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This Monkey...s Gone to HeavenRoaming the Dusty Savannahs of MIT

By Ruth Miller

MIT is not your typical football-loving, sun-worshipping, skip-class-on-Friday-because-you-partied-too-hard-on-Thursday: “The New Friday” -night, state school. And perhaps one of the subtlest differences that make MIT a sociological collegiate outlier is the way in which students compete for mating rights.

In the wild, animals compete for territory or mating rights with brightly colored feathers, sweet songs, and/or razor-sharp claws. Most of us who have watched the Discovery Channel know that combative grizzly bears on their hind legs can reach almost eight feet. Male caribou can grow antlers as wide as 160 cm wide to beat the competition for females, even if these bulky antlers can get permanently entangled in low-hanging trees. The college-dating scene is no less bizarre or dangerous.

In the even wilder world of state schools, competition is no less fierce. We’ve all got those friends, as Facebook often reminds us, who do the most ridiculous things to get girls. There’s the guy that’s going to be a “rock star” and serenades girls with the crap songs he wrote. Sometimes, physical talent (i.e., being the star quarterback) is the ticket to ride. Whether the wealth is inherited, earned, or looming in the future, the rich kid is another archetype to observe. My personal favorite remains the winner of the traditional biggest pickup truck competition. All these rituals come with specific mating calls (or pickup lines) and plumages (be it a popped collar or indie rock shirt).

Mating rituals at MIT are something else entirely. Here, your personal worth is determined by your workload: your lack of sleep, your berth of problem sets, your number and difficulty of major. Your “hard coreness,” so to 5p3a|<. We’ve seen it time and time again. Two sullen students recognize each other in line at La Verde’s.

Tiredly, the first asks: “Hey, how’s it going?”

Confidently (but also tiredly), the other responds: “Oh, man, I’m so hosed. I just pulled two all-nighters and still haven’t started my third pset that’s due tomorrow.”

Faux-sympathetic acknowledgment: “Yeah … I just finished my fourth pset of the week and have to stay up all tonight to start and finish a stupid HASS paper.”

Evoking the triviality of his opponent’s assignments, the other continues, “I’d rather take a HASS test than read a hundred pages on something completely irrelevant to anything.”

Check: “The paper’s not as bad as the programming project I’ve got due at the end of the week. My group hasn’t even met yet.”

Suddenly, out of nowhere: “Oh, and I just added a UROP, so I’m now at 72 units.”


The victor’s sub sandwich is up, he grabs it and swaggers off to the caffeinated drinks before gloating smugly at his inferior from the checkout line.

As a system of attracting potential mates, or dates, this process presents some obstacles. Why is mating at MIT so difficult?

Third: Winners of this competition are rarely the best to date. I’ve heard of a guy who’s girlfriend dumped him because he spent more time with his robot than her. Doesn’t sound too ridiculous, does it?

Second: MIT students are inherently more hard core than their counterparts at other schools, and thus must face difficulties when interacting with the non-MIT world. Who hasn’t had the experience of chatting up a hot guy/girl at Circuit City for twenty minutes, only for them to run away and “do inventory” when they find out you go to MIT? We’re thus left to inbreed.

First: MIT girls aren’t typically the “I’m going to sit around on a pedestal and be a trophy” type. Neither are the guys. So the normal “male beats male, male wins female” system breaks down. Variations manage to get by, but the process gets complicated when no one is to be “won.”

Does this mean that MIT students are doomed to loneliness? No, but it does partially explain why other schools worry more about pregnancy than suicide. So what is a lonely MIT student to do? Swallow his or her pride and date someone from BU? Heck, no. Look around and follow the trend. Grab a freshman before they learn better. And when that fails, adopt the old Red Sox adage: “There’s always next year.”

Ruth Miller ’07 is dating a member of the class of 2008 she met while checking in his luggage during Orientation.