Who wrote the book of love? U students flock to relationship class

Elizabeth Putnam

Through friends, personal ads and the Internet, students are seeking help with their love lives – but the University can help too.

Since 1946, the University has taught a course on relationships. The approach and format have evolved over time, but the interest in the topic hasn’t wavered.

“Sitting in this class has helped me to see where things went wrong in my last relationship,” said sophomore Kara Grones. “I can apply what I’ve learned in my next relationship.”

Grones is one of approximately 200 students currently enrolled in the course. The class is predominately composed of women but sees an increase in men each semester.

Wayne Caron, a family social science lecturer, and a team of graduate students developed the class in 1999 with a focus on treating the individual, the other person and the marriage or relationship each as a separate entity.

“You can think of it musically,” Caron said to his class Tuesday. “The melody and harmony – each separate things – come together to create something new.”

Caron is divorced. He said he studies intimacy to become more aware of generational patterns and changes.

The course was first created for servicemen returning from World War II and was aimed at helping the men re-enter domestic life as husbands and fathers.

Throughout the next decade, the course evolved into one for women, teaching the dos and don’ts of dating.

“The course was a rules book telling you how to date,” Caron said. “Here is how you know if you are going steady or this is how you date.”

In the 1960s, the rules changed again. Caron said the focus shifted toward textbooks and facts, with the reasoning that “if you don’t have rules then you have to have science to back it up.”

The course was offered sporadically over the next few decades, eventually developing into what it is today – a course focused less on textbooks and more on emotions and experiences.

“It’s not something you can teach, but it’s something you can learn,” Caron said. “It’s about knowing the right communication skills and applying them.”

“You don’t have to be an expert to get it right Ö you just have to be able to apply the principles,” he said.

Kevin Doll, a teaching assistant, said most students want to find someone to marry while they are in college.

“Students are looking for the traditional college relationship that turns to marriage,” Doll said. “But they are expecting it to be blissful all the time.”

Caron said students find college to be an ideal atmosphere for meeting someone because after college, they lose a sense of security.

Statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Friday reveal college-educated people are more likely to marry than those who haven’t attended college.

According to the report, the United States is one of the world’s leaders in divorce, with 40 percent of married couples aged 25-35 ending their marriages.

Caron said the class was made popular through word of mouth and said the department regularly has to turn away students.

Juniors Tony Vosberg and Alex Rooney have been dating for two and a half years, since they met in high school. It was coincidence that they both registered for the class.

“I had heard that it was a fun class,” Rooney said. “I haven’t learned anything yet that I didn’t already know through experience, but I now have the vocabulary words to put to those experiences.”

The textbook for the course, “A Women’s Guide to Intimacy,” was chosen for its content, but Caron said it still emphasizes outdated societal roles for women in relationships.

Caron said Valentine’s Day re-inforces the gender roles.

“Ritual and celebration is important, but on the other hand it emphasizes heterosexual behavior and reinforces gender roles,” Caron said.

He said stereotypes are also re-enforced in the media and said the Internet forms a new challenge to intimate relationships.

“It allows us to present ourselves in an idealized way,” he said. “But at the same time it’s harder to set boundaries.”

The class is required to write a 25-page self-help book to help them apply the concepts taught throughout the semester.

“We obviously don’t grade them on how they are in relationships,” Caron said. “We grade on their critical thinking skills.”