It’s not, as many may assume, due to the abundance of alcohol or the seemingly lawless sexual frontier that is the college campus. Because let’s be honest, even if you’re five years out of school, you’re just as drunk and horny as ever.
The real reason dating (a term I use loosely here) seemed easier then is because college presented two things the adult world often doesn’t: a context and an excuse. Let me explain.
When you met someone in college, you could reasonably assume they were somewhere between 18 and 22 and were attending school, likely yours. You probably knew how you knew them: a class, a club, a Greek function, through a friend, whatever. And even if you didn’t know them, even at a big school, you quickly discovered only a couple degrees of separation. He lived in the same freshman dorm as Jack. He’s a chemistry major with Craig. He’s in the same fraternity as Steve. In other words, you had something in common with everyone you met. You had a foundation. You had a context.
This is less often the case in the post-college social scene. You really can’t assume a thing about many people you meet. I recently exchanged a phone number and a kiss with a girl at a bar, before discovering our 16-year age gap. Even before realizing the shortcomings of a completely random stranger, merely initiating and maintaining a conversation can be daunting enough. Without context, you’re forced to spawn a relationship from nothing, in a vacuum. I understand that as social creatures, human beings are supposed to be good at that, but we just aren’t.
Once you met this not-anonymous, not-39-year-old person, college always provided an excuse to see him or her again. In class. At the mixer or the game or next week’s Thirsty Thursday at that trashy campus bar, probably called something like the Sloppy Donkey. You could’ve exchanged numbers, but with Facebook and the inevitability of your both attending next week’s class or mixer, you didn’t have to. You could be lazy, nervous, or downright ambivalent towards the person, and there was still a good shot of seeing him or her again.
The post-college world, though, requires you to be both decisive and deliberate in your romantic pursuits. In other words, adult. When you first meet someone, with no context fortifying your connection or an excuse guaranteeing a second rendezvous, your relationship is extremely delicate. Its fate hangs dangerously in the balance, and its odds of survival diminish with every moment.
You’re practically required to exchange numbers and communicate consistently until you arrive at concrete plans for what your anticipatory anxiety builds up to be a daunting, pressure-filled date. Even if you have strong communication, mutual attraction, and honest effort, the universe so often thwarts the relationship’s momentum with unfortunate logistical circumstances: work gets tough, you get a cold, he goes out of town; next thing you know, it’s a month later and you don’t remember his name. You never thought you’d miss the Sloppy Donkey this much.
In the post-college world, we have to create a context and an excuse for ourselves. We have to depart from the same routine with the same people, break from our social comfort zone insulate by our college and work friends, and engage in a new community with strangers. But, how?
There are lots of ways, but here in weird, self-infantilizing New York City, it’s called kickball.