Emily Pittinos: May I have this dance?

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By Emily Pittinos, Columnist
Published October 1, 2013

So, here’s a familiar situation: It’s Friday night. You’ve just spent a couple hours at a pregame where you popped beer bottles and clinked shot glasses of fruit-flavored fire water with your friends cheering, “To tonight!” You’re headed to a bigger party — maybe down the street, or maybe across town — but it doesn’t matter because the distance is truncated by your drunkenness. The walk is chilly, but your beer coat keeps you warm. You throw your arm around a friend’s shoulder and slur something along the lines of: “You guys, I just really want to make out with a stranger tonight.” Everyone laugh — it’s funny because it’s true.

It’s easy to arrive at a college party with sexual expectations. The first things you find when you walk through the door are 1.) a place to stash your purse and 2.) bodies, bodies, bodies. Contact seems so possible. Blood alcohol content is high, inhibitions are low and every room vibrates with kinetic sexual energy. Whether it’s been a while since you got it on, you’re trying to get over someone or liquor just causes superhuman sensitivity to pheromones in the air, the thought of an anonymous bump and grind can be highly attractive.

The dance floor is often the breeding ground for these desires. Sure, with beer pooling on the living room floor and walls lined with couches full of kids who look like they’re about to vomit, it’s not the sexiest of settings. However, that small space churning with colliding elbows and throwback R&B is the closest thing college kids have to a bathhouse, where sexual displays are politely unacknowledged and rubbing your body against that of a stranger is expected if not encouraged. If the night is going to soar into the direction of sex, the dance floor seems to be the most likely point of takeoff.

If you’re like me, however, the idea of these random encounters is much more enticing than the actual experience. I usually dance onto the floor with confidence, wiggle for a minute, consider putting my mouth on someone’s mouth, and then rapidly wise-up to my surroundings. I watch some of the dancers goof off with their friends while the rest sway dizzily with lust, their drunk-eyes only half open as they grind eighth-grade style against an unfamiliar crotch. Everyone is sweaty. No one can be heard over the beats of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” The fantasy is suddenly too real, and the room comes into sharp focus while my desire melts away.

But it’s more than forced voyeurism making me uncomfortable out there; the lack of communication freaks me out. Yes, it may be too loud for “May I have this dance?” but it seems like the moment I find myself marooned on the dance floor I’ve signed a blanket consent form that entitles dudes to come up behind me, grab my waist and press their denim-confined whiskey dicks against my ass without so much as a nod — which, I’d like to gently point out, would be considered harassment in any other situation. I’m not saying that all men are guilty of this, but it does happen and it’s a turn off for me no matter how many times I give it a shot. At that point I usually moonwalk out of there wondering: Is this sexy and I’m just not getting it?

Of course, for me the answer is no. Call me vanilla, but turning around to see who’s latched onto my backside is not my ideal first step toward a sexual encounter. What happened to eye contact? What happened to romance and conversation? It’s not naïve or uptight to crave some kind of spark before locking lips with another person.

I, for example, am way more likely to hook up with someone I’m laughing with on the porch than a stranger taking liberties with my body inside the house. It’s definitely possible to have a meaningful one-night stand with a brand new person, but I don’t think the grab-and-grind approach is the way to go. There would probably be more successful hook-ups if initial introductions were done with the basics — words, smiles, eye contact — rather than a surprise dry hump masquerading as dance.

Emily Pittinos can be reached at pittinos@umich.edu.