The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

Do It with Emotion

This is a column in which we address questions and topics of all kinds concerning sex and relationships. Dr. Do It and Ms. Emotion do not claim to be experts in the fields but have been “around the block” a few times and have seen their share of situations involving relationships and sex. The opinions of Dr. Do It and Ms. Emotion do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication.

Dear Dr. Do It and Ms. Emotion:

What is your take on the older woman-younger man/older man-younger woman. I am a graduate student thinking of pursuing an undergrad. (He is much younger.) Should I?

- Robin Cradle

Ms. Emotion: I think your first concern should be whether or not this could interfere with your studies. If you and he are at the same school and in the same major it might be best to keep things platonic. You could end up being his TA one day. If, however, you are at different schools, or in different majors, then I think the only issue is whether you feel comfortable with the age difference.

An age difference could pose several problems. If you’re looking for a relationship, then you probably want someone whom you can relate to, who understands where you’re coming from, who may be going through or has gone through some of the same things that you’re dealing with now. If your love interest is much younger then he probably won’t be able to fill this role. Another consideration is the lifestyles that you both lead. If your frat party days are long past, and he still talks about “the brothers” on a regular basis, you may wish to reconsider. College is a time in our lives when we go through a lot of changes -- and everybody progresses at a different pace. He may be very experienced and mature for his age. Only the two of you can know whether the differences between you are too significant for the relationship to work.

Dr. Do It: Ms. Emotion, I see what you’re saying but I think that you might be going a bit overboard. What the hell does it matter what major you’re in? Regardless of age differences people come from all kinds of different environments. So you may not like dating a “frat guy”, but that is independent of age. The more important aspect is whether you feel that both of you are at similar maturity levels in order for the relationship to work. While you both might be different stages in your lives, also consider that it’s more relevant what experiences each of you has had and what either of you is personally looking for in the relationship you are pursuing.

Good relationships entail an relatively even balance, where both partners in the relationship have equal say and agree on the direction of the relationship. However, it is common that the less experienced person in a relationship may end up giving up more control than he or she should and in the end this will not work. If both people in the relationship respect each other’s concerns and are comfortable with them then the relationship has a better chance of working out.

Notice that I have said all of this with out bringing in age. It can be argued that the older person in a relationship typically has more experience and will have more control in the direction of the relationship, but this is not a hard fact across the board. I have also heard that women mature more quickly than men when it comes to relationships, but this is not always the case. I have met very mature teenagers and very immature thirty-something year-olds, both men and women. So it really comes down to the bottom line as summed up in Ms. Emotion’s last statement, which I do agree with: only the two of you can know really whether the differences between you are too significant for the relationship to work.

Dear Dr. Do It and Ms. Emotion:

I was wondering what your opinion is on intra-hall dating. I’ve seen several of the people on my hall begin and end relationships and it’s never pretty. Since they live so close together they tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the hall, and the relationship always progresses very quickly since they’re basically living together. When these couples broke up it created a lot of tension on the hall and their friends felt like they had to take sides. It really divided the hall up.

- Hall Monitor

Ms. Emotion: This is an interesting scenario that I’m sure many of our readers have also seen happen. I think it’s inevitable that when people live near each other and become friends, that couples will form. And I think we should keep an open mind about these relationships. They may come with their own unique set of obstacles, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work.

Couples who find themselves in this position need to be wary of the too fast, too soon relationship trap. Because they live so close together, it’s hard to keep the relationship progressing at a “normal” pace. Sleeping over and eating all meals together becomes a given, and privacy and space become minimal. It’s natural, especially in the beginning of a relationship, to want to spend all your time with your significant other. When you don’t live on the same hall then you’re forced to have some healthy time apart, but when you live together you often spend more time together than you should. A couple may behave like they’ve been dating for years, but that doesn’t mean that they are equipped to deal with the lifestyle that they have established. I would suggest that these couples define some guidelines to help keep the relationship progressing at an appropriate pace. Only eat one meal together per day and eat the others with your friends or in a big group. Make “dates” for the weekend and spend the rest of your weekend with your friends or studying and doing chores by yourself. Only sleep over on the weekends or after a “date.” And try to do things with your friends instead of always just the two of you.

Lastly, if the relationship does come to end, try to think about your friends. Hopefully you haven’t alienated them from your life while you were involved, because you will need them now. When you go to your friends for comfort, remember that they are also your ex’s friends, and he will need support too. You might need to have some distance from your ex for a while, but eventually, if everyone is mature about the situation, both you and your ex can hangout with the group at the same time.

Dr. Do It: Sometimes people end up entering into a relationship with people on their hall out of convenience. It can be really unhealthy to do this, because of what you have described, causing alienation of friends and the potential for dividing up the hall by friends taking sides when a couple breaks up. However, it can work out if two people really are compatible. It is difficult to have a relationship where almost all of your free time is spent with your significant other because you will find yourself getting on each other’s nerves. One definitely needs “alone” time away from the significant other, which helps keep the relationship healthy. This can be difficult both people in the relationship share exactly the same circle of friends.

The best way to overcome these problems is not to date anyone in your hall and force yourself to expand your horizons by meeting new people outside of your hallway. But if you really do find yourself attracted to someone in your hallway, then at least realize the implications associated with it, and be prepared to deal with them.

If you have any questions for Dr. Do It and Ms. Emotion or topics you would like them to discuss, please send e-mail to <advice@the-tech.mit.edu>.