A Little Person

Michelle Nguyen
Harvard College '13
National Junior College, Singapore '08
Email : michelle.nguyen@facebook.com
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Petite Life ♥

(No) Love at Harvard

I wrote this a while ago for The Crimson's special issue for freshmen. I heard it was published, because some people have talked to me about it. I'm not sure, I never see the final product. So whatever, here it is. It's supposed to be an advice column-type thing, though I'm not quite sure I was the best person for the job.


It’s ironic that one of the most favorite activities during Camp Harvard is to ridicule Love Story, the classic romance film. If Ryan O’Neal and Ali Macgraw could see us right now, they’d probably give us the finger. Not only because we laugh at them as a yearly ritual, but mostly because love? At Harvard? Please. The whole thing was clearly a joke.

We've all heard it, ad nauseam: There's no dating scene at Harvard. This is true. On any given weekend, you’re more likely to end up face down in a communal sink, puking out every last bit of that classy Rubinoff and coke than enjoy a casual date with somebody. At a place that’s so famously overcommitted to everything from finding the next Pi number to saving Africa, dating and romance and love seem to have fallen out of our collective bucket list.

Naturally, there are the exceptions to the rule: the “married” couples, the über-hot girl with a new “boyfriend” every other month, the dysfunctional “relationship” with a not-so-secretly cheating partner which the other tolerates out of fear of loneliness. But for the most part, Harvard students suck at dating.

My theory is that this is because we subconsciously self-sabotage our love life. Let’s call it the Harvard Syndrome. We're used to being successful and strong and invincible. We don't like to reveal our vulnerability or show signs of weakness. The antithesis of all this is being in love with someone without knowing for certain that the person feels the same way. The universal fear of rejection is heightened at Harvard because rejection is such a foreign concept to us. When have we ever not gotten something we wanted in life?

Besides, one of the greatest things about Harvard is that it offers you so many opportunities. When you get to choose between a) making friends with heirs of industries and future rulers of the world, b) rubbing shoulders with celebrities and heads of states, c) running your own club to pad your resume, or d) going on a date with someone who might break your heart, you rarely pick the last option.

Let’s also remember that in high school, when the world at large learned how to date, we were learning our third foreign language. If only there were a Wikipedia or JSTOR article under the title "How to Date at Harvard." Maybe Greg Mankiw or Dan Gilbert could create that course.

That's not all. People at Harvard have incredibly high standards. Why should we settle for anything less than fairytale perfection? Reasons not to date run the gamut from the anatomical to the hereditary to the hysterical. He's too tall. He's not tall enough. He's too WASPy. He’s not WASPy enough. One of his teeth is awkwardly positioned. Switch all the gender pronouns and what you have is a messed up pseudo- dating scene.

Like many Americans, Harvard students say the word “love” often. Shoes. Kittens. HUHDS’ red-spiced chicken breasts (which is drenched in tabasco sauce and kind of gross, if you think about it). We love everything. Yet, it’s so hard to make ourselves vulnerable to falling in love with another human being, in the romantic, all-consuming, can't-live-without-you sort of way. The paradox of dating is that if you aren't open to being hurt, you'll never be open to being happy. The question at Harvard is that why should we subject ourselves to being hurt, when we could be successful and fabulous instead?

If you seek happiness in a more libidinous sense, it’s not that hard. If you're a girl: put on a revealing dress, walk down Mt. Auburn Str. and hit on the first drunk guy. If you're a boy: Ditch the khaki pants and tennis shoes combo, get a haircut, put on some deodorant, and wait patiently for your chances. Unless you happen to be European or an athletic recruit, you can't rush these things.

But it’s hard to find love and meaningful relationships in this corner of Cambridge. Everything that makes Harvard great, makes it hostile to romance. Even when you do find someone, it's hard to maintain the bond given how occupied with saving the world you both are, and the fact that there are over 3,000 other choices living in proximity. This is why your chances of surviving as a couple increase if you both live in the Quad.

However, once every blue moon, a certified Don Juan falls for a nubile young thing. A Rhodes scholar slash football player marries his high school sweetheart. Couples get engaged on graduation day. Magic does wear crimson sometimes. So have faith. Put yourself out there. Say yes to more things than late night munchies at the Kong. Stop fixating on his overgrown nose hairs. Cry a little, and love a little. Just please, don't get a venereal disease in the process.

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Michelle: Auf Wiedersehen!

9/20/2011 12:42:00 AM

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