Some of you — hopefully most of you — have heard of the November Rule. For those who haven’t, it is as follows, in its strictest and simplest form: you should not have sex prior to November 1 of your freshman year. It’s a good rule of thumb, and here’s why:
In this coming year, your self-esteem is going to take a pretty big beating. In your high school, you were one of the smartest students and breezed through most of your classes. Here, things will be different. In all likelihood, you will not be the smartest student at MIT — statistically speaking, you’ll be lucky to be above average. And with few exceptions, the classes here cannot be breezed through — they will be punishingly hard and time-intensive. As a consequence, your faith in your own intelligence — what used to be the greatest pillar of your ego — is going to sink.
On top of that, chances are good that your physical appearance is going to take a dive. Sleep deprivation and the “Freshman 15” take a toll on one’s physique. Athletes and disciplined morning joggers might dodge this bullet, but otherwise — there goes another ego pillar.
Finally, the friendships that you have formed in your first couple weeks on campus are going to be tested. People act differently when they are stressed out, overworked, and sleep-deprived. They don’t have as much time to hang out, they forget engagements, their tempers are shorter, and they interpret neutral comments as attacks or slights. People who get along with each other at their best might be at each other’s necks when they are at their worst. As your friendships become strained, you’ll start thinking less highly of your own personality. And that nagging worry you had when you first arrived — “But what if I don’t make any friends?” — will be back in full force.
In short, there will probably be a point during this semester when you feel stupid, fat, and friendless. You aren’t — not really — but that’s how it will feel.
The last thing you want to add to this mix is relationship failure. Break-ups always make you feel bad, and your brain wants to assign causation to them; you might think that maybe your significant other broke up with you because you’re stupid or ugly. Even just sex without a relationship is risky because it invites thoughts like, “Maybe the only reason I made friends in the first place was because he/she wanted to have sex with me.”
Adherence to the November Rule avoids these problems. It won’t save you from the blows to your self-esteem on the intelligence and appearance fronts, but it gives you a fighting chance of building the sort of stable platonic friendships that can buoy you through MIT’s grimmer periods.
Moreover, there are very good chances that, even with no stress added to the equation, a relationship formed during your first semester isn’t going to work out. The psychologist Erik Erikson postulated eight stages of psychosocial development, and estimated 18 years of age to be the breakpoint between two distinct stages. Assuming Erikson’s theory is correct, freshmen and upperclassmen are likely to be looking for two entirely different things from a relationship. Waiting a little bit before launching into your first college relationship helps improve the odds that you and the object of your affection will be on the same page when it comes to figuring out what you want from each other.
Six more weeks of abstinence is not some great hardship — it’s a reasonable precaution meant to safeguard the four-year, $200,000 investment you’re about to make in yourself. So study hard, go jogging, and remember, remember, the rule of November.