Do you know how much a scoop of Kilwins ice cream costs? Since I figured it could only be a couple of dollars, I caved and let the guy who had informally asked me out a few days ago buy me a scoop of ice cream. I discovered later that allowing him to cover the cost of a scoop of mint ice cream led him to believe that I was obligated to sleep with him. Fortunately, the bargain he thought we had made was not acted on, and we both escaped the evening with nothing beyond social discomfort. While I am certainly one of the lucky ones because this story does not end in sexual assault, the expectations of physical reciprocation that often accompany the dating scene at the College of William and Mary are unacceptable.
I have gone on amazing dates here in Williamsburg with considerate guys, ones who have made me feel safe and who have respected my boundaries. Unfortunately, I have also gone on some terrible dates as well; looking back on these experiences, I notice that they have been painful for two intertwined reasons that may be directly linked to our campus community: a fundamental lack of communication and differing expectations.
A significant part of the dating culture at the College is a crippling inability to truly ask someone out, so we often opt for carefully framed invitations to coffee or awkward assurances of a casual lunch. Students at the College are often beautifully, wonderfully awkward and embrace their unique interests without shame. However, in the dating scene, that usually enchanting awkwardness leads to a lack of confidence to communicate effectively. This lack of clarity makes it difficult for me, as I feel obligated to respond with a similar lack of clarity in order to avoid assuming they meant something they did not. It is often ambiguous if I have agreed to go on a date with someone or if we are just getting to know each other better as platonic friends.
Murky communication leads to different scenarios that can range from mild social discomfort to sexual assault and a defiance of acceptable behavior. Some students at the College seem to view dating as a transaction, where any date-related purchase must be compensated by physical favors. They buy me food, a movie ticket or even a scoop of ice cream and in return I am expected to pay them back romantically or physically. I expect more of men at the College and expect that everyone truly care about being “One Tribe, One Family.” Perhaps my expectations of respect, honesty and consideration are simply naïve. I have certainly been told that my problems will be solved if I just stop letting guys pay for me, or if I stop flirting and exploring the dating world entirely. But I reject that way of thinking because I am not the problem, and these negative interactions are not my fault. Consent is not coerced. Buying someone dinner with strings attached or with expectations of physical reciprocation is wrong and unjustifiable. Those people are part of the problem, not me.
I love being part of the Tribe. That being said, I believe that it is my right, and the right of every student here, to feel safe, respected and valued. Yet my negative romantic experiences have cost me some of my security here with the people who call themselves my family. The culture of a fear of honest communication that I have experienced at the College is unhealthy and damaging to our community. We can do better. We must do better.
Email Anna Boustany at firstname.lastname@example.org.