Column: Ole Miss’s pressure to date is a southern thing

Posted on Feb 14 2019 - 5:50am by Bella St. Amant

I’ve spent my whole young adult life single. It’s something I lamented in high school but didn’t feel really uncomfortable or insecure about until college.

The external pressure doesn’t come from my parents — they met in their mid-twenties and didn’t end up married until more than a decade later. I know there are other matters that should demand my attention and assure me that finding a boyfriend doesn’t need to be a priority right now. I can barely finish all my work, spend time with my friends, eat three square meals and get a reasonable night’s sleep, let alone search for a boyfriend.

Although I haven’t felt a creeping pressure to exit my four years at Ole Miss with an engagement ring, I’ve felt a sense of inadequacy for going through my college experiences without a boyfriend. I’ve also discovered I’m not the only one.

The average age to get married in the American South in this decade is much closer to thirty than our parents or grandparents could have imagined, but why is it that Ole Miss students still feel the pressure to couple up?

Are only heterosexual girls feeling this way? Do personal experiences or role models play a role in thwarting it? In a world where young people eschew labels for the sake of keeping things noncommittal and casual sex is accessible from the screen of your smartphone, does the pressure to be coupled up say more about a fear of being alone than a hunt to find a husband or a wife?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do have some anecdotes from friends’ and acquaintances’ personal dating experiences at Ole Miss.

When I polled my Instagram followers, asking if they felt a pressure to be coupled up, 147 people responded. Of these responses, 65 percent of people voted “Yes” while 35 percent voted “No.” It seems that I may have accidentally alluded exclusively to dating that ends in marriage, but my question did manage to give me insight into the greater trends of who was voting “No” and who was voting “Yes.”

What surprised me was that roughly half of the naysayers were people in relationships.

Sophomore international studies major Madeline Cook cites her concern that “two people change so much in this time in our lives. We shouldn’t put this pressure on a soul mate fitting a ‘you’ that’s constantly in flux.”

In a similar vein, junior integrated marketing communications major Parker Blaylock said that, to him, college is only the starting place for the rest of his life.

“I  like to think that this is only the start of where I will eventually end up in life,” Blaylock said. “There’s no need to settle down or search endlessly for someone I don’t believe is here.”

Even with their refusal to be affected by it, most of those who voted “No” acknowledged that a social pressure to have a significant other exists.

When speaking to a few of the 95 people who voted “Yes,” I got varied responses for why finding someone in college was something that feels integral to an Ole Miss experience. Most of these people said they felt a desire to be seen as well-rounded and not be left out of Greek life’s slew of date parties.

“Most of the societal pressure to be in a relationship comes from Greek life at Ole Miss, in my opinion,” said junior international studies major Rachel Culp, who is currently in a relationship. “At nearly every single social function you attend, you are expected to come and have a good time with a date. I have seen girls spend entire days brainstorming who to ask or who not to ask.”

Some idolize the idea of finding a soul mate here at Ole Miss, but others refer to the lack of something in the middle. In a culture that normalizes irregular hookups and serious long-term relationships, there is a disappearance of the casual dating that exists between the two.

The revelations from these conversations have pointed me toward rethinking dating culture at Ole Miss. There is much more going on here than the quest for a ring by spring of senior year. There are people who stay in relationships when they’re not completely happy out of fear of being alone and others who shy away from asking out people they’d like to get to know better for fear of the serious connotations that come with going on a date.

But the pressure to date, for reasons that vary from finding a future spouse to getting extended family members off your back at holiday gatherings, is not unique to Ole Miss. Growing up in another Southern college town showed me that, in circles of Greek life across the South, the pressure to find the perfect formal date transforms into something bigger.

These dates have an inordinate amount of pressure but are different for men and women. Sorority women spend hours mulling over their date party decisions in hopes that, this time, the date will be different: a potential boyfriend or husband. For men in Greek life, the pressure comes from a different direction. I know a handful of college guys who seek that special someone here, hoping that they can create the Ole Miss met-and-married union they’ve seen modeled in their parents and other relatives.

The pressure to be in a relationship also harkens back to the past of Ole Miss, a time when many more young women came to Ole Miss in search of graduating with a bachelor’s degree and a husband. Southern college towns have always served as social centers — the places to go to meet lifelong friends, business partners and a spouse before moving back home.

As the years go by, undergraduates have moved away from seeking marriage partners on campus as an extracurricular activity, but the years of senior-year engagements leave their mark. Today, pressure to be coupled up doesn’t always originate with the idea of marriage, but it does allude to long-held Ole Miss ideas that two are better than one and that the time to find your better half happens here.