You see the posts on Reddit so often it has become a self-referential meme: how do I get a girlfriend at UTD? But if you are looking for a partner just to satisfy the image of what a relationship should be, you are entering it with the wrong intentions.
We often see this as a stereotype of the “incel” man who attends our university, and this argument is mostly directed at men. But women are not off the hook either. Across the board, college students who are overly focused on acquiring a partner for shallow reasons should reconsider their intentions. Viewing a relationship as a necessary step for growing up may be a sign of lack of maturity as much as it is simply unproductive — while relationships can be transformational, that is something you discover in retrospect. And if you are focused more on the abstract idea of being in a relationship, you may end up using flings to distract yourself from things that will be more fulfilling in the long term, like self-discovery, a support network and genuine human connection. Students can find much better uses of their time at UTD than the endlessly confusing politics of dating.
Even the use of the word “get,” to me, is suspect. I would say most Americans view a relationship as a free bond of two people who want to spend time together, become emotionally and/or physically intimate and invest in each other’s lives. It is not a trophy to add to your gamer achievements page, and the word “get” makes the whole experience sound like your intentions are just transactional.
But you might say that a lot of people think that the transactional view of relationships is normal. Admittedly, both men and women do this to varying extents — while the stereotype of desperate loners is often applied to male incels, there is also an internet subculture that has invented the term “femcel” to describe their female counterparts. Some studies have even found that toxic masculinity in a relationship can even cause women to carry those excessively dominant attitudes into future interactions.
But I will argue that this approach isn’t just unhealthy, it actually will damage your romantic prospects. The problem is that humans tend to have a very good intuition about people’s intentions, AKA, the vibe. And if you approach anyone in class with the subconscious thought of “winning” them, a lot of people are going to smell that from a mile away and run in the opposite direction.
In my admittedly cynical mind, there are two reasons why the “get a partner” goal is off-putting, andwhy we shy away from those who want to “get someone” but do not seem to care who we get into a relationship with. Maybe you are lonely, and instead of more fulfilling solutions, you view romance as a way to escape your sadness. Maybe you view a romantic relationship as an essential life stage that must be achieved in order for you to truly be grown up; many freshmen have this view. This is generally unappealing because it shows that you have not yet evolved past the adolescent phase of viewing your own life as a coming-of-age movie.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh. Our culture puts a lot of pressure on people to fit the mold of the “wild college years.” But the truth is that many people don’t even date or have sex in college. The 2010 Online College Social Life Survey found that 20% of college students graduate without ever having sex, and a 2015 poll by The Cut put that number as high as 40%. I understand why 18-year-olds might feel anxious or embarrassed about never having had a partner. But all things come in due time, and I promise, you are not missing out if you wait a few more years. In fact, becoming more comfortable with yourself and trusting the process will make you a much better romantic candidate in the future.
And then there is the classic reason for viewing romance as a conquest: misogyny. This is not to say that you literally are a misogynist, but that for good reason, a lot of women are hyper-attuned to that sort of language. Few people want to date an Andrew Tate fan. The aggressive approach to “getting” and owning a partner is something usually associated with male incels — men are often conditioned to behave in this way — but not even women are immune. Look at the rise of the “female dating strategy,” essentially women’s version of the red pill subculture. No matter what your gender is, insecure and aggressive behavior is a major turn off.
None of this is to say that you cannot ever approach people; in fact, a lot of people find confidence attractive. But you have to do it in a way that is respectful and courteous, and shows that you care about more than just a conquest. And while self-improvement is a good practice, make sure you are doing it for the right reason, because status symbols like muscles and brains will only get you so far. Do things for yourself, not for others.
There is one final reason the obsession with “getting” a partner is unhealthy. While relationships can be enriching, romance isn’t the only thing to life, and if you think it is, you are going to miss out on a whole world of growth. Before you decide to share your life with someone — with all the things that entails — you need a solid foundation.
Focus on trying new things. Join a club or a community advocacy group that will fill your time and make you more well-rounded. Try to meet new people or strengthen the bonds that you already have; everyone needs a support network of friends and family. That way, if your romance falls through — spoiler alert, they often do — you will have someone to fall back on.
This era of your life is a wonderful time for growth and personal freedom. Why tie yourself down with extra costs and dating apps?