Opinion guest column

Why are relationships so hard at MIT?

Skip ‘Dating 101’ and invest in people

“Dating 101.” That is quite literally the name of a seminar available to students, sent out in an email last week. Upon first glance, this title seems to solicit some sort of comedic response. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is it that something like this actually exists? But upon further reading, I noticed that this seminar was really taking itself seriously. It legitimately served to teach students how to put themselves out there in the hopes that they would actually invest in new relationships with different people.

There’s a cruel irony in offering this course at MIT — as if it’s truly invested in its students “getting out there” and “mingling” with new people. After hearing my friends and family members’ situations at other universities, I’ve realized that the single greatest enemy of a healthy, functional relationship (romantic or otherwise) is going to school at MIT.

Unfortunately, this fact makes a somewhat disconcerting amount of sense when you consider the environment MIT creates for its students and the pressure that it adds to their lives. MIT takes pride in requiring each and every student to work incredibly hard, regardless of their course. Additionally, the curricula of many technical classes here fail to address major learning gaps that students might have after high school. To make matters worse, many of these classes seem diametrically opposed to providing students with even a shred of transparency. Grade cutoffs and distributions are hardly ever published preliminarily, so students struggle to predict their performance (so much so that the UA had to create a subcommittee for it). As a result, every major at MIT feels more difficult than their counterparts in other, equally prestigious institutions, and MIT’s vague grading policies and utter lack of transparency leave such little breathing room for students. It’s no wonder students give up on “putting themselves out there” and investing in relationships (once again, of any kind).

As a freshman coming out of PNR, I perhaps am only beginning to understand what it is “really” like to be a student here. However, I cannot help but feel naïve for believing that attending MIT would bring countless relationships with people with similar passions and ambitions. And while I have had the privilege of forming friendships with some of the most incredible people I could ever ask for, the level of social withdrawal that I have seen in the first week of classes, both from myself and my peers, has left me with yawning guilt that no amount of psets will be able to dispel.

Somehow, though it boasts Nobel laureates, CEOs, and some of the most brilliant minds on the face of the earth, MIT has missed one of the most crucial tenets of life, which was so eloquently put by Phoebe Waller-Bridge in her Golden Globe-winning series Fleabag: “people are all we’ve got.”  Though simple, it could be the most powerful notion I have ever realized. At the risk of sounding somewhat morbid, none of us has infinite time. Every person reading this must remember their own mortality. Regardless of the trillion-dollar tech giant we start or the Nobel Prize-winning research we author, there is no guarantee (especially with the rising threat of climate change) that anything we do is going to be remembered after we are not physically here to remind people about it. Our impact on the world around us depends solely on the audience that chooses to listen to us and is survived by the people that we leave behind and how they choose to remember us.

Similarly, there is no guarantee that the administration is going to read this article and suddenly change all of its policies. But I suppose I really want to believe that the amazing students on this campus can be brave enough to invest in each other. A little effort and time can foster healthy and happy relationships. Get more involved with the groups of people you love: living communities, extracurricular communities, and other campus organizations. Who knows? You might even meet someone you want to ask out.