There’s this college trope of hooking up with someone, then never wanting to see them again. Maybe you were so drunk you’re embarrassed about what you did at the time, or maybe it’s someone who you didn’t like them to begin with and there’s no reason to continue the relationship. Regardless, I always hear these stories from my friends or their friends about being sick, having some horrible midterm, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they ran into you-know-who on campus. You always see the ones you don’t want to see the most, am I right?
With this notion in mind, hooking up with classmates seems especially taboo. A week ago, I was chatting about this with one of my classmates and I asked if the rumors I heard about him were true. Another classmate, my neighbor, had told me he was secretly dating another girl in our class, that they were inseparable but kept their romance under wraps. He laughed and denied it, but said he did think about it at one point.
“We’re really good friends,” he told me, “and finally I decided I didn’t want to screw that up. I mean, we’re in the same class.”
I didn’t tell him I’ve slept with two other people in our class and that I don’t feel weird about it at all. I don’t know why, maybe I didn’t want to be contradictory, maybe I was scared he’d be shocked or something. But I’ve never really wanted to avoid anyone I’ve slept with or have any problem seeing them again. My foray into romance with my classmates just affirms that — I enjoy seeing them in class even more now that we’ve slept together.
Then again, my sexual habits are probably somewhat atypical. I don’t hook up while drunk, I don’t sleep with people who I’m not already either interested in or friends with. Generally speaking, I would be more inclined to see someone I’ve slept with than less.
My coworker friend and I agree on this. She says she feels more comfortable with people after she’s hooked up with them, that even if they aren’t close or don’t hang out much, when she does see them she’s at ease because of their history. But then again, we also agree that friendship is better than romance. We’re both more interested in becoming closer to our friends than finding explicit sexual or romantic partners right now.
We came up with a metaphor that I think works well. Relationships — friendships, romances, acquaintances, whatever — are like climbing a ladder. At the bottom when you just meet someone, you could just as easily climb higher or step off — no harm done either way. But, if you climb up and actually get to know them, you get the thrill of being high off the ground with the added security of having both hands and feet anchored to the rungs. Falling off the ladder at this point would be painful — losing a friend always is — but it’s also pretty difficult to lose.
Romance is when you climb to the very top of the ladder, hands free. It’s the most thrilling of these options, but by far the most precarious. A stiff breeze could make you lose your footing and if you fall from that height, if you decide to separate completely from someone you’ve forged a real connection with, the pain is much more intense.
Our strategy, my coworker and I, was to forge friendships that could venture into romance sometimes so that we get both the security of camaraderie as well as the thrill of romance. I feel that way currently with my two classmates. Most of the time we’re somewhere comfortably in the middle, but intermittently, we get the thrill of climbing a little higher together. And because of it, we all feel more comfortable with each other. To all you skeptics, it’s only awkward if you make it awkward.
Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. Her column, “Cuffing Season,” runs on Wednesdays.