4) In the dating world at large, an MBA makes a man more appealing, but not a woman.
When men announce they’re getting an MBA, prospective dates tend to respond well. “Those three letters go a long way,” says Sean Quinn, 26, a Georgetown second-year. “The salary is probably a big motivator. I’m not saying that if I was in the Peace Corps I wouldn’t be able to meet women, but most seem more eager for conversation after hearing about the MBA.” Unfortunately, many female B-schoolers report that a lot of men aren’t comfortable with ambitious women. “They may be perceived as kind of hard-core, a little more intense,” says Aaronson. Whether or not that’s so, many women have anecdotes about telling a guy they’re in B-school only to bring the flirting to a grinding halt. “There are men who are intimidated by women with MBAs,” says Liz Williams. “When I was a first-year at HBS, I came home at Christmas and met someone at a bar. When I told him I went to business school, he basically walked away.” Kim Jabal says that she and her female HBS classmates called this problem “dropping the H-bomb.” “When a guy goes into a bar and says, ‘I’m at Harvard Business School,’ it’s huge,” Jabal says. “But as a woman, you’d never say you went to HBS. It was a total turnoff.”
5) Everything—including romance—moves much faster in B-school time.
If you do decide to start seeing someone, keep in mind that the business school metabolism for romance is very fast. A bunch of goal-oriented type-A personalities all in one place means that if a relationship is destined to be nothing more than an insignificant fling, it’ll be over in two days, not two weeks. If it’s true love, it’ll turn serious over the weekend, not after six months. “At work, you see more of your boss than your girlfriend,” says Matt Gorin, 27, HBS ‘01. “But business school is kind of an incubator for love and dating. Even though I’ve only been dating my girlfriend for a year, it feels like four years. It’s like dog years.” Julie Karickhoff, from Georgetown, agrees. “I’ve been dating my current boyfriend for more than four months, and he just bought me a plane ticket so that I could meet his family. Two months into our relationship he celebrated Easter with my parents. School itself is incredibly fast-paced, and that urgency spills into your social life. My ex-boyfriend would never have met my parents so quickly.”
6) People will warn you not to date someone in your section. You will do it anyway.
Every new student is given this handy little piece of advice upon arrival—and almost every one of them ignores it. Business schools have learned that people work well in small groups, cranking away for long hours on projects with just a few of their peers. That means lots of late nights, lots of stress, lots of bonding, and many celebratory evenings out with the same group of people. If you like someone on your learning team or in your section, chances are you will indulge. “At first, I heard that dating your sectionmate was taboo,” says Liz Williams, whose future husband was in her section. “If you have a bad experience, you have to deal with that person for the rest of the year.” But if all goes well, of course, you get to deal with that person for the rest of your life. Should you take the plunge, you’ll have to prove to your sectionmates that your affair isn’t going to be a distraction to everyone.
Allison Blumenthal, 30, who graduated Columbia Business School in May, met her boyfriend in her section. If such a relationship ends, she notes, it’s not just the two people involved who will suffer. Everyone who has to deal with an imploding romance will suffer as well. “Dating while in school takes a certain conviction,” says Blumenthal. “I have to say, without great maturity, it would be extremely difficult to manage a breakup.”
7) You will attempt to have a secret relationship, and you will fail.
Business school classes are relatively small. Everyone attends lectures and sections in the same buildings and eats in the same off-campus restaurants. Nothing will be confidential for very long. “There’s a high school mentality,” says Raj George, 27, who earned his MBA at Columbia last spring. In his first year, George attracted the interest of a classmate; word of the crush soon made it into a campus gossip column—the newspaper’s editors even tried to get George and the woman to date. “Everyone knew about it, and when we showed up at a dance together, they were all watching. We couldn’t let anything develop naturally.” UCLA Anderson second-year Kerry Edelstein, 26, says that’s typical. “The gossip mill can ruin something before a casual relationship even begins,” she says. “There’s so much pressure that you need to keep it under wraps until you’re a couple.” Unfortunately, even if you try very hard to keep your trysts a secret, you will likely fail. “You eat lunch with someone on campus a couple of times and the buzz is out,” says Karickhoff.
8) No matter what you think, no matter what people tell you, this is solemn business.
The social life of your average business school student may seem a lot like being back in college or high school, but don’t be fooled. For MBAs, love, like everything else, is an intense and goal-oriented pursuit. A generation ago, men and women saw their undergraduate years as prime time to choose a mate. Many a woman who attended college in the ‘50s and ‘60s joked about getting her MRS—and precious few were single for long after graduation. Today, graduate school has shouldered that same mantle for a lot of single 20-somethings. The majority of people entering MBA programs are sneaking up on 30. They’ve made some money and had a few significant others. Now, biological clocks have started ticking, and people are eager to settle down. “When you get out of school, it’s the beginning of the rest of your life,” says Matt Gorin of HBS. “A lot of people start that off by getting married.” Gorin found a serious girlfriend in B-school, and the two are planning to move in together. “When you’ve spent two years in this environment,” he adds, “by graduation you tend to know one way or another which way things are going.”
Elizabeth Angell, now an editor at Allure magazine in New York, wrote this essay for the now defunct MBA Jungle magazine. It is reprinted with permission.