February 10, 2010

Special Delivery: Love on a Paper Platter

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Why do you wear clothes in public?

Because you have to.

But do you really have to?

I mean, kind of. Society commands that we should. What would happen, however, if the arbitrary, accepted rules of society were challenged? Throughout the semester, we here at the Outer Limits will be violating social norms such as this (though not such illegal violations as being nudy-pants on the Arts Quad) and documenting the reactions of the average Cornellian.

Are you forward thinking, Cornell? Are you really? Think about it, and you might be surprised at what would surprise you.

For example, something as harmless as those Cornell Minds Matter people giving away hugs on Ho Plaza creeps most people out and repels them. We are conditioned to avoid any personal contact with strangers, so an unanticipated gesture of affection seems downright ridiculous to most of us.

With this in mind as Valentine’s Day was fast approaching, we decided to pass out handmade valentines to strangers in the library. Scrawled neatly on the cards were the words “Be Mine, Valentine,” along with one of our phone numbers.

The implicit college dating script tells us that a woman should not initiate a date or other romantic encounter, and that doing so could potentially bring with it the stigma of slutitude. By taking the lead in this V-day adventure, we were breaking one of the most ancient, though outdated rules of the dating game.

On the other hand, we’re programmed to assume that any gesture of affection brings with it some sort of baggage or agenda — modern society, ourselves included, is cynical about love. So when we have that kind of experience, we assume that it’s not genuine. The other party is just making a mockery of you or has some sort of agenda. We complain about not finding love, but we often dodge the opportunities because they seem socially awkward.

When it came time to hand them out, we braced ourselves for a series of raised eyebrows and a whole lot of apathy. Experience had taught us to hope for connection but expect failure.

One dude in the cocktail lounge did not even notice the valentine (a humongous red heart with a bow) being placed on his desk. This is the kind of result that we cynics were expecting. However, it turned out that he was the outlier in our little experiment.

Now, by no means do we claim that this was a representative sample of the Cornell community, but our results were intriguing. What we found seemed to contradict our damaged romantic outlooks. At least half of the guys who received our valentines initiated contact with us by the end of the evening through the phone number on the card. Curious and friendly, they were overwhelmingly impressed and flattered by the simple and bold act of having a heart literally handed to them. (Disclaimer: We chose to abide by heterosexual norms for this experiment, simply because that’s what we know best.)

While our sampling was randomized for the most part and depended on who liked to study in the library on a random Thursday evening, we also chose our lab rats based in part on our own instincts. One of us, who shall remain nameless, was particularly insistent on giving a valentine to a particular guy in the corner of Kroch.

Her instincts proved 100 percent accurate, as he was the only subject we observed giving an openly emotional response when he received the valentine — smiling to himself as he reread the valentine and put it away for safe-keeping. 20 minutes later, he called the valentine fairy whose number was on the card and set up a date for the weekend.


Handing your heart to someone you know, let alone a total stranger, is an act of great courage; anyone who has ever been in love might agree. We hope to leave you all on a note of great optimism. Previously two women with a classic case of cynicism, the paper heart delivery experiment has rendered us profoundly changed individuals.

The libraries of Cornell have spoken: The dating game is changing. A woman does not have to wait. At the end of the day, everyone is a little curious and open to the possibility of love, even if it presents itself in a seemingly ridiculous package. Makes you think differently about the guy sitting across from you on Olin floor, doesn’t it? Go ahead, pass him a note.

And that is that for the first edition of Outer Limits, an exploration of all things that are socially unacceptable.

Will you, Cornellians, be our test monkeys this semester? Welcome to the lab of life.

Original Author: Allie Perez