Dating Tips for Undergrads?
Here’s a link to some coverage of my Aspen Ideas Festival panel on the emotional health of college students. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Yale should become a dating service! (Nor did I say, nor do I think, that there should be credit-granting “relationship classes.”) But let’s recognize at least that there is no zero sum tradeoff between emotional intimacy and intelligence, and that college can be a laboratory for both emotional and academic development. Young adults who deliberately miss out on serious relationships, either by design or default, as is the pattern these days, are foregoing one of the best ways to protect against the setbacks and injuries of everyday life. What happened to romance, our panel asked? Why is a committed relationship viewed, increasingly, as a luxury or a waste of time at a life stage when students feel they might be better off building their resumes and taking care of themselves? My wonderful co-panelists, Lori Gottlieb and Rachel Greenwald, and I all approached this from slightly different angles – Lori is a therapist, best selling author and editor; Rachel is a relationship coach and also best-selling author) – but we all agreed that a healthy emotional life, which necessarily includes relationships (romantic and platonic) is completely compatible with, and even essential to, a college education.
Many people think an emphasis on relationship skills is too “vocational” a goal for an academic institution, and that intimacy is at best irrelevant to the mission of a great academic institution. (Nice people certainly don’t have a monopoly on genius.) But I think the skills that make loving relationships flourish happen to be the exact same skills that students need to learn to be successful in demanding academic and professional contexts.
Skills needed to get good grades, find a job, and fall in love:
- the ability to listen
- to assume the perspective of other people
- to compromise
- to think creatively and sometimes non-linearly
- to tolerate disappointment and failure
- to learn from mistakes
- to see the best in others
- to be generous
- to be brave.
- to take the long view of life
- to be on time (Sorry, just had to throw that one in there… I’m middle aged.)
These skills enhance, rather than limit, a person’s academic experience in college, as anyone who has watched a class monopolized by a clueless oaf or tried to learn a language on Rosetta Stone will attest. We are social beings, and we learn from one another. Sadly, people equate words like “emotional health” with a certain squishiness assumed to be incompatible with academic vigor. (We see this same false dichotomy between social-emotional learning and academic learning at the early elementary level, where Kindergarten has become a desultory skills factory, rather than a fertile ground for inquiry and exploration.) We all need to push back on these ridiculous dichotomies.
In yesterday’s panel, I argued that the value of the American University lies in its human capital and that, contrary to popular opinion about the encroachment of online learning and other forms of technology, colleges will continue to hold enormous appeal in the face of cheaper alternatives, if, but only if, they can continue to engage students deeply in authentic, face to face communication about important ideas. We just can’t outsource those authentic interactions. Research shows how essential real, not ersatz, communication is for the most basic human endeavors. (Babies who watch TV don’t acquire language; you have to communicate face to face with real humans!)
But the open and often challenging discourse we generally associate with university life is under threat by forces we should fear a hell of a lot more than the potential market reach of an online degree factory or another satellite campus opening up in Singapore.
The real threat to the intellectual and emotional health of universities is, in my view, the threat to free speech. If you haven’t spent time on a college campus in recent years, you may not realize just how stultifying and anti-intellectual much of the discourse has become. It might come as a shock to discover how deeply afraid students, administrators, and even professors are of free speech. So-called “trigger warnings” (the warnings inserted in lectures and homework assignments that caution students when something potentially offensive might be coming) and excessive attention to “micro aggressions” (the small, unintended slights that can appear, but are not meant to be, bigoted) can create an atmosphere of paranoia where people can’t speak their minds without fear of offending someone and running afoul of campus policies. I never thought I would write those words. As a proud left-of-centerish person, I used to mock conservatives who screamed “political correctness” every time a white male was shaken a little off his pedestal. But what’s happened in the American academy is simply perverse. Students and faculty are beginning to lose their minds and plug their ears when they hear anything that doesn’t fit their established world-view.
I wrote about my experience with Harvard’s spineless free speech hysteria here. The director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Greg Loukianoff, has written about the loss of free speech in his book, Unlearned Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate here.
Am I off topic, equating free speech with emotional health? I don’t think so! In an era where anyone with an internet connection can download TED talks and Kahn academy videos, the only real value added to being at college comes from the opportunity to engage, and, yes, struggle with the thoughts and feelings of other people, even when it makes us uncomfortable. This deep engagement will enhance the learning experience of young people and, who knows, it might even land them a better chance at what was once quaintly called falling in love.