Golden mean, not middle ground

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Emily Dietrich, in her March 22 commentary “Hardly any middle ground: the UD dating phenomenon,” tries to provide an explanation for her fruitless freshman year relationship by inquiring: “Why is UD dating culture a failure?” 

There is no denying that the University of Dallas community upholds the university’s motto: “The Catholic University for Independent Thinkers.” Dietrich disagrees and criticizes UD relationships for what she perceives as a lack of independence. 

The contradiction aside, she doesn’t seem to have considered that a certain cooperative like-mindedness is of no small importance in serious relationships, and that it would be excusable to assign a low likelihood of happiness to a couple who seem always to be at odds on important matters.

UD is intentionally bound by its Catholic values, which foster a certain care when it comes to relationships, and specifically a seriousness in romantic ones. While many UD couples operate traditionally, or with the intention of marriage, this certainly doesn’t constitute a pattern of ignorant co-dependence or an ill-considered haste toward the altar. 

Additionally, casual dating on campus has been on the rise over the past few years. This is not to say that there is the habit among students, according to Dietrich, who “take the partying too far all the time”, but who rather, go on dates with less pressure, to test the waters with a potential partner. Just last year, Dr. Upham gave a talk on the importance of dating this way, which was met with positive action among the UD community. 

Because the “UD dating culture is not an ideal one,” her friends, Dietrich asserts, are seeking romantic partners at other schools like Southern Methodist University, or even are resorting to online dating. Interestingly, in a New York Times article entitled “My Students Are Not Okay,” Dr. Jonathan Malesic, an adjunct writing professor at SMU, discusses the unique qualities of UD’s community. 

He writes that during the era of Covid and online education he discovered that UD was a place that maintained its encouragement of quality relationships. Although Malesic was referring to different circumstances, his praise of UD’s community remains true, along with his counsel that “relationships are much harder to forge remotely, and students who don’t discover early on that they learn through relationships will never know to seek them out.” 

Thus, relationships formed standing in line at the Caf or in classes during freshman year are far more worthwhile than the author deemed them to be. 

I’d like to showcase a more positive perspective of the dating culture than that of the author. Many of my friends are in the best relationships of their lives, and their partners are fellow UD students. What’s more, I also am in the best relationship of my life; my boyfriend attends UD and is working through his Core classes alongside me to discover what it means to be a good person. Isn’t this more valuable than striving after billions of dollars? 

Students at UD, as at every other institution, may find themselves in romantic relationships of varying quality; the difference is, according to Dietrich, that “there is hardly any middle ground between traditional, religious partners and party-crazy partners.” 

These traditional, religious partners apparently consist of women who don’t know themselves and who purposely choose majors that lead to unemployment and who then pair with misogynistic men. Despite the fact that few between the ages of 18 and 22 entirely know themselves — hence part of the decision to engage in higher education — I think that UD dutifully adheres to its motto and prepares students, regardless of their choice of major, to think properly. This ought to enable independence from reliance on any “real estate billionaire.” 

I thoughtfully but passionately chose to be an Art History major, but the author seems to assume I must be calculating a “ring by spring” because of the few job opportunities in my future that my decision stereotypically implies. 

Instead, the critical thinking skills I have acquired through the Core and my major classes already have helped me win jobs, from gallery work to marketing services to emergency medicine experience. My intention in saying all this is not to gloat, but the opposite: this kind of experience is common to UD students, even those who “choose a major with few job opportunities” and who engage with male peers who “have never been exposed to highly successful women.” 

Dietrich’s hackneyed caricatures — UD students rush into marriage without knowing how to grocery shop individually, because buying one’s apples and oranges for the week is usually a trying task that requires your partner’s guidance, or have cigarette addictions that induce them to have one-night stands — are too general to take seriously. 

The picture of extremes that Dietrich paints is as close to reality as Picasso’s portraits. More realistically, the relationships within UD’s community demonstrate that intentional connections with good people are a concomitant of the individual growth that the author claims is stunted. 

Here, I find Pope Benedict XVI’s words on love very fitting:  “[Love as] An on-going exodus of the closed inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving… toward authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.”

This entire response is not intended to negate one student’s unfortunate experience of dating at UD. I simply desire to offer an outlook on UD dating culture with a more positive, broader brushstroke.

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