People here are thought to be either single or married (i.e., in very serious, long-term relationships), but no one really dates.
One in five Harvard seniors who are graduating have never been in a relationship while they were in college. How many relationships did Harvard seniors say they had on average? Just one. The majority of students are single at any given time, except for the lucky few who are in relationships. This means that there are plenty of real dating problems on campus.
Of course, culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are a number of reasons why Harvard students don’t date, and I’ll list a few of them below.
Misguided Ideas About Men and Women
It’s hard enough to date. When you add Harvard to the mix, things only get worse. Gender roles have come a long way, but old-fashioned ideas about how men and women are different still exist, especially when it comes to sexual attraction in groups of 18–22-year-olds who are very successful.
A study showed that when men see two pictures of the same girl, one with “Harvard” written on her shirt and the other without, the one without the writing is more attractive to them online. When the roles are switched, on the other hand, women will find the guy with the Harvard shirt more attractive than the one without it.
Another study says that men like smart women in theory, but they don’t like them in real life. A group of researchers gave male college students an intelligence test before putting them in groups with women who either did better or worse on the test. When they met the women in person, the men sat farther away from the ones who did better on the hypothetical test than they did. They also thought the smarter women were less attractive, even if they had said before that they liked dating smart women.
If I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because society’s ideas of masculinity and power say that men are stronger, not just in terms of their bodies, but also in terms of their intelligence, ambition, and ability to make money. Men might like less-skilled women for the same reason that many women like taller men: they are more interesting. Gender stereotypes that have been around for a long time can hurt everyone.
From what I’ve heard, Harvard women are less impressed by Harvard men as well. That tried-and-true pick-up line, “I go to Harvard,” no longer works on that cute girl in section because, surprise, she goes to Harvard, too. When a woman is smart and successful, she tends to have higher standards for the men she dates. One thing my friends often say is, “Where are all the good-looking guys?”
But maybe people on both sides are being too harsh. The guys we could date might be right in front of us, but we don’t see them. And maybe those smart girls in Harvard T-shirts aren’t so bad after all.
People don’t date because they don’t date, which is part of the reason.
Instead, the popularity of hookups on college campuses is replacing what used to be a dating culture. Swiping right on a bright screen is much easier than working on a relationship, and apps like Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, and Hinge have made sex much less valuable.
Think about this from a historical point of view. Hooking up has changed over time, from a strict cultural taboo on sex before marriage to a month-long courtship before a first kiss to drunken hookups at sweaty dorm parties and out of desperation to its most advanced form to date: those “Netflix and chill?” texts at 3 a.m.
Still, how many students are really getting together? According to a survey of graduating seniors done by the Harvard Crimson in 2015, almost a quarter of them are still single. Even though there are no official numbers on how often the rest of them hook up, it seems like they spend a lot more time doing homework in libraries than doing each other.
It could be that people don’t have enough time.
Between studying for classes, applying for internships, running to and from clubs, going to social events, and trying to eat, exercise, and get some sleep, meaningful relationships have fallen by the wayside.
Ali Binazir, a Harvard graduate and the author of the Tao of Dating, says, “I was inspired to write [my dating self-help books] by the constant dating problems I saw on the Harvard campus when I was an advisor and when I was a student.” Binazir says, “[At Harvard], dating is at best an extracurricular activity, sixth or seventh on the list, between Model UN and intramural badminton.”
Having a great resume is great, but it can hurt your love life. And that’s sad, because accomplishments can’t replace real connections with other people. A resume won’t keep you warm at night during a blizzard, and I can tell you from experience that the winters in Cambridge are very, very cold.
Not Very Good at It
The main reason is that Harvard students tend to do things they are good at and stop doing things they aren’t good at. Even if you’ve been successful for most of your life, it’s hard to deal with things like failure and being turned down.
There’s also the idea that Ivy League students are smarter than they are socially skilled. “These guys spent their high school years studying instead of developing their personalities,” says the author of “The Dbag Dating Guide to Ivy League Guys.” After that, they spent all of college with girls who had spent their high school years studying instead of getting to know themselves.
Even though the stereotype isn’t completely false, I think “lack of personality” is less of a problem than being unable to show that personality to attractive prospects. It’s much easier to reduce risk by doing nothing or doing so little that it’s hard to tell if you’re more than just friends. These days, it’s a sin to seem too interested, to double text if the other person doesn’t text back first, to be too honest, or to not consult a small army of friends before making the “next move.”
Before sparks can fly, there has to be a link between the two things. The only way to get better at dating is to do it, and the only way to do it is to put yourself out there. Unfortunately, Harvard kids are much less willing to take risks than the average person, which doesn’t make for the best first dates.
You don’t have to be a math major to know that Harvard is a great place to be young, alone, and smart. But for those who are good at math, we can make a simple equation: a lot of judgment, a (bad) hookup culture, a lack of free time, a fear of rejection, a lack of experience, and big egos all add up to a nonexistent dating scene.
You want to know how to solve this problem.
I know it’s kind of funny to tell one of the most Type-A people in the world to chill out a bit. It wouldn’t hurt, though. Most people who got into Harvard did so by being very, very serious about themselves. But at the same time, having a big ego is exactly what keeps us from letting someone else into our lives.
I think the best way to handle this is to keep an open mind and a positive attitude. Since not many people are dating, there are a lot of single men and women on campus who are good candidates. If enough people said “screw it” and gave it a try, maybe, just maybe, everything would change.
When you think about it, asking your section crush to coffee might not be such a bad idea.