Wheaton dating. Those two words can cause trepidation, mockery or a defeated sigh. Features asked a variety of students and faculty what the dating scene at Wheaton is like, why it’s that way and what they’d like to see change.
First off, it’s important to acknowledge that Wheaton dating is a subculture of its own. “I believe dating at Wheaton is like no other school, having been to a couple different universities,” junior Caitlin McNarma said. “When I say that, though, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a different experience. I find that there are individuals here at Wheaton who date, some who dream of it and others who just want to focus on their BITH homework or their latest Netflix binge.”
Though students’ opinions on dating at Wheaton differ drastically, most can agree on one thing: Dating at Wheaton is hard. Many mentioned the “casual dating culture” or “hook-up culture” at other schools. Maggie Dansdill, a freshman transfer from University of Illinois said, “There are more hook-ups at big schools compared to the number of dates.”
Contrast that with Wheaton’s “high stakes” dating culture.
“The fact that Wheaton is a small school that puts a high premium on personal piety makes many students feel as if their reputation is on the line, even during something as simple as a Saga date or a cup of coffee at Sam’s,” senior Josiah Cohen said.
Senior Dan Barnhart shared his theory regarding the pressure placed upon students: “(The) performance mindset that seems to be confined to academics slowly seeps into all other aspects of college life, be it athletic, spiritual, social or romantic. Anyone who wants to date someone else — and I’m speaking from my own experience as a heterosexual guy — feels this intense pressure to ‘find the right person’ or ‘the one’.”
Others postulated that the religious values of the school contributed.
“There’s an excessive emphasis on religious values in the intersection of the relationship,” ’14 alum and graduate student Jay Fort said. “Long term consideration for a marriage partner is much more emphasized.”
Junior Chris Prescher agreed that the religious aspect of Wheaton added to the difficulty of dating at Wheaton. “We put way too much pressure on (dating) and think that every single move related to dating has to be toward marriage or ‘courting.’ There exists this feeling within American evangelical Christianity where it’s expected to get married and if you don’t then something has gone wrong, so this factor on Wheaton’s campus makes dating a stressful experience as opposed to just getting to know another person.”
Though “Wheaton as an institution does not put pressure on students to get married, sub-cultures within it do,” Fort said. “Students put pressure on each other to get married. There’s this idea that if you’re in a relationship, you’re set up to get married.”
Prescher agreed, saying, “People on both sides tend to take things way too fast, which means they either push too hard, or turn you down too fast because they don’t want to marry you. ”
Senior Stephen Ticsay wasn’t so sure, however, stating that, “It’s hard to say (if Wheaton puts too much pressure on couples to get married). Couples face social pressure from a lot of angles — media, parents, practical concerns. Where these end and school begins is tough to discriminate.”
However, the advantage of the current dating culture at Wheaton seems to be the same as its downfall: Relationships are taken seriously and therefore people are able to build strong relationships that often do lead to marriage.
Sophomore Tabitha Evans said, “For the most part it seems that the relationships (at Wheaton) are genuine and based on more than just physicality.”
So how would students want to see the Wheaton dating scene change?
Most of the students interviewed simply expressed a desire for casual relationships. “It would be nice to see the guys attempt to at least think about asking a girl for her digits,” McNarma said.
Others expressed a desire for open communication, and a mutual understanding and desire for casual dating.
“I would love to see explicit communication normalized in casual dating relationships,” Ticsay said. “There exists the absurd assumption that another person is supposed to know how I feel about them without me ever telling them. We seem to be consumed with predicting whether we will like someone while being uninterested in spending the time to find out. It should be perfectly normal to enter into dating relationships with an ambiguous or even doubtful sense of whether I’m interested in the person, moving forward with an openness to the unknown and a willingness to be honest if I’m not interested in pursuing things further.”
Tiscay continued, “We should also stop being suspect of any and every guy and girl that we see interacting with each other. We ought to create and maintain space for men and women to be friends and nothing more while resisting the impulse to make suggestive or probing remarks to them or others. It simply isn’t helpful for me to see a friend of mine talking to a girl and then interrogate him about it — however jokingly. I’m not saying at all that there isn’t a place for talking to friends about their love interests. But the number of people with whom I have the sort of relationship to make those inquiries is few.”
Fort observed the obsession with marriage and romantic relationships at Wheaton and the Christian evangelical community at large.
“There’s very little respect for being single,” Fort said. “I would like to see the emphasis and fixation on the topic in general change: It’s over-sensationalized and prized. We should change the discourse and rhetoric we use to talk about the relationships. We misquote Scripture and use it out of context, creating a world-view where we combine cultural expectations with those of Scripture and it doesn’t work. We contextualize the Bible, but it doesn’t really deal with the concept of dating. We should take it case by case instead of coming up with rules for overall.”
With regard to change, there’s always the pertinent question for our generation: Should Wheaton women ask men out?
“They do not but they should,” Prescher said. “I hope something could change, but it’s tough because the church (and) Christian community often carries the deepest set of traditional gender roles. These need to be done away with, but it’s tough when so many students come from such conservative Christian backgrounds.”
For some women interviewed, it seems to go against personal convictions to initiate, but others had no problem with it.
McNarma said, “I brought this question up in my Wellness class last week. I asked the guys in class if they would be happy if a girl asked them out to coffee. Some responses were the typical “If she paid;” others were “I’d be flattered.” The data was kind of a toss up. Personally I have no problem asking a guy out for food at SAGA or coffee from Sam’s. I think it’s bold and confident when a girl makes the first move.”
The men interviewed seemed to agree that they would have nothing wrong with a woman asking them on a date.
“For what it’s worth, I would be flattered — and impressed — if a woman took the initiative to ask me on a date,” Tiscay said.
However, he noted the deeper societal implications this question has. “How this or that guy would feel being asked on a date by a woman is one thing; far more concerning are the attitudes we have about women in general that affect how we view their actions. We have to get over the normative schema we have of active men acting upon passive women. A man asking a woman out represents bravery, confidence and masculinity; the reverse represents audacity, pushiness, impatience and (usurped) masculinity. I say this to our shame.”
Fort noted that “more students are ok with that than students think.” However, he also said that “students still seem to be more comfortable with complementarian roles even if they don’t necessarily support them.”
“Even the potential of being perceived as un-feminine creates a stigma that is not lost on my female classmates,” Ticsay remarked. “The stigma of women asking guys on dates reinforces the praxis of women not asking guys on dates, and vice-versa. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Another question worth asking: Is dating at Wheaton harder for students of color?
Junior Anjelica Johnson said, “Yes. It’s not that white guys don’t find black girls attractive or want to date them. They just don’t know how to interact interculturally. And when they do, it’s like, ‘Oh, I just want to experience dating a black girl, wanted to see what it’s like, I’ve always been curious,’ rather than dating a girl who they like who happens to be black, acknowledging and respecting their culture that makes them who they are. At least that’s what I’ve heard from most experiences of girls who are minorities trying to date white guys.”
“Depends,” Fort said. “We face different challenges than what majority students face, and it’s different for women and men. Sometimes it’s harder; we have more to consider in certain respects like how we are perceived by others’ families. Having to put our best face forward all the time and show our best side all the time even when we’re exhausted to prove we’re worthy. Not all of us, but it’s definitely a common thread. We have to prove that we’re not a token but also not some stereotype. We just want to be normal, but it’s hard to feel like you’re given a chance. It also depends on if you’re a minority dating a minority or if you’re a minority dating from the majority culture.”
Ticsay agreed, mentioning that there are numerous societal factors affecting students of color that white students don’t have to deal with, and that minority students are constantly aware of pressures that majority students are oblivious to, and these can become tiring and discouraging.
Ticsay also noted certain stigmas that exist regarding race. “There is no denying the inescapably racial dimension of what we are taught as a culture to find sexually attractive. Much could be said about this. Suffice it to say that it is a lamentable but established datum that Asian men and black women are found less attractive by members of the opposite sex — of all races — because of the ways that are represented as undesirable. Asian men and black women in the student body are not unaware of this, and I do not doubt that for many it affects their self-confidence and their willingness to expend valuable energy on flirting or dating.”
With regards to race and dating, the sub-topic of interracial dating at Wheaton is something to be discussed. We asked students: Is it harder than dating someone of your own race?
“Depending on who you are in the relationship, yes,” Fort said. “ For the minority, it tends to be something we consider a lot more than the majority counter-part. There are accepted pairs and less accepted pairs. Asian women and white men — not rare. But white women and Asian men, more rare. It depends on what people are comfortable with and more used to seeing: familiarity and expectations. The media has a lot to do with how different couples are portrayed with regard to interactions between interracial relationships. There are notions that make it difficult for people to be seen as individuals as opposed to symbolic pairs.”
Assistant professor of anthropology Christine Folch urged students to “acknowledge that power dynamics of race have an imprint upon interracial dating.” Folch also advised that, “The most important thing is to lead with love. A lot of the times, we intellectualize [love]. We have a way of talking about it in Christian circles, but at the heart of it, we need to realize that love is patient, love is kind. Why date interracially? In order to actually love, to put someone else first. Acknowledge that we have to be able to deal with our own race before dating interracially. In a regular dating relationship, we are able to not deal with racial messiness, but in interracial dating, you have to deal with it and grow in your own ethnic and racial awareness.”
When asked how students, regardless of their individual race or ethnicity, can work together to understand each other’s culture that they grew up in, Brian Howell, professor of anthropology, wrote in an email, “Don’t date someone who isn’t interested in learning about you and your family. Someone who isn’t interested in trying to understand how your backgrounds are different or try the foods you like or learn — at minimum — important language cues is not going to be a good life partner who is going to become interested later.”
Howell explained that if students find themselves drawn to someone with a different social, cultural or racial background, students should make sure that each individual is interested and curious about the other’s life, along with the common agreement that such differences matter, and they are not simply “cute” and “different,” but also “important” and “valuable.” Howell suggested that the significant other should show an interest not only in relation to you, but in his or her life in general, through what they read, listen to, and study; in their friend groups, where they go to church and whom they respect. “You want a life partner who is going to value your background without pushing you into a pigeon hole or stereotype, but who isn’t going to pretend your background doesn’t matter to who you are now.”
Howell’s wife is Filipino, and he noted that, though he occasionally notices a stigma associated with interracial dating, it doesn’t happen often now. “When we have perceived negative reactions, it has mostly come from older people, and people in more rural parts of the United States. I’m sure this sounds stereotypical, but that’s our experience. In my small home city of Walla Walla, WA, there were some, even in my childhood church, who made racist comments behind our back and even a few family members who worried that we were “too different.” The family members all came around when they learned how phenomenal my wife is. The racists in Walla Walla are probably still racist.”
It is necessary to keep in mind the experiences of sexual minorities and those identifying as LGBT on Wheaton’s campus.
Julie Rodgers commented, “In conversations about dating and sexual desire, it’s important to realize everyone isn’t straight. It can be alienating for sexual minorities when heterosexuality is always assumed and the presence, questions and experiences of LGBT people aren’t acknowledged.
We need to have conversations about potential relational futures for sexual minorities. We know it’s not good for humans to be alone, so we need to think honestly and realistically about ways LGBT Christians can experience intimacy throughout their lives. LGBT students need churches and Christian communities to help them imagine relational futures — these aren’t questions individuals can answer in isolation. So far, the dominant narrative in the church has sounded a lot like the American dream, and the sexual minorities are not able to locate their stories in that narrative. Even if you don’t have all the answers, it will be life-giving for Christians to begin to acknowledge the existence of sexual minorities in these conversations. A good place to start would be to recognize the challenges of being gay when few people have been willing to help that gay person imagine a future that involves being relationally connected. We need to bring a redemptive imagination to these conversations.”
Though this article is primarily on Wheaton dating, we want to acknowledge that marriage is not the pinnacle of a Christian life.
We interviewed ‘13 alum and grad school student Tyler Streckert who has committed to celibacy. “As a celibate Christian, I love because of the mercy shown by Jesus to a broken world,” said Streckert. “Human beings express love for one another in many ways, only some of which happen solely in a dating or marriage relationship. Jesus never married, and the Four Evangelists found no discussion of romance applicable in their gospel accounts. In fact, Jesus was conceived in a loving act of virginity. Yet he embodies the deepest, tenderest, and most robust form of love, giving circumstance and a purpose to the lives of otherwise wholly disoriented people. In this vital and deepest love, single men and women have a wealth of capability for close attachment to and affection for others. As members of the Church community, Christians must learn to show this type of committed dedication to one another, whether dating or single.”
Lastly, Features wanted to get some advice from those who had dated at Wheaton.
Some advice was practical: Barnhart, said, “Above all, don’t kill your wallet on a first date. (Go to) maybe an arcade or a cool used bookstore. It shouldn’t take a lot of money to help figure out if you have chemistry with a person.”
Others took a more broad approach. “Put God first,” Fort said. “Re-evaluate what that means.”
Prescher merely said, “Chill out,” while McNamara said, “Dating is tough, like one of those mud races. You have to train, seek guidance, be willing to get dirty — the difficult talks, DTR, etc. — and commit to the race.”
No Rings Attached
Students called out for more casual dating, and it seems like someone finally did something practical about it. “No Rings Attached” is a crew of anonymous upperclassmen who have begun a very timely dating community for Wheaton students looking to enjoy a casual date. “It’s just a way to bring together like-minded people who want to do something adventurous and fun,” states “No Rings Attached” Facebook page. Participating students take a short survey, and the matching “is determined by the timing of your survey submission as well as your age preferences. If possible, we’ll try to set you up with someone who likes similar date activities.” Within a week, No Rings Attached promises a name and some contact info. It’s up to the students to make the date happen.