The XX Factor

Some Advice For Yale’s Self-Described “Senior Washed-Up Girls”   

SWUG land

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

In what appears to be an epic act of self-trolling, women at Yale have embraced a gendered idea of senior slump or senior-itis: the SWUG, or “senior washed-up girl.” According to Raisa Bruner, author of a long piece on the subject for the Yale Daily News, this hot new campus fad describes someone in the middle of “the slow, wine-filled decline of female sexual empowerment …. Welcome to the world of the ladies who have given up on boys because they don’t so much empower as frustrate, satisfy as agitate.”

The problem Bruner describes is pretty much the same one Susan Patton, the marriage-minded mom who filled last month’s elite-college gender kerfuffle slot, predicted would haunt Princeton women. Senior men at Yale continue to have classes of younger women to choose from, their sexual prospects improving as they age; but senior women find themselves devalued.  As Bruner puts it, “I…am farther from getting asked out on that drink than I was four years ago, when it wouldn’t have even been legal.”

That sounds pretty depressing! But given how conflicted self-described SWUGs sound, and how premature their assessments of themselves are, I thought maybe they could use some real-talk from someone a little younger than Susan Patton.

1. Find some new groups of people on-campus: If the same once-fertile watering holes are starting to feel a little dried up, maybe the problem isn’t age, but overfamiliarity. Instead of chilling in the back yard of an athletic house or frat, start seeking out new groups of students. Not all colleges are the same size, of course, but with 1,300 people in a class at Yale, there have to be people the SWUGs don’t know, or social circles they haven’t moved in. The benefit of trying some new things senior year? You might find not just dates, but people you like as friends, and activities or ideas you didn’t know you enjoyed. Nothing requires your identity to be calcified by the time you’re a senior, and no rules say that you only get three years of self-discovery and experimentation, but four years of academics.

2. Get off-campus: If the problem for self-described SWUGs is a lack of older men to date, then the solution is simple: Get off the college campus and start meeting men in the real world. Unless a very targeted alien invasion has carried off a whole lot of eligible men in their twenties specifically from college towns, they’re out there, and in places accessible to college women who can drink legally.

3. Embrace it: Senior year of college is perhaps the last time in your life you’ll have a built-in period of lassitude, a time when you’re actually supposed to care less and scramble less frantically. Unless you’re going to be teaching, summer vacations are a thing of the past, and even then, you’ll probably be in professional development. But just because you’re slacking a little bit (though I bet many of you are tied up with senior projects or theses) doesn’t mean that time has to be wasted. After years on the gerbil wheel of academic accomplishment and social frenzy, slow down and figure out what you actually like. If you’ve been working 14-hour days in between classes, homework, and activities, how does it feel to scale down to eight? If you go to a party without makeup or heels on, does it affect how many conversations you have or how much you enjoy yourself? A senior slump can be a perfect time to figure out the difference between what’s expected of you and what feels good.

4. When in doubt, listen to Ms. Norbury: The guys Bruner interviewed for her story seem to have it right: “’Anyone who would self-identify as washed up probably wouldn’t be my cup of tea,’ said one. ‘Unattractive,’ said another…And then: ‘I prefer women who respect themselves.’” So ditch the label, and I promise you, you can still have the senior slump in whatever form you want it to take.