February 16, 2023

KUBINEC | The Low-Risk Love Life

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There are only a handful of events each year at Cornell that reach everyone-is-talking-about-it status; Perfect Match is always one of them. 

We collectively insist Perfect Match is a joke — but is it? Over 4,500 Cornellians completed the survey this year, an increase of nearly 1,000 from last year. While all your friends who did Perfect Match insist it was purely for the meme, they probably opened their matches the moment the email came out and stalked each candidate’s social media, hoping against hope to find the one. 

Perfect Match is symbolic of how Cornellians pair off — in as low-risk a way as possible. We want the perks of a romantic relationship within the safe confines of our own plans. Perfect Match hand-delivers you five meet-cutes from the comfort of your bedroom while letting any potential disappointment fall to the math gods. The stakes literally couldn’t be lower.

And the sort of person who would be attracted by this highly efficient dating scheme is also the sort of person who goes to Cornell, isn’t it? We have been taught, often from young ages, to avoid risk — take the right classes, say the right things in interviews, don’t rock the boat too much, major in something sure to land a big salary. Our love lives play out atop the subconscious belief that the safest way is the best way.

Cornellians love Perfect Match because it’s low-risk. Instead of entering the fraught waters of confessing romantic feelings for a friend, you can just enter her NetID and hope she did the same. 

Unfortunately for those finding their perfect match, committed relationships present a lot of risk. For one, if your partner dumps you, you’ll be left heartbroken, which sucks by itself — not to mention its likely negative impact on your GPA. And if you fall in love and decide to get married, then you’re facing all sorts of post-graduation compromises that detract from your perfectly planned future at some megafirm in some megacity.

But here’s the problem with risk-lessness: Playing it safe robs us of the things we actually want. Consider my bag-fumbling experience at a white elephant gift exchange this winter. When it came my turn to steal, a beta fish and a dust buster were available. I picked the (more practical!) dust buster, knowing my gift wouldn’t be stolen — and gazed longingly at the beta fish for the rest of the night. Choosing to commit to someone is a risk, yes, but taking a risk is the only way to end up with a beta fish instead of a dust buster. 

The fear of risk structures Cornell’s dating scene, hookups being the most obvious example. Casual sex theoretically gives a taste of the meal we’re searching for with none of the relational bloating. When the topic of hookups comes up in my classes, we talk about sleeping around like it’s an emerging trend guiding us toward sexual liberation or true feminism or whatever. But casual sex has been a thing at Cornell for decades. Cornell Health puts bowls of multicolored condoms in its lobby while Plan B pills are being put in vending machines. Hookup culture is a path of least resistance posing as an act of rebellion — a desperate search for meaning that fails to deliver. It’s the safe bet for easy fun that no one seems to really enjoy in the long run. 

I don’t buy the hookup or Perfect Match hype because at their most basic level, they are symptoms of the same disease — our fear of risk — and something stubborn within us seems to crave risk. I spent Tuesday hearing my friends grumble that their matches were no good, and it’s hard to find an upperclassman who looks back on their freshman year drunken sexual encounters with nostalgia.

An actually risky love life involves commitment. It means passing up on really cool potential partners to stick with one person. It means not always doing things on your own schedule. Risky love could drop a cannon ball on your plans for a perfect semester or career, but by jumping in the pool, you’ll find happiness you can’t get from just dipping your toes in.

If romance isn’t your thing (which it totally doesn’t have to be), consider where else in life you can take risks. Skip lecture someday and go on an adventure. Say what you really believe in class, not just what your professor wants to hear. Forget the corporate internship and spend your summer doing things you actually enjoy. 

Maybe you won’t find your mathematically verified perfect match. Maybe you won’t have the life your parents and peers are all insisting you should want. But if you start taking risks, you might wake up one day and feel something all too rare at Cornell — joy.

Jack Kubinec is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached [email protected]. You Don’t Know Jack runs alternate Thursdays this semester.