A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through TikTok—as I do far too often—and came across an old Bo Burnham skit. In the video, accurately titled “Lower Your Expectations,” Burnham mischievously serenades the audience from behind a keyboard, opening with the lines “You want a guy that’s sweet, a guy that’s tough / A feminist who likes to pay for stuff.” He goes on to humorously point out the dichotomous traits of an “ideal man,” “a good boy, a bad boy, a good bad boy,” before kindly reassuring the audience that this man “only exists in your mind.” And if you think that he’s being a little unfair to women, don’t fret—he has an entire verse on male expectations.
Beyond the entertainment factor, the song’s underlying message is actually pretty relevant and prompted me to do a little more thinking. Are standards too high nowadays? Are we setting unrealistic expectations for our romantic partners that leave us feeling dissatisfied, disappointed, and single? Should we in fact take Burnham’s advice and simply lower our expectations?
I’m sure we’ve all heard the familiar complaints from friends that “there are no good options” or they “would never date anyone here” in relation to Boston College. In the spirit of full disclosure, I, too, am guilty of this pessimistic talk from time to time. But how fair is this really? Surely, on a campus of nearly 15,000 students and in a city filled with young professionals there have to be options. In writing this article, I turned to my single friends for insight into why they choose not to date.
One of the top responses I received, which wasn’t entirely surprising to me, had nothing to do with the quality of options out there, but rather addressed concerns surrounding their own individual “college experience.” A lot of my friends said that they chose not to date because they felt it would take away from their time at BC spent with friends, at parties, and excelling academically. To me, this is understandable, as I spent two years of my BC experience in a relationship, and despite the many positive aspects of it, I felt as if I were missing out on making important college memories. But, that rationale has a lot to do with the individual I dated and not so much to do with the quality of potential partners, so it doesn’t quite explain all of the complaining that good options are non-existent.
Getting closer to answering that question, another common response was that people didn’t want to settle for partners with whom they saw no future. One of my friends remarked, “I don’t know where I’m going to be living a year from now, why would I start dating someone if I know it won’t last?” She raises a fair point. Perhaps we are just too young to commit to anyone when we have our entire careers in front of us with little idea of what comes next for us in life. So, unless the perfect partner magically appears in front of us, we tend to lean away from any commitment to another that could take away from our future potential. This suggests that our standards are, in fact, too high.
This almost convinced me … almost. That is until I came across a 2013 survey that examined 500 college students and their attitudes and behaviors toward dating. The survey found that 65 percent of women had hoped that their hookups would lead to a legitimate relationship, while 45 percent of men felt the same way. Obviously, the percentage of those hookups that actually materialize into relationships is much lower, so if students are craving companionship, why aren’t they getting it? I believe that the answer lies in the final most common rationale that I received from friends as to why they chose not to date: hookup culture.
The standard form of intimacy for our generation has become casual hookups and “situationships,” so expectations or desires for legitimate exclusive relationships are seen as unrealistic or unusual. This environment of open and casual intimacy means that participating in hookup culture and settling for situationships is actually desirable in comparison to entering into committed relationships because that is, for the most part, what we see. We are so sure that serious relationships will fail in our current climate of zero-responsibility that we masquerade a fear of commitment as holding out for what we “deserve.” In this sense, Burnham is half right—people do appear to have unrealistic expectations. So much so that they won’t even consider dating someone, but simultaneously are more than willing to become intimate (physically and emotionally) with the very same person, so long as they avoid a title and the responsibilities that come along with it.
Therefore, the solution is not so much to lower our expectations, but rather not to give in to our cultural environment so much that we avoid commitment at the expense of our true inclinations. With that being said, it’s worth noting that the song’s full title is “(If You Want Love) Lower Your Expectations,” with the caveat of actually seeking out love. So, being single or participating in hookup culture very well may be the right move for you, so long as you are not a part of the 60 something percent looking for more than that but instead (and no, the irony is not lost on me) are lowering your expectations.
Featured Graphic by Annie Corrigan/ Heights Editor