Romance is risky for men. The right relationship can be the best thing that happens to a man, or the wrong one can ruin him. Ask any man who lost his shirt in family court or was trapped with an abusive woman because staying was easier than leaving. Good men need to manage romantic risk the way good investors manage monetary risk.
That’s especially true on college campuses, where the safest course for men may be to avoid dating classmates altogether. Examples of disastrous college romances are plentiful. Let’s start at Columbia University.
In 2014, Emma Sulkowicz (famously known as Mattress Girl) paraded around campus carrying a mattress after she publicly accused fellow student Paul Nungesser of sexually assaulting her. Her mattress exhibition appears to have been performance art representing the burden of injustice born by all college women; her accusation appears to have been false.
According to Paul Nungesser’s 2015 federal discrimination lawsuit against Columbia, Sulkowicz mounted a vicious, organized harassment campaign against him with the aid and encouragement of professors, politicians, and activists.
Nungesser provided the court with extensive, detailed evidence that Sulkowicz’s rape allegation was false, and that it was an act of retaliation after he broke up with her. The suit also demonstrated that Columbia endorsed this retaliation despite having previously found Nungesser innocent, as did New York police.
Columbia not only encouraged Sulkowicz’s harassment campaign, they awarded credit for her mattress “art project,” and they lauded her as a champion of women’s rights. Sulkowicz became a darling of the media, and even received an invitation to a State of the Union address. Meanwhile, Nungesser endured persecution, intimidation, and threats.
Columbia recently settled with Nungesser for an undisclosed amount. As for their role in the devastating and dangerous harassment campaign, Columbia officials issued the closest thing to an apology one can expect from mealy-mouthed administrators.
Nevertheless, the damage is done. As his attorney said, “Paul still has to live with this, and I suspect he will for a long time.”
There’s an important risk-management lesson here for college men. Had Nungesser dated a non-student and kept his sex life off campus, this sort of retaliation would have gone no further than the police who saw through the false accusation. Unfortunately, he dated a woman in an environment saturated with rules and ideology that place men at serious disadvantage.
Here’s the takeaway: Dating a vindictive woman is a mistake any man can make. But dating a vindictive woman on campus is a tactical error any man can avoid.
It’s unfortunate, but college is no longer a place where men should learn to navigate romantic relationships with women. There are too many youthful mistakes to be made, and the cost of errors can be devastating. Stories abound of young men who have faced baseless accusations of sexual assault and been denied due process. Their reputations and their prospects suffer as a result.
Activists, professors, and administrators are clearly willing to err on the side of destroying men’s lives in the interest of quelling a non-existent rape epidemic, routinely repeating the lie that one in four college women are sexually assaulted. (Sometimes they say one in three; sometimes it’s one in five. I guess it depends on how strenuously they wish to assert that young men are violent and deplorable.)
The Bureau of Justice, which provides actual, reliable crime statistics, tells a very different story. According to their research, the annual sexual assault rate among college women is 6.1 per 1000. That figure accumulates to roughly 1 in 53 over the course of a four-year college career, or slightly less than a 2% chance of being sexually assaulted.
Two percent is unacceptable, but it is nowhere near 25 percent. There’s more: the rate of sexual assault on campus has decreased steadily over the last 20 years, falling from 9.2 per 1000 in 1997 to the most recent rate of 6.1. This is hardly the epidemic we’ve been warned about.
Men pay the price for these bogus statistics. Schools operating under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act typically have draconian policies aimed squarely at male students. The most egregious abuses began in 2011, when the Department of Education (citing false statistics) directed Title IX institutions to hunt for cases of sexual assault using vague definitions, minimal evidence, and without due process.
For example, the University of Colorado, in my home state, requires any university employee “with supervising authority on campus” to report sexual misconduct to the school’s Office for Equity and Compliance.
It’s perfectly reasonable for the school to investigate sexual misconduct, but the school’s definition of that term is anything but reasonable. In 2015, CU conducted a sexual misconduct survey in which the term was so expansive that it included “unwanted touching.” All of us, even ugly dudes like me, experience unwanted touch. That doesn’t mean we should be counted among rape survivors.
The ambiguity doesn’t stop there. Title IX mandates that harassment also be counted as sexual misconduct. That too would be reasonable were it not for an expansive definition that includes unwelcome sexual advances along with “other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
That definition could include almost anything a man says or does in the presence of a woman. If she welcomes his “verbal or nonverbal” messages, then he’ll be fine. If she doesn’t welcome them, then he’s screwed. Even if she enjoys his advances, the wrong word, gesture, joke, or compliment could draw the attention of a hypersensitive onlooker, which could in turn lead to a campus tribunal.
Men should always avoid romantic situations in which the rules are slippery and violations are costly—and that certainly seems to be the arrangement on campus. When a man expresses interest in a schoolmate, he’s not just approaching her. He’s approaching a squad of overpaid busybodies looking to justify their jobs.
As I write this, there are meaningful discussions about reining in the abuses of Title IX, but don’t count on that to ease hostility against college men. In all likelihood, any move toward rationality and due process will further enrage anti-male activists. If history is any guide, those activists will enjoy the full support of their institutions despite any reformation currently in the works.
The Mattress Girl saga is evidence that colleges don’t need to directly participate in gender vigilantism in order to ruin the lives of decent young men. They simply need to stand aside and encourage the mob to exact its justice.
I’m not trying to stoke hysteria. My point is simply this: If you’re a man, be judicious in your sex life. Take control of your future, and start using sound risk-management principles right now. Walk away from high-risk romantic arrangements, whatever form they may take.
Why pursue women in an environment where the deck is stacked against you? There are safer alternatives right across the street, and that’s a great metaphor for your entire romantic career. There will always be alternatives to women who, through temperament or circumstance, embody an unreasonable likelihood of devastating your future.
A personal note: I feel bad for most women on campus. I spent a decade in college (don’t mock me, we all make poor choices) and the vast majority of women I met there were happy, they loved life, and they adored men. Those good women didn’t create this situation.
Nevertheless, the situation exists, and men need to watch their backs. College is the ideal time to start using good risk-management strategies, but it’s never too late to begin. We’ve all known guys who have lost their families and their fortunes thanks to the wrong relationships. It doesn’t need to be that way.
Whatever your stage of life, I’d like to help you guard against the high cost of choosing poorly. I want good men to avoid horrors like family court, or a lifetime of chanting “yes, dear” to a dismal partner.
If you’re mindful of protecting your future, I hope you’ll read my book, The Tactical Guide to Women: How Men Can Manage Risk in Dating and Marriage. It might be the best insurance you ever buy.