Love at B-School: The Eight Laws of MBA Dating

by Elizabeth Angell on

Who says business isn’t romantic? Profit squeezes, position limits, extension swaps, rollovers, interlocking directorates—horizontal mergers, for heaven’s sake. This stuff is downright steamy. Factor in a tight-knit cadre of ambitious, successful people in the prime of life, a pressure-cooker environment, and enough recruiter-sponsored cocktails to irrigate the Gobi Desert, and nature is bound to take its course. We can’t guarantee you’ll find true love, but based on extensive conversations with MBAs who’ve been there and, er, done that, we can make a few confident predictions about the dating scene you’ll face as a B-school student. Without further ado: the Immutable Laws of MBA Dating. Learn them. Live them. Love them.

1) If you weren’t single when you arrived, odds are you will be by Thanksgiving.

Unless you’re pretty permanently attached (by, say, a ring) to your pre-B-school honey, there’s a good chance you’ll break up a few months into your first term. “We called Thanksgiving of first year Black Thursday,” says Tracy Lawrence, 29, who graduated from Harvard Business School in 1999. Thanksgiving break presents a handy opportunity to bring messy entanglements to an end face-to-face, but whether the demise takes a week or a year, preexisting relationships are destined to bite the dust. The weight of B-school—its time demands, the insularity of the community, the team bonding—can break through longstanding romantic ties like a wrecking ball.

Christine, 30, a second-year at Wake Forest’s Babcock School, managed to hold out until February of her first year before she broke things off with her boyfriend of almost three years—but an end at some point seemed inevitable. “Whenever I’d visit him, I’d have to concentrate really hard to forget about deadlines and assignments,” she says. “I’d repeat over and over again in my head, ‘Try to have fun.’ “ Julie Karickhoff, 26, a Georgetown second-year, also bid adieu to a beau five months into her first year. “He thought I studied too hard, that I was being a nerd and overdoing it,” she says. “He didn’t understand where I was coming from, but at first you don’t know if you can compete in business school. I just wanted to make sure I could make it and have good grades.” Michael Preis, 27, who graduated from Columbia Business School last spring, also succumbed to the inexorable pull early in his first year. “I had a miserable time trying to break away from classes and group work to be with my girlfriend,” he says. “You’re making such a huge investment in the network of people at business school. To be torn away from that defeats the purpose of being there.”

2) For two years, you will work hard but have a very good time.

MBA candidates quickly discover that business school is tailor-made for dating. “I had one stretch of six weeks where I was seeing three people at once,” says Preis. “I was trying to keep track of who was from where, which town, which college, who had the dog, the cat, the parrot. But you can’t keep that kind of pace up.” Probably not—but chances are you will have some juggling to do. “You’re in a social environment, surrounded by people who are smart, motivated, the right age, at the right time in their lives, and with the free time to date,” says Harvard grad Lawrence. And you will have a lot in common with them: similar work experience, similar aspirations.

What’s more, MBA candidates come to school prepared, in a sense, to work the room. They know that they have only two years to nurture the precious connections that can make a business degree so valuable. And B-schools take advantage of and reinforce their students’ networking instincts. At most schools, there’s a constant barrage of mixers, cocktail parties, and other assorted meet-and-greets. Each class or section is likely to have a student appointed to organize parties and recruiting events. “I worked harder and played harder than I ever did when I was in the working world,” says Paul Campbell, 35, who graduated from the Thunderbird School last spring after attending his fair share of parties. Liz Williams, HBS ‘99, met her husband, Ather, when he was the social chair of her section. “He would always try to convince me to go to pub night,” Williams says. Finally he succeeded—and the couple were married by graduation. Most events are designed to ultimately get you a job and a Rolodex full of precious contacts, but they just might land you a date, if not a spouse, as well.

3) Women are scarce and therefore in demand. Men are a plentiful commodity.

The B-school dating scene (heterosexual, anyway) is a good case study on that old rule of supply and demand: What happens when a commodity is scarce and its consumers are plentiful? Men outnumber women by as much as two to one in many MBA programs, which means women can be picky. “The numbers game is horrible for us,” says Mike Aaronson, 25, a Wharton second-year who writes a column that occasionally addresses dating issues for the campus newspaper. “A lot of guys go outside the B-school community for dates. Having other grad schools around helps—nursing students are popular, for example.” For women, the attention can be flattering, but that doesn’t mean they find B-school to be a feast of eligible men. Kim Jabal, 32, HBS ‘00, did meet her husband at Harvard. But she notes, “I got lucky and met him the first week.” Some of her friends weren’t as blown away by the pickings. “They thought, ‘This is going to be fun. Think of all those cute guys—they’re so smart,’ “ says Jabal. “They were kind of underwhelmed.” Her explanation: “The average 27-year-old woman is ready for marriage. The average 27-year-old man is not. Their expectation is not to go to business school to meet their wives.”

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  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/joshua/ Joshua Stanley

    Good one …..

  • LTP

    “Matt Gorin, 27, HBS ‘01″

    So he graduated from HBS at 17/18? Quite a prodigy.

  • Bruce

    I think that’s a typo about Matt Gorin. Maybe I’m wrong but check out his bio here.

    http://www.hbscny.org/article.html?aid=461

  • http://mbasocial.wordpress.com Jenn Yee

    Love it. Numbers 1, 3, 5 are especially true. As a bonus, if you liked the Poets & Quants dating article, check out why the odds are good that you’ll find marriage at b-school, too:

    http://mbasocial.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/why-the-odds-are-good-for-finding-a-husbandwife-at-business-school/

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/romedeiros/ Ricardo Medeiros

    As a grad, those laws are very true. One point of disagreement, however: Many articles claim that MBA programs are filled with Type A personalities. That is complete bunk. While there may be a disproportionate percentage of Type As, it is far from 100%, and may even be the minority by now.

  • Spencer

    I think this is just an old article. The alums are in the ’99-’01 range. If this article was written more recently, you’d see ’08, ’09, etc by these people’s names.

  • http://www.theyepstars.com The YEPStars

    Very good article – as a recent MBA grad, in my class there are about 10 or so that got engaged right after graduation and 3 of them were with classmates. Hey don’t forget there’s always the law school too :)

    - The YEPSTars
    @theyepstars.com

  • http://bay-area-business-school.urbanup.com/5604931 Morgan

    Definitely look at the male to female ratio, and look at the background. I have friends from many top b-schools and comparing them, the ones with a wider variety of humanities majors are a much richer bunch to really connect with. The parties and conversations are simply better. A couple of top schools and one California one that I won’t name really pad the ranks with business undergrads and techies. It is just not a social place to make lifelong connections; just some keg stands and beer crawls really.

  • Chris

    I saw this hilarious INSEAD video about dating at MBA… fits the 3rd point perfectly:

  • Denise

    So I take it that non-MBA men are more likely to be intimidated by women with MBAs than men in B-school? Or do the men in B-school simply want a date badly enough that they overlook her ambition?

    A part of this is just common sense, I think. If you meet a random person and tell them you went to X,Y, or Z prestigious professional school, you don’t know if you’re talking to someone equally as accomplished, or someone who dropped out of college. It just depends on the man’s own personal sense of accomplishment.

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