Christakis thinks it's because college students these days are too focused on resume-building and career preparation. They're indoctrinated into the cult of extracurricular activities in middle and high school, and the involvement obsession continues throughout college almost as if by inertia. "It's 'I'm secretary of this' and 'I'm director of that,'" she said. "And even they admit that a lot of it is kind of bogus."
Rachel Greenwald, an author and dating coach, thinks it's because most college "relationships" now occur within the context of a brief sexual encounter, or "hookup," as the youth say. "Romance," she said, "has gone the way of cursive handwriting."
A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that between 60 and 80 percent of North American college students have had a hookup, even though 63 percent of college men and 83 percent of college women said they would prefer a traditional relationship.
"In gearing themselves up for sex, they're draining themselves emotionally," Greenwald said. "They are in training to ... discard, to ignore, to swallow their emotions so they can participate in the anxiety-provoking but common dynamic which is the hookup culture."
Lori Gottlieb, an Atlantic contributor, author, and psychologist, thinks it's because Millennials have been so coddled by their parents and teachers that they are now unable to accept others' opinions and realities. Which makes it hard when, in a relationship, your reality is that you will go to the farmer's market and make a healthy salad together, and your partner's reality is Starcraft.
Gottlieb also thinks college kids don't know how to interact face-to-face anymore. (Always with the texting.) She points out that one new Boston College class assigns students to go out on dates—the coursework includes a discussion of "what words to say" when you'd like to ask someone out.
Similarly, the University of Illinois now holds workshops on topics like "College Dating: Uncovering the Dating Scene." Duke University offers a counseling series on "How to Be in Love." Students will learn "how to fall in love … including recognizing when this can be happening," as well as how to communicate effectively, how to recognize when said love is "toxic," and how to know when it's time to break up.
Sorely missing from this list: Intro to Back-rubs, Peaceable Joint IKEA Expedit Assembly, Advanced Topics in Netflix Negotiation.
Christakis thinks the future might hold more courses like these, both for credit and not. Relationships make us happy, and they can be a part of what we need to feel successful. And in so far as universities are laboratories of successful adulthood, coursework about relationships "are entirely compatible with the academic mission of the university," she said.
Gottlieb said that the emphasis on college campuses these days seems to be on independence, or the idea that students shouldn't settle down too soon. But she said she also sees young-adult psychotherapy clients who feel lonely in spite of their career success. If college students were better-equipped to start and maintain relationships, her thinking goes, they would feel more fulfilled in adulthood.