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The dating culture on Hillsdale’s campus is dif­ferent due to student values and per­cep­tions. Pixabay

“Hillsdale is just obsessed with dating,” Kaitlyn Zellner, a coun­selor who works for the college, told me.

When I reached out for comment on this article, I received more than a dozen pitches from stu­dents and alumni offering to share the intimate secrets of their love lives.

Money mag­azine released an article a couple of years ago ana­lyzing how col­leges’ gender ratios affect their dating cul­tures. After com­paring the dating scenes at a slew of uni­ver­sities with varying gender ratios, the author con­cluded that col­leges dom­i­nated by female stu­dents tend to be hook-up heavy, while col­leges with more men have a more tra­di­tional dating scene.

The results may sound a little coun­ter­in­tu­itive — aren’t men the ones who pursue one-night stands more often? — but it’s not about desire. It’s about eco­nomics. When the dating market has more options for men, it is easier for them to take the simple route: forget the coffee date, fall into the bed. But when fewer women are available, they may be forced to buy a few lattes.

My friend Renee Dodson, a fourth-year student at Georgia Tech (63 percent male, 37 percent female), explained it to me this way: “People want what they can’t get — this goes for girls and guys. Anytime there is a scarcity of some­thing, people work harder for it.”

But what does dating look like at Hillsdale, a college with not only a bal­anced gender ratio, but also an over­whelm­ingly reli­gious student body?

Asso­ciate Dean of Women Rebecca Dell said the aca­d­emics and the culture drive the dating scene much more than the gender ratio, which is split exactly down the middle. The college’s website reports that Hillsdale’s student body is 49 percent male and 51 percent female, but Dell said this semester, it is 50 – 50.

You could reason that the dating culture would be split as well: Half the stu­dents are hooking up (off campus, of course), half of them are getting coffee at Checker Records. But that’s simply not the case. There’s some­thing dif­ferent about Hillsdale’s culture.

Hookups still happen, which both Zellner and Director of Health Ser­vices Brock Lutz acknowl­edged, but more stu­dents seem to nav­igate the dating scene — or abandon dating alto­gether.

“I think a large portion of our stu­dents are actually afraid to engage or reach out to the opposite sex in a casual dating way because they are very pro­tective of their hearts and want to walk rela­tion­ships out in an hon­orable fashion,” Lutz said. “That is obvi­ously a good thing, but I think it can keep people very cau­tious, maybe too cau­tious, and can lead others away from just getting to know other people of the opposite sex, which might turn into a romantic rela­tionship.”

The deep desire for romantic com­pan­ionship coupled with a fear of failure, a phe­nomenon resulting in the will-they-won’t-they rela­tion­ships stu­dents call “hills­dating,” may be the result of a high-achieving and spir­i­tually serious student body.

Senior Luke Miller, who is cur­rently engaged, said Hillsdale’s culture means “it’s really hard to casually date, but that also makes emo­tional and spir­itual intimacy much more central.”

But the best inten­tions don’t always achieve their intended results.

“I think Hillsdale culture takes rela­tion­ships so seri­ously that it can either prevent people from reaching out or stifle a young rela­tionship with a lot of serious expec­ta­tions,” senior Elyse Hutcheson said. “Some­times I think people take getting to know other people too seri­ously, espe­cially if they come from a very con­ser­v­ative back­ground where finding out what works best for you through mul­tiple casual rela­tion­ships is looked down upon.”

Sophomore Katie Dimmer agreed that Hillsdale stu­dents value inten­tional rela­tion­ships, but she added that the fear of messing up doesn’t always come from internal pressure. On a small campus, it some­times seems like everyone else is watching, she said.

“It really does feel very ‘high school’ a lot of the time here,” Dimmer said. “Everyone’s eyes are always on you, and if one person knows, then everyone knows.”

She said she never would feel like she had the “social ability” to approach someone that inter­ested her. He might say no. He might tell his friends. She would have to explain it all to her friends. Can flirting ever just be flirting, or does it have to be the next topic of con­ver­sation over dinner in the dining hall?

Dani Morey ’17 — who has been dating her boyfriend, also an alumnus, since the summer after her freshman and his sophomore year — said the close com­munity at Hillsdale can both empower and smother rela­tion­ships.  

“One of the things I love about Hillsdale is how close everyone gets, so everyone cares about each other and gets involved in each other’s lives. However, I think it’s dam­aging when applied to rela­tion­ships. When you’re having a rough patch with your sig­nif­icant other, it is not the time you want mutual friends to be texting you trying to play mid­dleman because they think you’re taking a break,” Morey said. “Since leaving college, and even when he had grad­uated and I was fin­ishing my senior year, it was as if the unwanted third party in our rela­tionship had finally left us.”

She also said she found herself wor­rying about the “PR side” of her rela­tionship. Would people find their dates romantic enough? Would people think they were fighting unless they made a public appearance at AJ’s Café for an ice cream date? (Maybe they should try the anniversary cake flavor.)

The whole atmos­phere may feel smoth­ering at times, but some stu­dents may put the pressure on them­selves.

“The dating scene at Hillsdale is not a healthy one at all,” Kathryn Wales, a part-time teacher at Hillsdale Academy, said not 30 seconds into a con­ver­sation about dating in college. “Many girls that I’ve met think if they’re going to date someone, it really needs to likely be their husband. They’re not having sex. If that’s a given, you should date lots of people. You learn a lot about yourself.”

Senior Patrick Lucas, who said he is gay and has never been on a date at Hillsdale, told me he’d like to go out on a date or two, but focusing on meeting a sig­nif­icant other is a misuse of his short time here.

“That’s not what college is about,” Lucas said. “It’s about finding the good, the true, and the beau­tiful, not about finding people who are also searching for them.”

A handful of stu­dents, including Morey, reached out to express frus­tration about the pressure they feel to get a “ring by spring,” a term ubiq­uitous at many Christian col­leges — and little used every­where else.

Senior Chandler Ryd, who is engaged to senior Lara Forsythe, said stu­dents should take dating seri­ously, but they shouldn’t take them­selves seri­ously. Because he wanted to be inten­tional about his rela­tion­ships, when he first heard the term “hills­dating” after arriving on campus, he decided to be careful to avoid it.

“People told me about it, and I was like, ‘That’s dumb. I don’t want to do that.’ There needs to be work dis­cerning what the rela­tionship is,” Ryd said.

Senior Mehgan Cain said stu­dents should ease up on both them­selves and their rela­tion­ships.

“I think many Hillsdale stu­dents have the propensity to take them­selves a little too seri­ously which results in them taking dating too seri­ously,” she said. “As 18- to 22-year-old kids, we have not even met the majority of people we will know in our life­times, yet so many people are set on finding a soulmate here. It is just not for me. I think dating in my early 20s should be lower pressure and more casual.”

Wales said Hillsdale’s com­munity offers a perfect envi­ronment for healthy dating, but stu­dents could handle it better.

“I wish there was a way to inspire everyone to agree to chill out about dating,” Wales said. “If you realize you’re not com­patible, don’t blame that on the Holy Spirit.”

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    This reporting is a bit off — as if 50% of the campus isn’t hooking up?

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    The decades come and go but the drive for rela­tionship ful­fillment, com­bined with the fear of rejection, never changes. It was the same 45 years ago when I went away to college and it was probably the same 500 years ago when Shake­speare was writing ideas for his plays on parchment. We all stumble through our social oppor­tu­nities because we’re a patchwork of emo­tional con­fusion owing to our life’s expe­ri­ences and genetics.

    People under­value the ben­efits of a simple friendship and over­value so-called ‘romance’. And, given the chance, the first can some­times lead to the second. Take it from this old war-horse, you will be far more ful­filled if you simply endeavor to meet and greet everyone on even and cordial terms. And maybe one of those friend­ships will grow into some­thing more? Formal dating? Too much effort as a student at a chal­lenging uni­versity! Save it for later.