By Bailey Urness
Dear Students of Whitworth University,
As a fellow classmate, I implore you to throw out your aversion to casual dating.
While dating is a familiar topic of discussion on our campus, casual dating has been pushed aside. For years, this get-to-know-you dating approach has been frowned upon. Students have become so hesitant to go on casual dates that this method could soon vanish altogether.
Alan Mikkelson, communications professor and a '00 alum, said, "There can be a stigma against people who engage in casual dating. They can get labeled in negative ways."
Although this issue has infected Whitworth at least since Mikkelson was a freshman, in '96, it doesn't seem to have pervaded public college campuses. Mikkelson said that when he taught at Arizona State University as a graduate student, nobody worried about casual dating.
So why this hesitation at Whitworth? Three reasons, it seems.
The first is community, community, community. From the moment you move on campus as a freshman, you can't escape the word. Whitworth is well known for its close community. But along with that come less-obvious implications for the dating culture.
Mindy Smith, Whitworth campus pastor and a '98 alumna, said, "Because Whitworth is a 'small town' in many ways, it feels as if no one can go grab a cup of coffee without the villagers noticing and thus talking, suspecting and ultimately defining before anything has even begun."
This pressure to define the relationship as exclusive early on, Smith said, is so overwhelming that people avoid dating completely.
The "small town" atmosphere also means that different groups of friends start to integrate. This often deters people from casually dating because it allows them to take an easier, safer approach. Rather than getting to know each other on a date, you can simply get to know them by hanging out in groups of friends.
Katrina Golden, resident director of Duvall Hall, said the problem with the "hangout approach" is that, "The two people who should be talking [to each other] are instead talking to their friends."
A second reason is that although friends are often encouraging and supportive, they can also create a hype that overwhelms both parties.
During a recent relationship program in Duvall Hall, sophomore Jessica Knuth said that friends start getting excited about the assumption that two people are now a couple, "and the conversations start to build. Quickly it turns into something bigger than what it really is."
This hype places pressure on both people for the relationship to escalate and they are rapidly turned off to the potential relationship, she said.
"Your friends start giggling about marriage when all you thought was 'he's cute,'" Knuth said.
Although women tend to be blamed for escalating the excitement at the prospect of any new romantic relationship, Mikkelson says that men are also at fault.
At a recent program called "Real Men of Genius," Mikkelson saw that many men were frustrated with the dating culture at Whitworth. After a show of hands, he discovered that "A lot of people engage in the hype and it's the same people who are frustrated with [the dating culture]."
Third, although the tradition may bring chuckles to current students, it also represents deeply rooted marriage ideas in the Whitworth community. Marriage and the future are common topics of discussion on campus. This brings pressure for a simple date to quickly become a deeper relationship, Golden said.
Similarly, Smith said "A lot of students wander around Whitworth feeling like 'I have to grab a spouse before I leave here or I will be destined to be alone forever.'"
Some students may see ring-by-spring as a silly joke, but for others it starts to subtly affect their expectations.
Golden said, "It can sometimes create a dream of what a wedding and marriage should be." When you've barely finished a first date, "It can be an unhealthy way to focus your attention."
These ideas continue to plague students' minds as romantic relationships continue to be stressed in outlets such as Traditiation, campus programs, and hall dates.
But if these are the reasons that casual dating is rare at Whitworth, what do you do as a student if you want to date casually?
- Understand the consequences: Casual dating at Whitworth involves risk. Negative labels are often attached and other people may make assumptions about your intentions.
- State expectations from the start. Let the other person know that this is casual. The first date to coffee does not mean you are going to start seeing each other exclusively.
- Don't date just to date. Get to know people you find interesting, but don't date because you feel pressure. As Golden said, "Focus on who you are and who you want to become. Focus on that journey and in that person you'll find friends and [potentially] a significant other."
Casual dating may not be the method for you, but don't be afraid to take a small risk in trying a different approach.
Bailey "casual date survivor" Urness