alone, together

This is something I threw together very last-minute for the New York Times' essay contest.

I stole all the pictures from DeviantArt, doing my best to give credit. Man, there is a ton of furrymanga on DA. Hopefully my essay is at least a little interesting. I know I was kinda fascinated by it.

Check it:

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Alone, Together [With Everybody]

Today's college students can find and foster love off campus. This speaks to how independent today's college students are, the technology they use to communicate, and the changing definition of love for this generation.

My girlfriend and I don't appear to have much in common. I'm an English major; she studies Neuroscience. I've recorded two albums in college; she played varsity basketball. I'm agnostic; she's Jewish. I'm African-American; she's Caucasian.

For the past four years, I've attended Goucher College, north of Baltimore, Maryland, while she's attended Oberlin College, forty-five minutes outside of Cleveland, Ohio.

We're not alone. At Goucher, a small liberal arts school that didn't go co-ed until 1986 and is traditionally over 60% women, many of my peers date exclusively off-campus. And though Goucher is traditionally where you 'meet your bridesmaids but not your groom', my college isn't alone either. In Baltimore, one of America's true college towns, inter-campus dating is now the norm.

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'A Love for the Arts', by Delacorr

This means that for college students, modern love is independent love. The technology, values, and priorities of our generation are different than any group of young Americans prior. This means that though I love my girlfriend, I only see her every three weeks and talk to her less than an hour a day during the school year. The technology at our disposal - e-mail, affordable cell phone plans, private online photo galleries - makes distance easier. Of course, we still send letters and packages through the mail.

Distance is a smaller obstacle to us now than ever, and at 300 miles away, my relationship is one of the furthest stretching. For the many Goucher girls who date students at Baltimore colleges, a short bus or car ride away is not only less than intimidating, it's sometimes preferable. Lots of my friends at all colleges, big or small, say they'd rather date off-campus - it allows them to escape from their own social groups and learn new ones.

Those, however, are all peripheral tidbits about dating outside of your future alma mater. The 'how' is fascinating; I've been living it for seven semesters. The 'why' is much more elemental; it's because love is both a very important pursuit and a less hurried process for us. Our anxieties about marriage and 'settling down' are small compared to our preoccupations with everything else.

This generation isn't dating away from their college because they care less about their significant others, but because we have the opportunities to care more. For those of us fortunate enough to be in college, we have the chance to experiment socially in ways that the free-love hippies of the '60's would have flipped for. Vietnam protesters couldn't organize through Facebook. The Black Panther Party didn't have the option of setting up MySpaces and using LinkedIn to find candidates that could cull college students.

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Love by TheOne85Ca 

I'd lived in Seattle my whole life before college; my parents, who both went to high school in Washington state and then to Whitman College, where they met, had no chance of going to a school as far away as Oberlin, let alone Goucher. Half of my high school's college-bound seniors went further east than Texas.

My girlfriend is a major priority in my life, I love her very much, and I was ecstatic to live with her last summer. She interned at the University of Iowa while I interned for an internet clearinghouse and we lived in mostly harmony for two months in Iowa City. I think sharing space is important, which is why I'm excited to graduate and live with her again. The friends I have who are in committed relationships feel the same way. In a generation where divorce and separation were common among our parents, we want to find the best mates, lovers, and friends we can - and then test them over a long period of time.

Some accuse college students of shirking responsibility, but few shy away from commitment. The manifestations may be different - no one gets pinned a la Bye Bye Birdie, and I haven't been able to borrow my girlfriend's letterman jacket yet - but serious dating at my school and many others comes ring-free. I even know some couples who are in the midst of long-term engagements, with wedding dates set for after graduate school or other life goals.

My friends and I are part of an era where it is acceptable to never want kids, never date seriously in college, never want to get married, or never want to be monogamous. At least in the liberal-arts-college ranks, it is an era of sexual liberation and responsibility, unparalleled communication about desires within relationships, and surprisingly few high school dramafests. Inter-campus dating is a symptom of a much larger progression.

Love is now a negotiation. Facebook, the social networking site whose power is difficult to underestimate, and whose original base of users was only college students, offers four options for students and now any users to represent as 'looking for': 'Friendship', 'Dating', 'A Relationship', 'Networking'. Formerly, a fifth option existed: 'Random Play'. Today, one student could find all five in another student - possibly even through Facebook.

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True Love, by are-you-happy-now 

Much is made of the new 'social networks', but love has not transformed so much as expanded. I have friends who identify as straight, bi, gay, and trans, friends from 0 to 6 to X on the Kinsey Scale, friends who will wait till marriage, friends who are dating divorcees. This isn't just my place as a liberal arts student from Seattle by way of Baltimore, it's everywhere. Our love is not getting married at 21, though it can be. The reason most aren't is not only because we don't want to mistake someone else for someone or something they're not; we're also terrified of misinterpreting ourselves.

The new value system of college students is simple: Become yourself while working with others. Ideally, we want to shape and be shaped, growing in a neverending quest of self-improvement. In a world where individualism reigns, yet service is expected - and nothing could better describe the new liberals that make up most of my peer group and much of America's college students, it stands to reason that while love may not be taking a backseat to life, but it's not driving any more.

Finding yourself before you commit to others is a new creed for us as college students. Where our parents may have viewed college as a time to prepare for the workforce (probably not), we view it as a time for self-discovery above all else. I consider myself lucky to not have dated on my campus during my time here - it allowed me a social freedom I quite simply couldn't have had otherwise. College is also now a time of experimentation; majors change, activities change, relationships change.

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Love by PastelPunk 

The college relationship as it exists at the colleges I experience the most - Goucher, Oberlin, and the massive-by-comparison University of Washington, plus colleges in Baltimore ranging from the also-small Maryland Institute College of Art to the also-large Towson University - is a malleable concept. It's also not a big deal. Everyone's traditional high school perceptions are, for the most part, left in high school. Rarely do I find myself thinking of a classmate as "________'s girlfriend," "________'s partner" or "_________'s f***buddy." Where relationships may have defined us in high school or the college students before us, they don't now.

College gossip is not above relationships, but it's more often about *gasp!* people as individuals. The rare couple who are constantly together usually are not deemed worthy of discussion.

Individualism's rise to prominence in the values of college students is a good thing. It makes for better students, more motivated workers, and happier people. It also doesn't hurt relationships - the self-delusion I regularly inflicted upon myself in high school has long disappeared now that I know who I am, what I value, and why I want to be with who I'm with.

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Me and You, by OhGirl 

So today's college students are both alone and together; just as the distance has decreased and the options for communications exploded, our connections are now vast. The challenge for us is to still foster and maintain these personal relationships. As a senior preparing to graduate, I am all too concerned with keeping in touch, knowing that I have no excuse not to. For my single friends, they want to 'keep in touch' in different ways, hoping to shape and be shaped, perhaps, by people they never got to know in college. Second chances and new connections come easily for us, and it is a luxury that we sometimes take for granted.

Still, I'm impressed with how my peers - heck, how I, too - handle love and relationships with the other responsibilities that accompany collegiate life. We are stressed, busy, competitive individuals who are still finding and making time to love. It may not be a recognizable form of love to others, or even an acceptable form. It may not be an acceptable or recognizable amount of time spent with significant others. But I am convinced my generation will be growing and shaping themselves for years to come, hopefully forever, and eventually reaping the rewards in the form of satisfying, loving relationships. I’m convinced of this whether or not those relationships are anything like the relationships of those who have come before us.

Now I need to call my girlfriend.

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I quite like some of OhGirl's stuff, even though it looks like advertising print a lot of the time.

[OhGirl @ DeviantArt]

You can buy some of her work, apparently.