Many people venture to business school with the expectation that they will collide with the person who will become their life’s love partner. Forget it, says Megan Fischer, a first-year Harvard Business School student.
“I’ve been surprised at how difficult it has been to have a normal casual dating relationship,” says Fischer, a 31-year-old Canadian. “A lot of people have a great deal of trepidation over starting something. What if it doesn’t work out? Then you have to spend the next semester in class with the person every day.”
Yet, as difficult as it is to start a meaningful relationship at business school, the toll on existing romances, particularly long-distance relationships, has been brutal, or in Fischer’s words, those bonds have been“dropping like flies.” The phenomenon prompted Fischer to write a column on the dysfunctional business school dating scene for The Harbus, the student newspaper. Entitled “Is HBS Relationship Kryptonite,” the article bemoans the sorry state of love and romance at Harvard Business School. Though, Fischer quickly notes, it’s not unique to Harvard.”
‘WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT CAUSES SEEMINGLY SOLID RELATIONSHIPS TO FALTER?’
“The breakups started pretty quickly, and the pace has increased as the (first) semester has worn on,” she wrote. “Nearly every day I run into yet another person who’s suddenly minus their plus one. So what the heck is it about this place that causes seemingly solid relationships to falter? Were they that solid to begin with? Are people being tempted by greener pastures here? And why is it that us single people are having a hard time? Hooking up may be happening a plenty, but actual “dating” seems to be a pipe dream.”
It hardly helps, she notes in an interview with Poets&Quants, that Harvard, with a class size of roughly 900 is pretty much a fishbowl. “Anonymity is a pipedream,” she says. “Everybody knows everybody’s business so nothing can happen under the radar. What people did the night before tends to get around. People talk. If you wanted to date more than one person at the same time, that’s not going to work out. So you have to be very careful which path you go on.”
A non-traditional MBA student who comes from a design background, Fischer estimates the odds of any long-distance relationship surviving business school at no better than one-in-five. “It’s very hard for someone on the outside to identify and understand what we are going through on the inside here,” observes Fischer. “Our life is talking about what’s going on in our classes or in our section. If a partner isn’t physically here, it would really be hard unless you are deeply invested in it. So the odds of surviving that are quite low for the simple fact that you have this whole other life that doesn’t involve your significant other. That would drive a pretty deep wedge in a relationship.”
‘A LOT OF PEOPLE USE BUSINESS SCHOOL AS A WAY TO TRANSITION OUT OF A RELATIONSHIP’
And then there is the age factor. “A lot of people come in and at 25 or 26 are a transitional phase in their lives,” believes Fischer. “You are developing as a person and the person you have been with might not be on the same development path. A lot of people use business school as a way to transition out of a relationship. If you are using HBS as a test of your relationship, I think you know what the outcome of that test will be.”
In her column, Fischer advances a trio of theories on HBS relationships that are applicable to any top business school experience:
Theory #1: Some people were looking for the exit.
“I’d hate to generalize, but anyone who wasn’t sure about their relationship coming here might have known that perhaps things weren’t meant to be. I’d also venture to guess that many people who decided to jet off to business school and leave a significant other behind put a serious handicap on that relationship making it out alive. I’m not saying that a long-distance romance with someone while at HBS isn’t going to last, but its certainly an uphill battle. And I think there’s some underlying motivation (realized or not) in starting a new life that’s completely new and decidedly independent of one’s significant other.
“Another key factor? We do a rather abnormal amount of self reflection in this place; we’re forced on a regular basis to assess our lives to date and where we see ourselves down the road. The unfortunate side-effect is that all this self-discovery leads people to realize that maybe they don’t see their current partner in that 5 or 10 year vision. Realistically, if that’s the case, now’s as good a time as any to make the clean break. We’re starting to make decisions with an eye on our future, and if you don’t see someone in it, then better to move on.”
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