By Robert Beeland
“Someone should write an article about flirting at Sewanee.” This suggestion was made during The Sewanee Purple’s sixth planning meeting of the semester on November 30. I’ve always been intrigued by Sewanee’s function as a community, as a place. As far as how different social conventions operate on the mountain, I think Sewanee could serve as a perfect subject for a behavioral psychologist’s case study. We live in what some might call “the middle of nowhere,” a place without the confounding variables of an urban center, bars, or a Chick-fil-A. Occasionally, I’ll have a friend from home ask me what I do at Sewanee. My ignorant friend, I enjoy the company of some of the nicest people on earth. So, when the opportunity to write about people and the social workings of our mountaintop home, I was eager to get going. “Flirting at Sewanee?” Don’t mind if I do.
In reconsidering the expressed purpose of this article—to discuss flirting at Sewanee—it becomes clear that we must first define the terms in question. To first understand what we mean by “flirting at Sewanee,” we need to first figure out what we’re talking about when we say “flirting.” As the esteemed journalist tasked with writing this piece, I had to consider my own involvement with and experience with flirting. Flirting, as I see it, is an interesting phenomena. Flirting is a kind of game that’s played between people, a kind of game that works between the notes of conversation and of body language between people. As what Ludwig Wittgenstein might call a kind of philosophical “language game,” flirting imbues certain, perhaps otherwise innocuous words and phrases with meaning through context. That kind of contextual communication is innate to us as humans—it is a mechanism which we can use to express, explain, and reflect upon our otherwise ineffable thoughts and feelings.
I will not force you to endure any further epistemological discourse. The kind of training in philosophy you may receive as a part of your liberal arts education certainly may help you to a certain extent at a cocktail party, but when the rubber meets the road, your ability to successfully flirt will likely have very little to do with your understanding of Aristotle. Indeed, sustained conversations regarding Aristophanes’ androgyne myth rarely result in successful first dates. In order to flirt in Sewanee, you must understand your own intentions: to try to move a relationship into uncharted territory. The distance between the current and desired states of the relationship in question is, oftentimes, what can make flirting so interesting, so fun, and at times comical. You do not have to be especially coy or brazen to flirt, but you must understand your own intentions to cultivate a deeper relationship, in whatever aspect that may be.
I have no intentions of providing romantic advice in this article. However, as I enter my sixth semester here on the Mountain, I will wholeheartedly attest to this place’s capacity to bring people together. Maybe it’s something in the air, but Sewanee creates the potential for powerfully intimate relationships between people—whatever kind of relationships those might be. It is a kind of Arcadia, separated from the corrupting influences of the urban jungle and cell phone signal. I have developed some of my most valued relationships here. At its best, our domain is a place of close encounters and of shared moments.
However, the nature of this place also creates the potential for unmitigated loneliness. The power of the “Save Sewanee” movement seems to have come and gone—your journalist notices more and more of his fellow students walking phone-in-hand with every passing day. Our 13,000-acre campus does provide ample space for respites from the dehumanizing forces of technology, yet with roughly seven acres per student, people can quickly disappear into the fog of the social scene on quiet evenings. In this sense, Sewanee exists as a double-edged sword: while its setting allows for closeness, it also allows for total isolation.
As I conclude, I must restate my purpose in writing this article: to discuss flirting at Sewanee. I could end this article by advocating for the non-specific power of strong relationships here at Sewanee—such an advocation would be repetitive and of little utility, though. Ultimately, successful flirting at Sewanee necessitates careful navigation of Sewanee as a place. The kinds of knowledge needed to to move through a conversation, to move on the dance floor, and to live here on the Mountain with a healthy balance of community and solitude are not essentially different. To you, reader and possible flirter: you must remember the importance of remaining in close contact with those you hold dear. So what do you think, can we continue this conversation later?