It”s said that in the world people are separated by no more than six degrees. Each individual is connected to every other person in the world by six people or less. I”m not sure who came up with this concept or how scientific it is, but it seems to make sense.

It”s a small world after all. Yep, the annoying song from Disney”s theme park ride applies not only to life, but also to the world we live in particularly the University community. And here, the world is even smaller.

Six degrees of separation doesn”t seem to apply. I”d say it”s more like three degrees of separation or less. There are just so many connections.

First you have the high school connection. There are plenty of “feeder” schools that drop close to 100 students into the student body each year. These schools are very often in the same area, making the number of people who know each other even larger. Multiply this by four for the years that you”re in college (well, four years in theory), and you have a big pool of people who know each other.

Next you have the people that have had a class together. Most of the time, due to the size of lecture halls, not all that many people know each other, but group study sessions, discussion sections and group work often bring people together.

Plus, depending on which school you”re in and what your major is, you have a better or worse chance of meeting more people. For example, an English major is probably more likely to get to know people than an engineer, but an architect might know people better because of the close group work.

Then you have all the people that you lived with in the dorm. While you might have known someone as “that weird guy who always wore boxers a size too small,” they might end up being your roommate”s new boyfriend.

Never underestimate the power of the dorms, because many of the people from them will probably enter your life at some other point in your college experience. You don”t even have to know that they lived on the same hall as you when you re-meet a few years down the line, and realize how small the world really is.

So then, how does this small world affect us? Well, while it makes the University a friendlier place, it also makes things a bit more complicated.

When everyone seems to know about everyone else, problems tend to arise in the dating world. Is it OK to date a friend? How close is too close of a friend to date? What if you just meet someone and hit it off, but one of their friends knows you and says you”re a jerk? What if you date a friend”s ex but don”t really realize it?

In terms of dating a friend”s ex, I”ll have to speak for the women”s point of view. While there is no universal “code” on the subject, most females that I have come across practice similar methods.

And what might these methods be? Simply put, you don”t date a friend”s ex, which for the purpose of this column, we”ll call re-dating. Of course there are exceptions and variations, but for the most part, the ex really is off limits. In some rare instances, such as a short dating period, or a long time since breaking up, friends can date a friend”s ex, but these are few and far between.

Some codes are stricter than others, disallowing the re-dating of a one-time date or even one-time crush, while others are more lax, allowing for flexibility on a case-by-case basis.

But, regardless of code, probably the worst situation to step into would be attempting to date more than one roommate or housemate. You”re just setting yourself up for trouble considering that the two live together. It gets particularly tricky when you either fall for a roommate while spending time with the person you”re dating, or if you had a bad break-up and want to date a roommate.

Then there are the particularly evil people who feign interest in order to get closer to a roommate or housemate. If you are one of these people first, you”re evil and secondly, you”re setting yourself up for defeat. While this strategy might work once in a blue moon, the original window into the house (in this case the poor soul who thinks you actually like them) will possibly place a claim on you and you”ll be off limits to the one you”re trying to get close to.

Once a claim is placed, it”s pretty hard to get around it. You”re immediately off limits to anyone in the claimer”s circle of friends, and if you do manage to get beyond the claim, all hell breaks loose. The house becomes an arena of chaos, friends pit themselves against friends and at least one person is considered a backstabber. While this might sound extreme, this stuff really does happen.

Another unusual situation is when you wind up dating a friend”s ex, but you don”t realize you”re participating in re-dating. Most of the time this doesn”t happen between really close friends because you probably would have met their ex while they were dating, but it can and does happen. So if you don”t meet their ex, and while you might know of them only in name, you have no clue when you meet them in a class, at a party or anywhere else where you”d meet people.

This situation is normally forgivable, but in extreme cases, you might have to choose between the friend and re-dating. You might also realize that the seemingly datable person that you met and wanted to date is the psycho that your friend dumped and had been talking about for the past few weeks.

And then there”s the stuff said about you. While there”s the potential that your ex said good things about you, for the most part, you”re pretty screwed when you try re-dating one of their friends. This is particularly true if the break up was bad and the friend has heard what a jerk you are, how insufficient you are in bed, or any other heinous behavior that you did while dating their friend.

So is there no hope for re-dating? Nah, not all the time. As long as you remember to look at the big picture and not be particularly evil, you should come out fine. And who knows, maybe one time or another you”ll make a claim on the perfect person.

Lindsey Alpert will process all claims at lalpert@umich.edu.

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