Sex in college rarely makes sense. For all its promises of parental-free ecstasy, the study, drink, and have-sex-as-little-or-as-much-as-you-want mentality that comes with college creates hordes of confusion. Half of the time you find yourself semi-, if not fully, naked with someone you met less than a week ago; the other half of the time you find yourself pining for a friend with no idea how said friend feels about you. If there ever were a clear relationship between sexual attraction--pure physical wanting-and intellectual attraction-feelings that stem from getting to know, or knowing, someone-college erased it.
Sexual attraction is inevitably exciting. It's that tingling sensation you get when that boy or girl brushes up against you. It's that hint of an orgasm coming on every time he or she looks at you. It's the allure of the unknown. No one's really sure why it happens; physical attraction is entirely nonsensical. A friend of mine likes to describe it as post-pubescent butterflies: when you were little, you used to get butterflies in your stomach, now they're a little lower down.
Intellectual attraction, on the other hand, is easy to explain: you meet someone, you spend time with him or her, get to know each other and boom! Your juices are flowing. A guy friend of mine who normally has an affinity for blondes dated a brunette after hanging out with her first for a couple of weeks.
In an ideal world, sexual and intellectual attraction would occur simultaneously, and I wouldn't be writing this column. The truth is that they seldom occur simultaneously. Excepting maybe during your first year, when meeting somebody new is a weekly or daily occurrence, meeting somebody new at a school the size of Columbia is rare.
When you do meet somebody new, the allure of the unknown is that much greater, and the tingling sensation is all the more intense. Moreover, eight out of nine times meeting somebody new involves alcohol. When you're drunk and sexually attracted to someone you don't know very well, all other checks are easily overlooked. Is he or she funny? Smart? Does it matter? I'm drunk. Besides, he or she got into Columbia and therefore, must be somewhat intelligent, right?
More often than not, by the time you get to know somebody well enough to get your sex juices going, your friendship is already too close to easily transition from friendship to a combined sexual and intellectual attraction. Friendship assumes a certain level of intellectual attraction from the get-go (otherwise why would you be friends?), which, especially given the rarity of meeting somebody new, often develops into something more than just being friends. Hence the multitude of awkward friends-hooking-up-with-each-other situations.
The crazy thing (or maybe not so crazy thing) about sexual attraction is that it doesn't guarantee intellectual attraction. Whereas you can't hook up with someone you're intellectually attracted to if you're not also sexually attracted to him or her, you can easily hook-up with someone to whom you're sexually but not intellectually attracted. Sexual attraction has strange powers: I, for one, have been sexually attracted to someone I intensely dislike for over a year now. It doesn't matter how boring or weird I think he is, I still quiver when our hands brush.
No matter which way you look at it, this confusing intersection of sexual and intellectual attraction, friendship, hook-up, relationship, or otherwise, comes down to the same thing. At some point we all have to make a decision: is this attraction, whether sexual or intellectual, enough? You may make it beforehand-for instance, one friend of mine refuses to hook-up with somebody unless she is already intellectually attracted to him-or you may make it once you're already involved. A good friend of mine allowed her summer fling to continue as long as it did despite the fact that she knew she wasn't intellectually attracted to the boy-she was sexually attracted to him and saw no reason to end it earlier than she did.
Making the decision to end things with someone you're not sexually and intellectually attracted to, and more importantly, sticking to that decision, is one of the hardest sex-related decisions we make. It's not just about giving up good sex; it's about realizing that sexual attraction, no matter how strong it is, can't replace good conversation or companionship. It's about accepting that what you want just isn't there.
It doesn't end with the decision. In truth, I'm not sure it ever ends. Even when you know you're doing the right thing, there's still a little part of you that stays sad. And even though you tell yourself you won't make the same mistake twice, you inevitably do.
Sex in college still doesn't make sense. But it doesn't need to. College is the time that you figure everything that is nonsensical, a sort-of mini-training for the real world. What matters is that you do something with the nonsensical that you are OK with. You may find combined sexual and intellectual attraction tomorrow. Or not. Sex will still be good.