there’s no need to scour your biology lab for long-term chemistry. Statistics show that people are most likely to meet their future spouse in the context of their hobbies and interests. People who enjoy travel might get to know each other hostelling around Europe. Young activists might find love at a rally. Gamers and CosPlayers may find themselves OP’d by passion at PAX or ComicCon.
“But Jaclyn,” some might say, “you’re in a relationship: You don’t need to worry about being single.” Fair, but I would submit that most people are at their most attractive when they can handle being content in their singleness. And this leads back to my original point: casual dating. After all, scones and Earl Grey at The Atlas are a fantastic way to get to know someone without the ambiguous pressure of relational expectations. Hanging out for a few weeks doing things you enjoy beats the pants off high-stakes, three-month relationships, and it accomplishes the same thing (perhaps more, as you might end up with a friend).
And after a few weeks of scones and morning jogs, you’ll be in a much better position to let them know if you’re interested in dating them romantically and nonexclusively. If you’re sure you want this person to be your proverbial other half in a serious way, and both of you are on the same page about the direction of your friendship, go ahead: Ask him to be your man. Ask her to be your girlfriend. But it’s OK to keep it casual until you’re sure you want to invest.
I have a friend, we’ll call her Nina, who casually dated a guy for a month before agreeing to be his girlfriend. She knew she enjoyed his company, but Nina wanted to make sure there was romantic chemistry before she put all her chips on the table. When they became a couple, Nina felt sure of both their friendship and her feelings for him. At the end of that month she had the option to pursue a romantic relationship, or to continue hanging out with her friend. Nina chose romance. Of course, it’s not always that easy. Sometimes people just aren’t on the same page. Sometimes one person just wants more than the other is ready to give. And that sucks. But perhaps it sucks less when you haven’t invested so much emotion and energy into one vision of the relationship that you can’t step back, regroup, and salvage the friendship it’s built on.
Because I’m blessed enough to be in a fulfilling, long-term relationship, I don’t have to have those "these are my expectations from our time together" conversations. As long as I am open with them, the boundaries of our mutual expectations are implied. In a weird way it has freed me up to go on a lot more dates than I ever could’ve hoped for. I can grab coffee with Xavier, eat dinner with Jon, discuss religion with Leah and Katya, and do homework with Pace and Julie in the same week (yes, these are all real people, but these are not their real names). No muss, no fuss. In the process, I’ve gotten to know all these people, many of them guys, some of them girls, and in the process made at least a couple of lifelong friends. It’s not always this easy, but shouldn’t it be?