The ‘Missing Boyfriend’

For me ‘getting a boyfriend’ is up there with ‘travelling in East Europe/Central Asia/Siberia’ among my priorities. I am sure having a boyfriend could be a rewarding experience. I also think it could be a boring experience, or a frustrating experience, or worse. Likewise, I think travelling in Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia could be rewarding, boring, or frustrating. I just might some day have a boyfriend, or travel in Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia … yet if I never make it to Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia, or get a boyfriend, I think that’s OK.

And quite frankly, given a choice between ‘boyfriend’ and ‘travelling around Eastern Europe/Central Asia/Siberia’, everything else being equal, I would probably choose travelling.

In other words, my life is complete without a boyfriend.

Yet in some people’s minds, there is a hole in my life which my (non-existent) boyfriend should fill (I say ‘boyfriend’ because most of these people have hetero-normative mindsets).

One taxi-driver asked if my companion was my boyfriend and I answered ‘HE’S MY UNCLE!’ (in Mandarin of course). I then asked why the fuck his first thought that he was my boyfriend. He answered that some people prefer older men (my uncle is more than twice my age, and he looks like he is twice my age) and that most people don’t go travelling with their uncles (but surely some people go travelling with their fathers – some people have mistaken my uncle for my father, which does make sense to me).

I get this reaction a lot from Taiwanese people – ‘where is your boyfriend?’ – particularly lately since I’ve been travelling more (people who already know me don’t have to ask me again). They say ‘but you’re so pretty – you must have a boyfriend’. While physical beauty is relevant to the ease of getting a boyfriend, it is irrelevant to whether or not I am interested in getting a boyfriend. So when Taiwanese people say this, the implicit assumption is that every young woman wants a boyfriend, and the only reason not to have one is that it is hard for her to get a good one. That, my friends, is sexual-normativity (of a very narrow kind at that – it excludes casual sex, polyamoury, etc).

Though I have been talking about Taiwanese, I get the same feeling from my fellow Americans too. Taiwanese are much more direct about talking about this particular subject, which makes it easier to get clear examples to blog about. But Americans have a way of dropping hints which show what they are thinking without actually having to come out and say it (or maybe the Taiwanese are only direct with me, an outsider, and would be more subtle among one of their own – I don’t know).

This might pressure some people into getting a boyfriend. However, to me, it makes the idea of having a boyfriend feel more insipid. I’d probably be more interested in getting a boyfriend if it weren’t so normed up.

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More on ‘The College Experience’

This is a continuation of last week’s post, “Most College Students Don’t Have ‘The College Experience’.

I was unusual in that I could have gotten ‘The College Experience’ if I wanted to, yet I *chose* the commuter college track. This shocked quite a few people. After all, who would go the commuter school route if they could have the ‘full’ college experience?

Based on my research, I figured I could learn more at the commuter colleges than the ‘College Experience’ colleges.

Let’s look at the teachers. Research universities choose professors based on their ability to do research. Commuter colleges choose professors based on their ability to teach. Undergrad classes at research universities are often taught by grad students. Most classes at commuter colleges are taught by experienced teachers.

In my field of interest, I found that ‘The College Experience’ would have entailed me taking a lot of pointless classes, whereas the commuter schools would not. One source told me that this was on purpose, to keep students in school longer (and paying more money to the institution). I also talked to students who took on ‘The College Experience’ in spite of this problem … and they did not seem too happy with wasting at least one year of their finite lives.

There were other issues too, but what it boils down to is that it seemed the commuter schools were a lot more focused on their mission of helping students learn than the ‘College Experience’ schools.

But I was naive to think that people value college as a place of learning.

My parents supported me from the beginning, in fact, they even encouraged me do ditch ‘The College Experience’. But some people claimed I was making a big mistake. So I asked them to explain.

They did not argue based on learning. They knew my research on that matter was pretty conclusive. Instead, they claimed that everyone needed the experience of wasting a year of their lives to adjust to ‘campus living,’ and that this ‘campus living’ was something so special I needed it in my life.

I got what their real message was. I was a traitor to the upper middle class by insisting on choosing a school good for my learning instead of a school good for my reputation.

Well, they couldn’t stop me, and after seeing how I fared in college, they came to think that I made the right decision (or at least an okay decision).

I haven’t even touched on finances (‘The College Experience’ is a lot more expensive than commuter colleges – which helps explains why my parents, who were paying, favored commuter schools).

I think one of the greatest benefits of going to commuter colleges was the diversity of the people I encountered. Diverse ages (16-50), diverse ethnicities, diverse classes, diverse living arrangements, diverse relationship statuses, diverse life backgrounds, and so on.  I probably learned a lot more about different kinds of people in commuter colleges than I ever would have in ‘The College Experience’.

Most College Students don’t have ‘The College Experience’

As I was reading Kate Bolick’s article “All the Single Ladies”, I thought ‘what a ton of fodder for blogging … BWA HA HA HA HA!’

One thing which struck me about the article was the description of the ‘hookup culture’ in colleges. I wasn’t in college that long ago … and this ‘hookup culture’ is mostly alien to me. In fact, the only time I think ever heard of this ‘hooking up’ thing in college was when my sociology professor discussed it.

Sure, I knew some of my classmates engaged in casual sex … but as far as I could tell, they were outnumbered by my classmates who were married. It seemed the most common situation was to be in a steady dating relationship, with the second most common situation being celibacy (this is why I didn’t feel left out in college).

Now, maybe many of my classmates were secretly engaging in lots of casual sex. But if they were all doing it in a way that I wasn’t aware of, then it’s not exactly a dominant culture.

Then, the article claims that the ‘hookup culture’ is a consequence of a ‘crisis of gender’ … specifically, more females than males. And that was definitely not my college experience. I recall one class where I was the only female student, and it was not unusual for males to outnumber females in my classes. My classmates who were looking for boyfriends generally thought there were plenty of eligible males around.

When it comes to gender ratios, my college experience was an outlier, yet there was something I couldn’t put my finger on…

Then I realized that the article is referring to ‘the college experience’.

Mainstream culture depicts the ‘live-on-campus’ college experience as being ‘the college experience’, in spite of the fact that more than half of college students in the United States go to commuter colleges.

I went to commuter colleges. During the brief period I had part-time work, it was nowhere near my college. I had to take care of my of my basic living needs (housing, food, etc) with practically no assistance from my school. College was strictly about education, even though I met many cool people along the way.

In commuter colleges, the gender ratios are more equal … and less relevant. My social life was not totally dependent on college … if I were interested in getting boyfriend but didn’t find anyone satisfactory at school, I could have searched the rest of my social circle.

One of the most common reasons for celibacy/singlehood was being too busy with class AND work AND family to pursue a romantic/sexual relationship … so when I claimed that I was celibate/single because I didn’t have time, everybody accepted that.

I think mainstream culture privileges the on-campus college experience because it is, well, privileged. If you can afford to send your kids to live far away on an expensive campus, it indicates that you are middle class or above. Commuter colleges are for the working class.

The Lingering Stigma of Birth Out of Wedlock

This is a continuation of some of the thoughts expressed in “Birth Out of Mainstream”.

The stigma against *being* a child born out of wedlock in the United States has been erased by a great degree (though, based on my understanding of history and various societies, it is rare for a society to attach such a great stigma to birth-out-of-wedlock as was put on children out of wedlock in the United States from about, say, 1900-1965).

I, personally, have never experienced direct oppression as someone who was born out of wedlock. Then again, it might be because most people who encounter me don’t know that I was born out of wedlock. It’s not like I go around with a sign saying that my parents were never married.

Yet I still see traces of this stigma lying around.

People still often use the number of births out of wedlock as a sign of the health of a society, with more births out of wedlock being a bad sign. For example, the book How Cities Work classifies ‘illegitimacy’ as a ‘indicator of social disease’. Well, as someone who actually was born to never-married parents, I don’t get how it reflects on society in a negative way. Sure, changing rates of children born to married couples vs. children born in other arrangements indicates social change, but without a deeper analysis, I think it can only be considered a neutral change.

And let’s look at that word – ‘illegitimacy’. Sure, under some legal and social structures, children born out of wedlock have fewer rights and privileges than children born to married couples. While such legal discrimination is wrong, under such a system, the ‘illegitimate’ label would be accurate in a very narrow sense. However, the United States currently does not practice such legal, or even social, discrimination. How, exactly, are children born out of wedlock less ‘legitimate’ than children born to married parents?

And I do think some of the lingering vestiges of the stigma attached to birth out of wedlock are intertwined with classism and racism. If marriage was something primarily practised by poor black people, and most middle-class white people had kids without ever getting married, I think the stigma would be placed on birth in wedlock, not birth out of wedlock.

I think that the black people I’ve encountered generally have the most sensible views on birth out of wedlock precisely because they have encountered it more in practice. Even if they themselves were born in wedlock, they are more likely to know people born out of wedlock … and to know that, actually, it’s not really that bad. Sure, it’s correlated with poverty, minority-based oppression, and so forth … but the problem is the poverty and the minority-based oppression, not the birth-out-of-wedlock itself.