December 2, 2019

ZOHORE | Formal-Induced Stress: The Quest to Find a Date

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As lectures come to a close and finals creep around the corner, many of us are preparing excitedly for what is likely our last social event of the semester: formal. Amidst the quest to find a sickening dress and killer shoes, I remind myself that there is yet another item left on my checklist: the quest to find a date.

Formal, for me, is yet another opportunity to stress endlessly about my lack of a love life.

A friend of mine recently relayed to me a piece of advice she had once offered: If you’re not using formal to scheme your crush, you’re doing it wrong. Seeing as I’ve brought a friend to every social event in the last two years, I guess I’ve been doing it wrong. My sorority makes a point of emphasizing that there is no pressure to bring someone special, but somehow I’ve built the pressure from within.

While I always have fun dancing the night away with a pal, I still feel this overwhelming feeling that I, too, should have “schemed” a date. I glance over at the couples sharing public displays of affection on the dancefloor, and begin to feel like everyone around me is capable of something I’m not.

But the alternatives to going with a friend don’t seem great to me either.

I could struggle to brainstorm a list of potential suitors. Deciding whether I should ask that one guy who asked me for a pencil in lecture the other day or the one I had a group project with two semesters ago, and to even consider just how many retweets it would take for a D-list celebrity accompany me. Through a pro-con analysis on my shortlist of formal prospects, I’d inevitably conclude that it would be far too awkward to take the kid I had a one-off conversation with freshman year during O-week. There was no crush in particular to scheme.

I could then enlist the help of my friends and opt for the ever-so-frightening set-up, the path most taken by Cornellians. Most everyone I know has gone to an event with an absolute stranger at one point or another. A set-up is the best way to go with a date, without the fear of being rejected by someone you actually know.

I’d then have to sift through messages from friends, asking “what about him?” accompanied by an unflattering photo of the potential date. It’d a process just as superficial as any dating app, but with the assurance from my friend that he’s “super nice!” I would be left to wonder if the “he” at hand would even be interested in going with me, because unlike a match on Tinder, mutual attraction was not guaranteed. I think back to hearing of people who had been overtly rejected by dates — one instance in particular: A black girl was told by the guy she was set up with that he doesn’t “usually go that dark.”

“Worst-case scenario, they make for a funny story,” a friend told me in encouraging me to get set-up.

But some of the horror stories I’ve heard sound less comical and more scarring. A guy Instagram DMed my friend two days before a date night to tell her he decided to take someone else, but she could still “swing by” if she wanted to. I’ve heard countless stories of dates getting ditched for someone else or, worse, accidentally puking on dates by the end of the night.

What always keeps me from agreeing to the arrangement is my personal worst-case scenario, which also seems to be the most likely scenario: I’m stuck with a stranger making far from stimulating conversation for two hours or so on end.

The cycle starts again, as I once again choose the familiarity and comfort of going with a good friend.

But this year, I took time to better understand why I worry so incessantly about something as trivial as a sorority formal. I’ve realized that my desire to go with a “real date” was less for the possibility of romance and more to resolve some personal vendetta I’ve created. I never got asked to a middle school dance or any of four homecomings or my senior prom. While back then, I secretly hoped that whichever crush I had at the time would ask me out, my fantasies never came to fruition. In middle school and high school, this was normal: I certainly wasn’t the only one riding solo. But as formal season approaches, I find myself back in the shoes of the high school version of myself, except now it seemed that everyone had a date and instead of hoping for a crush to ask me, I was now expected to do the asking.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go with a date because you want to have a good time and maybe meet someone new. But if you’re anything like me and the inclination to have a date is more so to prove to the world that you can pull, then you’re probably better off going with a friend. It won’t feel as much like a performance — or worse, an obligation.

Amelia Zohore is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at az288@cornell.edu. And What About It? runs every other Tuesday this semester.