Duke or Bai: Overwritten and under-enthused musings on love and millennial dating culture.

Happy Valentine’s Day friends/family/boyfriends/girlfriends/exes/the cigar-shaped chocolate stick sitting on my desk.  

Claire and I, as tiny beans in high school, with normally colored hair

Wherever you might be right now in the swirly, heart-fluttery mess of the dating sphere, there is a group of freshman girls in college somewhere who’s overdramatizing the unbearable status of their singledom. Think Cher in Clueless. While I periodically indulge myself in the musings of such a group, Claire Bai, one of my best friends from high school who’s now a freshman at USC, is also a 10/10 member of the Angsty Teenage Girl Club all the way in California, and she wrote an amazing lil’ piece on the college freshman dating culture she’s experienced at school.

Wanna partake in today’s festivities but have a fear of long-term commitment? Well, you’re in luck! Here’s a thing that you should definitely read while walking between classes, especially when the couple in front of you refuses to unlink hands and you’ve got a little extra time. 



There is something timelessly fascinating about love and sex. In present-day, I am often reminded of the complex concept that is millennial dating.

Perhaps to clarify, I should call this millennial hookup culture. You might know it better as an emptiness in exploration, set off by a reluctance toward commitment. Getting too attached to someone shows vulnerability on full display, and if there’s anything that we young people care about, it’s looking and playing it cool.

[You guessed it! It’s Claire’s takeover on Duke or Dai, here to present to you my meager knowledge of dating and love in college, completely based on what I experienced in the first semester of freshman year. You don’t have to click anything to continue reading.] 

When my swell-as-fuck amiga friend Jane first snatched my phone out of my hands (“Here, Claire, give me your phone. Give it. It’s gonna be the greatest time of your life!” she beckoned to me like I was a five-year-old) to make me a Tinder account, I groaned, partially because of my inability to turn down others, but mostly because of a reputation I feared that would come with it. I knew how college worked. These days, people weren’t so much into developing relationships IRL as they were for party makeout sessions and quick smash and passes (the one night stand). But little old me, I matched with multiple males and only conversed briefly with some, never dawdling long enough to ensure any sign of commitment. It was my trusty but often over-enthusiastic friend group, who pushed me to finally meet someone for lunch. And so I did. We ate fake Chipotle at the student center, talked about our majors, and parted ways. The guy suggested that we meet again, but neither of us really tried to keep the conversation going; you can’t force compatibility.

Thought : [If you’ve ever seen a Tinder match walking on campus in front of your eyes, you know exactly the panic that rushes through your chest as you wildly avoid all possible contact.]

As commonly expressed by fellow millennials, I quickly tired of living through a dating app. I half-heartedly swiped through some hundred profiles, only stopping to read the meager profiles of a cute long-haired musician boy once every now and then. There was an overall ambience of indifference and even disgust toward the superficiality of everything. Hypocritically, I deleted the app on numerous occasions, only to redownload it a couple weeks later.

Out of hundreds of mindless matches, a flicker of hope presented itself in one blond-haired, glasses-donning econ major. After I complimented his sunshine smile, he threw in a bit of sweet-talk and comedy, and we exchanged numbers. Life was just dandy. The conversation verged into a common ground: music. He recommended some Kanye, to which I fired back Rick Astley’s hit tune, “Never Gonna Give You Up”, hoping to break the ice and establish a more personal sense of comfort. Always do it for the memes. This went on for a couple weeks, and I lived in a haven of hip-hop music and memes, a constant, excited anxiety bubbling in my stomach, awaiting his next move. But eventually, his texts trickled to a near end. He was thoughtful enough to apologize, either that he was busy with classes or studying for tests. I didn’t question it, and so we continued with the regular programming of our own lives.

I think here is a good part to emphasize something about my nature in the initiation of relationships. I have been in a grand total of zero relationships, and can flirt with about the same amount of talent as a salad leaf. Passivity is my specialty and favored method of living life. I have a large self-conscience in reaching out to others; if they don’t reply with the same fervor that I send a message with, I immediately retract myself, afraid that I am annoying them or that they aren’t interested in the first place. This probably is a result of double standards; it’s cute if the guy pursues the girl, but switch those roles, and the girl often comes off as desperate or clingy. If the opposing party does, however, respond in any way with even the slightest hint of enthusiasm, I will dive right back in. Pathetic, no? But during the passing periods, I wallow in self-deprecation, full of melancholy and constantly wondering what I am to them, how I seem to them, why they reached out in the first place.

Why do I waste so much time swimming inside my head instead of finding out what the other side thinks? Easy. Avoid confrontation, and you can live life without a fear. But even the most straightforward and aggressive people are afraid of being too much. We don’t want to seem too eager — play safe, play by the rules. In the end, we play ourselves, because that gets us nowhere. Communication is key in any relationship; if neither side reaches out to the other, you’re left hanging on to loose threads, always clutching onto what could have been. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way.

Where am I now? Well, I’m definitely not in any better shape or form than when I started writing this — Alice can attest to that. Maybe you disagree with what I’ve said, considering that I’ve never had so much as a hookup (however you may define that ambiguous term). All this being written, any advice I could give on embracing our convoluted world is much easier said than done. The perpetrators of society’s perspective on modern love are us, and we humans don’t like change and blips in the fabric of the universe. That guy who I texted for a solid two weeks? We never talked again, save for the one moment of angst when I mistook some other skinny white dude for him. But this isn’t to say that hope is lost for all of us single pringles, singledom utterly enhanced by today’s celebrations. It’s simply that in the midst of being freshmen and nearing the end of adolescence, my friends and I easily lose ourselves in the rough waters of self-discovery and detachment. That seems to hold true for enough people in the same position as us to warrant observations and commentary.

So, I leave you with this lyric that I think sums up my message pretty well:

“I wonder if Sharon will see me/But I’ll play cool/Cause cool is what you have to do” — “Wait for the Moment”, Vulfpeck, My First Car (2015)

Stay hydrated, and fight on!


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