How BU Dates
Campus-wide survey: opinions about love, sex, social media
When it comes to dating, this generation of college students is writing its own rules, and often deleting them as quickly as they are written. Bulldozed by social media, buffeted by changing attitudes, today’s dating landscape can be a baffling place, and BU’s Charles River Campus is in some ways more confusing than most. As is revealed in a BU Today survey answered by more than 4,000 students, it’s not always clear that a date is a date, it’s hard to know when a relationship is a relationship, and the best clue to the true nature of an invitation is often the time of day (or night) that it’s issued.
It’s confusing, and it’s interesting. A recent story in the New York Times titled “The End of Courtship?” describes just how mixed up it is; it pulled in more than 400 comments from readers. Our own nonscientific survey, which asked about such things as what constitutes a date and the usefulness of social media, discloses much about the dating preferences of students on the Charles River Campus. Looks are less important than personality, a group date is not a real date, and online dating sites are creepy. College, it turns out, also happens to be a wakeup call: only about half (41.4 percent of female, 50.6 percent of male, and 57.1 percent of transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students) say they had “realistic expectations” about dating when they came to BU; 48.4 percent of female respondents say their love life has been disappointing.
One anonymous female student who commented on the survey believes that dating is a thing of the past, at least among college students. “When you’re trying to grow and figure your life out, it’s important to experience bonds beyond friendship and beyond hookup partners,” she writes. “It’s a shame that I’m leaving BU in May without having had a single relationship, not even a close one. I would have liked to learn more about myself that you could only do when you are in a relationship with somebody. It seems that college just isn’t the place to do that anymore.”
One commonly heard explanation for the boyfriend deficit is BU’s lopsided female-to-male ratio: 9,935 to 6,689 last year. Yet similar ratios prevail at most colleges across the country.
In our survey, only 25.2 percent of female and 33.3 percent of transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students say they can find someone to date on campus.
Some responding think the gender imbalance also influences the behavior of those who do find dates. One anonymous female complains that because male students are “well aware of their advantage,” they would “rather opt for casual sexual encounters….The joke that BU girls can’t find a decent boyfriend among the student body does not stretch the truth. After two and a half years at BU, I still have not been asked out on a date.”
BU women say their pickings are further reduced because some of the University’s eligible men are gay; in our survey, 11.3 percent of men identify as gay and 3.4 percent as bisexual.
Among students identifying themselves as male, 70.1 percent report that they do find enough romantic interests on campus. Still, even some men have found something to complain about. One male respondent claims that BU’s gender imbalance drives women to “preemptively search other schools for boyfriends, leaving very datable guys at BU single.”
Virtual life vs. virtual love
Curiously, the survey shows that the generation that spends much of its life online has little interest in dating online. Respondents across gender identities say they have the best luck meeting love interests the old-fashioned way: through friends, around campus, in classes, and at parties. WTBU reported last semester that speed-dating events at Hillel House were growing in popularity.
George Stavros, executive director of the University’s Albert & Jessie Danielsen Institute, which counsels couples in the BU community, says it’s fine to make a first impression in the virtual world, but it’s important to start communicating in person early on.
“You might get anxious, thinking that when they really get to know you they won’t like you,” Stavros says. “So what I say is fairly early on, within the first month of dating someone, go on a two-hour walk or a car ride, somewhere where you can only be with each other.”
Our survey shows that only 8.5 percent of students are fans of online dating, 44.4 percent think it’s creepy, 34.9 percent admit they might try it, and 12.1 percent (note to readers: this adds up to more than 100 percent because some respondents answered questions more than once) admit to trying it, but don’t plan on telling anyone. Among transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students, 40 percent say online is one of the best places to meet romantic partners.
The internet has changed much about dating, and BU students think some changes are better than others. Among female respondents, 57.2 percent say social media has taken the romance out of romance, even as it has offered some useful tools. For one thing, it allows them to do a bit of cyberstalking before a date. Among females, 40.3 percent admit they give their heart’s desire a “quick glance,” and 37.8 percent do “more than they care to admit.” Among males, 40 percent do a quick Facebook profile search, and 30.9 percent ’fess up to doing a more extensive investigation.
How to ask someone out
Yes, it takes courage to ask someone out, but our survey suggests that it’s worth the stress. By a wide margin, (89.8 percent of female, 89.6 percent of male, and 81 percent of transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students) the preferred method of asking or being asked out is in person.
Next up, the question of what exactly a person is being asked to do. Go on a date? Hang out? Can a date really involve a group of several people? Apparently not: most students (over 65 percent) believe it is a date “as long as it’s the two of us (i.e., not hanging out in a group of friends).”
It the rendezvous turns out to be a date, students must figure out who should pay. The short answer offered by students identifying as male or female say the payer should be the guy. But among transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students, there is a more equitable conviction that the bill should be split down the middle. Guys think they should always pay, and females are in agreement in general, but the two groups are also open to the idea of splitting the bill.
Relationship? What relationship?
How do you know if you’re actually in a relationship? That’s not as easy as it once was. Among female students, 78.2 percent say that a relationship begins when an explicit invitation is issued, and 73.7 percent of transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students are in agreement. Male students are a little less literal, with only 63 percent agreeing; 23.7 percent of them consider the relationship to start after three or four dates.
Hookups vs. companionship
We’ve all heard about the hookup culture, but how prevalent is it at BU? Among our survey respondents, 92.4 percent of female, 88.4 percent of male, and 50 percent of transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students believe there is a greater emphasis on hooking up than on dating. At the same time, comments suggest that hookups have an upside: they often blossom into lasting relationships. “Almost every single relationship I’ve seen among friends has formed from casual hookups that turn into real feelings,” says one female student.
While he acknowledges the popularity of hooking up among college students, a sophomore who is a brother in BU’s new chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, a nationwide fraternity for gay, bisexual, and progressive men, says the fleeting moment is not really what most people are looking for. “People enter into a relationship looking for something serious, but end up not following through, and that’s how hookups happen,” he says. “Maybe this is because of the combination of not wanting to label something, being too stressful, or not having the courage to communicate.”
How does someone know when hooking up is the reason for an invitation to get together? To some extent, it depends on the hour of the invitation. Male and female students agree that any suggestion to get together that arrives after midnight can be construed as a “booty call.” Transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students put the demarcation at 10 p.m.
Despite the perception that hooking up gets the greatest emphasis on campus, a majority of students surveyed—80.8 percent of female, 75.2 percent of male, and 60 percent of transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students—say their first hope is to find a companion rather than a hookup, and not a potential spouse. Priorities vary somewhat: male students say they are looking first for looks and humor, while female students want humor and similar interests, and transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender students want looks and same interests.
The way the millennial generation dates differs greatly from what their parents experienced, says Barbara Gottfried (CAS’74), codirector of undergraduate studies in BU’s Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program, but in some ways, it remains the same. While the traditional date—a guy asks a girl out and pays for dinner—is no longer the norm, says Gottfried, “I know from talking with my students that they are looking for somebody to have fun with and some sort of intimacy with.”
Finally, the sex part
Our survey asked students when it was OK to have sex—anytime or only in a relationship. Among the transgender/genderqueer/nonconforming/variant/cisgender group, 90 percent say anytime, among males, 77 percent respond anytime, and among females, 53.6 percent say the answer is anytime.
Despite the gender gap, the unrealistic expectations, and the lack of any real rules, many students take a pragmatic approach to dating. One student summed up his experiences this way:
“As a gay man, college was the first time I had an opportunity to date, as by this age more people are open about their sexuality,” he says. “I met and dated plenty of guys, but nothing serious ever came out of it. College is, in my eyes, a time to explore and learn about your passions and sexuality. It’s rare for a genuine ‘love life’ to bud in college years—and that’s totally OK.”
Joe Chan, Kristina Roman, and David Keefe contributed to this article.42 Comments