Journey’s song Faithfully is always a hit on college campuses, often played at dances and sports events, and crooned in dorm rooms. The irony is that the song’s popularity reflects very little of the real state of affairs on college campuses, which have been at the center of the hedonistic world for decades.
High school seniors receive letters of admittance that are the first tangible symbol of their complete “independence”. Yet, while they leave home prepared to face a different environment, difficult professors, new friends, tough courses and a new social scene, there is one thing they are sadly unprepared for: the temptation to grasp at fleeting emotional and physical liaisons.
By definition liaisons are sexual relationships that involve unfaithfulness to a partner. Not, in the case of the typical student, to a spouse (except in a futuristic sense) but to the person he or she agrees to casually couple with, and to themselves. Thanks to a society that no longer believes in healthy boundaries nor explains why they are important, students on college campuses are learning to be experts in infidelity; they are studying how to lie and cheat with their bodies and affections.
How is that? A complete bodily union without commitment conveys the message “I will give of myself this much, but not more,” and in that sense, the person is withholding a part of him or herself: his or her full commitment and trust. The fact that this attitude is mutual does not make it any less harmful. When commitment and trust are missing, there is nothing solidifying the relationship, and the results are disastrous.
Ask any college student on your choice of campuses across the United States and few would contest that the hook-up culture has wiped out the dating scene and has emerged as primary mode of interacting among young adults. Whereas pre-marital sex was once kept secret for fear of shame and embarrassment, in particular for women, is now the rule in nearly every dorm throughout the year, without any consideration as to whether it is a healthy practice for the individual or not.
It’s interesting that students spend endless hours in libraries analyzing whether their final paper on Plato’s Republic will secure them an A and bring them one step closer to the best GPA they can attain; yet, when it comes to their deepest feelings and emotions, they do not give a moment’s thought to whether their actions will promote a favorable long-term outcome for them and their partner. According to a recent poll at Hamilton College, for example, “70% of students said it was difficult to find new long-term relationship partners”, while at Vanderbilt University students reported that “sex is ‘treated really casually’.”
Individualist thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do yourself a favor: Put aside logic. Do what feels right.” In some sense his words describe the current state of the university and its social climate. Many have abandoned logical thinking and common sense and have instead allowed themselves to be governed by their own desires. Without contemplating what the other might want, they pursue their own pleasure, come what may.
Fortunately, there are students across the country ready for change, and recent years have seen the emergence of a cultural movement to reclaim sexual integrity on campuses. Groups of students are springing up all around the world, seeking answers to their questions in the hope of rising out of this deep fog of confusion in the realm of dating and sexual intimacy.
The Anscombe Society at Providence College, for example, aims to equip students with the knowledge and social science data that will help them navigate their personal romantic relationships in a happy and healthy way. After all, humans were not meant to go from heartbreak to heartbreak; therefore, there must be answers to the confusing messages that every college student is forced to confront. The students of the Anscombe Society and other groups are seeking out those answers.
In the spirit of writer Flannery O’Connor, who held that we have to “push as hard as the age that pushes against you,” these students are holding fast to their conviction that sexual intimacy can only bring happiness within the committed relationship of marriage, and they have been gaining much ground. With this counter-cultural message they seek to shed a little light on the rather widespread realm of infidelity.
They venture to prove that Emerson was incorrect in his “if it feels good, do it” doctrine, that logic and common sense are not a burden but a gift to be applied to the passions as well as to Plato. Self-interested desires detached from the use of reason spell endless trouble. We must find a balance between them, and pursue relationships where we no longer repeat the words of our culture, “I will give of myself this much, but no more.”
We can then begin setting our sights on what we were intended for: spousal unity with one whom we can turn to someday and wholeheartedly say, “I’m forever yours, faithfully.”
Viviana Garcia, founder and former co-president of the Anscombe Society at Providence College, is currently an intern at the Love and Fidelity Network, an organization in Princeton, New Jersey, dedicated to equipping students with the tools necessary to uphold marriage, the institution of family, and sexual integrity on college campuses.