I’ve seen quite a few “relationships” during my time at Notre Dame. This is what usually happens: Notre Dame’s social circles are usually centered around co-ed “friend groups.” The groups usually constitute themselves by the end of sophomore year. A group spends all of its time together, and a natural dynamic within the group develops. Eventually, a man and a woman in the group realize that they’re “interested” in each other. All of the other members of the group realize this, so the group readjusts its dynamic for that awkward sexual tension between two of its members. Eventually, the two people are “in a relationship.” No one knows quite how it happens in these groups. It just happens. So the group readjusts itself again and creates a new dynamic, all of the other members adjusting their relationships so that, rather than having a relationship with each of the two individuals, the relationship is now with each person as part of a “couple.”
After a while, the couple decides that the “relationship” thing isn’t going so well. So, they decide to stop “dating” or “being in a relationship” or whatever they’re doing. So then the “friend group” finds itself in a state of tension. The members of the friend group are set, but it’s awkward to be around the two people who just broke up. So usually 1) the friend group splits into two, with each member choosing a side, 2) the friend group breaks up entirely, or 3) the friend group just sticks it out and has two to three years of general awkwardness. Then, no one wants to date anyone.
Before the days of co-education, dating didn’t have drastic consequences for your entire social life. You dated a woman who went to school across the street. If it didn’t work out, you went your separate ways and you got to keep your friends. Now, with men and women mixed in college, the decision to date someone is a decision that affects your entire social life. When you date someone, you don’t just risk your friendship with that one person. You risk your friendships with every person in your “friend group.” People try to give all kinds of dating advice to my generation, the generation that can’t figure out how to date. The problem is, you’re never choosing just to date one person when you date in college. You’re choosing to adjust your entire social life and risk it falling apart. That’s a big risk for just one date.
Further, this is a problem that past generations are not too savvy with. When my parents’ generation was dating, the sexes had a good amount of separation. Most colleges today are breaking down the barriers between the sexes. New York University has even considered doing “gender-blind housing.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to break up with your roommate.
I don’t know what the solution is, and I don’t mean to say that co-education is a bad thing. But I do believe that, if we are going to have honest discussions about co-education and the mixing of men and women in their social lives, we need to understand that these things have brought about not only goods but also tensions, difficulties, and perhaps even (gasp!) some bad things. We need a broader discussion.