By Will Savino ’14
Volume XXXIV, Issue 3, December 14, 2012
My friends refer to me as the world’s most calculated drunk. Every time I go out to drink, I take a few moments the next morning to insert some data in Nighttime_data.xlsx, a spreadsheet with 16 variables and roughly 175 entries. This spreadsheet contains the details of every night of drinking I’ve had since August of 2011. Referred to in conversation simply as “The Spreadsheet,” it features such lovely variables as “quality,” “hangover,” “adjusted alcohol content,” and “regrets.”
I began the spreadsheet in an attempt to decode the ingredients for the optimal evening of revelry. I figured that with enough data points, I could plot certain variables against the quality of the night, and see where the regression hit a peak. While I do have some telling results, the most important realization I have had while compiling this study is very simple: I drink too much.
The Day of Dialogue on November 7th gave me a great excuse to ponder this finding. Like everyone else, I thought of the event as an opportunity to selfishly examine my own trivial concerns. I then hijacked group discussion and used it as a soapbox for my very personal complaints with Amherst College social life. Surprisingly, the discussion that actually took place was exceedingly insightful. Hearing about everyone’s struggles with sexual misconduct and social dichotomies made me realize a second simple conclusion: I’m kind of lonely.
I don’t mean an overarching, brooding, existential type of loneliness. I just mean that I have a desire for a very specific kind of companionship. I’m single. I don’t want to be single. If I don’t want to be single, I have to meet girls. If I want these introductions to lead toward an intimate relationship, I need to meet them in a capacity that lends itself toward romantic companionship. At Amherst College, this almost always means drinking. And so, my third simple realization is as follows: I consciously decide to drink because I don’t want to be alone.
This is a pretty depressing conclusion. I mean, it actually sounds like the rationale of an alcoholic. Surely my justification was fundamentally different than that of someone in AA, right? I tried to rationalize by backtracking. Certainly I can’t deny that I would enjoy a bit more romance in my life. And yet, it’s not like every couple at this school is composed of two raging alcoholics. I did a mental checklist of my friends. Of those in a relationship, all of them had starting dating after either meeting early freshman year or hooking up while drinking.
That seems unhealthy. I figured there has to be an alternative. There’s no way that those are the only two means of finding a suitable mate at this school. What if there was a way to initiate a relationship with someone you’re attracted to in an intimate setting? Maybe, like, a way to get to know someone better in the hopes that both parties would want to continue seeing each other romantically? Then I remembered something called “dating.”
It’s possible that I live in a very strange self-reinforced social bubble that is clouding my judgment, but it seems to me that casual dating at our school is just very uncommon. Sure, some people go on dates, and there are probably subsets of the student body that are more likely than others to do so. The unfortunate truth is that one student asking another out for coffee or dinner with the implied intention of romantic interest is the exception rather than the rule. The Day of Internal Monologue allowed me to identify three main causes for this social stigma against casual dating.
1.Amherst College is small
2.Amherst students are socially risk averse
3.Amherst students may not consume alcohol in common spaces
The first two may or may not seem fairly self-explanatory. The last one probably came out of left field. I assure you that these strange precepts are invariably at the heart of my drinking problem, my romantic stagnation, and a handful of other less personal and far more insidious issues on campus.
Amherst College is small. This means that any one person’s dating pool is similarly condensed. If I limit myself to straight single females on campus who aren’t already friends of mine, with whom I share a handful of interests and to whom I’m reasonably attracted, I’m looking at a sample size of maybe 150 people. That may sound like a lot, but given the prerequisite of mutual attraction, that number dwindles quickly.
Amherst students are socially risk averse. In other words, Amherst students are insecure in new social settings. This risk aversion lends itself to social isolationism. After freshman year, students quickly fall into cliques determined by teams, performance groups, fraternities, majors, freshman year floor-mates, or just shared interests. We segregate ourselves in Val and rarely meet others in our halls. This means that we make fewer and fewer new friends as we become upperclassmen while becoming closer with those we already know well. In turn, this leads to a combination of deep entrenchment in the “friend zone” within our social circles as well as limited new interactions, further minimizing potential dating pools.
Casual dating is not dangerous in the typical sense, but in a school this small (and particularly with one dining hall) it is nearly impossible to avoid seeing anyone, let alone ending up in similar social circles. The potential for mildly awkward interaction is fairly high, and we, as a community, are largely unwilling to deal with that.
Amherst students may not consume alcohol in common spaces. This is a trickier point. Let me weave a tale from 2010. I remember a time when I would stroll with friends to Hamilton or the triangle most weekend nights. Dorms with large communal common rooms (in contrast to the cramped individual common rooms of the socials) offered more relaxed settings to drink, play a game or two of beer pong, and most importantly talk to people. The parties were large enough to attract more than your close circle of friends, while not always turning into crowded dens of debauchery.
In 2012 Amherst, people drink to excess in their own rooms before going out, since the existence of future alcohol is always in question with cops around. We over-drink to compensate for the uncertainty of booze later in the night. Then we head to the socials, since parties anywhere else are usually unfeasible. We crowd into common rooms in the socials’ suites, playing the odds; if cops come, they certainly won’t bust everyone. If and when the party reaches critical mass, the only possible outcome is a dance party. I have no shame in acting like a fool while dancing, and I typically prefer to bust a move on a windowsill alone. That being said, if I want to attract a partner, my options are limited to either grinding up on some random girl’s butt, or simply leaving.
What has come to replace the open common room parties of old? Literally just standing outside the socials. You’ve all seen it. You’ve probably taken part. It’s happened increasingly often over the past year, regardless of weather. When the only options indoors are sweaty dance parties or semi-private drink-ups, the only place where you can be intoxicated, mingle, and maybe meet people is in clumps on the sidewalk. I doubt it’s conscious on anyone’s part, but this is how we replace parties where people talk. It is the only open space still available to us, and it does not encourage safe drinking or friendly introductions.
In sum, Amherst can be suffocatingly small and, on top of that, we rarely meet people. When we do, it’s often while unnecessarily drunk. Even if we were to meet people while sober, our culture necessarily discourages conversation and casual dating. So those of us seeking long-term romance either bank on getting introduced to a potential partner while out drinking, or simply play the short game and hope that a random hookup evolves into something more meaningful. To maximize our odds of attracting a mate, we have to drink as often as possible, and when we do, we binge for fear of cops.
I am, of course, speaking only from personal experience. My use of the pronoun “we” has been extremely liberal. Maybe I just have no game, or maybe I’m clueless to the inner workings of Amherst social life. Maybe my outlook is obscured by my bitterness and self-deprecation. Maybe things just aren’t as bad for everyone as I’m making them out to be. But if you think that I’m right, that there’s something askew in our social scene if casual dating doesn’t exist, then we have to consider how our size, awkwardness, and social scene affect that.
If you buy my assessment of the problem, solutions are not very easy to come by. One answer to the miniscule size of the dating pool is to branch out to other schools. Sure, but how and when are you going to meet potentials from other schools? Just watch the flock of Mount Holyoke students that rolls in every Saturday at around 10:30. Most of them are at Amherst for two reasons: get drunk and hook up. Yes, maybe you’ll hit it off with one of them and it’ll blossom into a loving relationship, but 99 percent of the time, that will start with a drunken hook up, which brings us back to square one.
Social risk aversion is an equally difficult problem to tackle. I wish it were as easy as telling everyone to stop worrying. I’ve gone on bad dates. In fact, most dates I’ve attended have gone poorly. Want to know what happens afterwards? I get bitter for a few days, feel uncomfortable when I meet eyes with her in Val, and then I move on. Yes, this discomfort is far more potent when your date is a member of your existing social circle, but isn’t the chance of romance worth that? My fear is that many would say no, and no institutional change would alter that sentiment.
One problem that we can begin to address is that of our drinking scene. “No drinking in common rooms” is maybe the most counter-productive policy at Amherst. It encourages binge drinking and self-isolating pregaming. It forces people to congregate in large, dense groups to mitigate the risk of getting caught. It promotes a culture wherein individual parties are kept secret aside from word-of-mouth, to avoid police detection. It all but eliminates parties where casual drinking and meeting new people is the focus.
I am not saying that it is the administration’s responsibility to encourage us to commit acts that are illegal by state law. What I am saying is that the current policy encourages students to do so in the least healthy ways possible. If Amherst College wants to completely ban drinking for all underage students, they have every right to do so. But so long as drinking policy remains in a grey zone where not all perpetrators are held accountable, the administration is obligated to at least regulate consumption in a manner that encourages healthy habits.
Until something changes, I’ll play the odds. I’m single, so I drink. Any night that I don’t go out is a squandered opportunity to meet a potential lady friend. I drink enough to loosen up, and then I drink a bit more in case the jungle juice gets confiscated. And yes, I am probably one of the very few people who approaches the issue in such a methodical manner, but isn’t that the socially awkward Amherst student at his core? When drinking is not just the most popular but also the most rational thing for a student to do, we must realize that there is something inherently wrong with campus culture. While this issue persists, the best we can do is be the change we want to see. So who wants to get coffee?