September 18, 2008
Speaker urges sober choices in college romance
Columnist tells SUNY Cortland audience to take risks and stay sober when looking for love
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Advice columnist and entertainer Harlan Cohen engages SUNY Cortland students gathered at Corey Union Wednesday during his talk “Tapping the Keg of Truth: The ‘Why’ Behind College Drinking.”
Young people often struggle to approach potential romantic partners when sober, as self-doubt overcomes them. That’s why it can be tempting to let alcohol provide the courage.
Don’t do it, college advice columnist and author Harlan Cohen told an audience of about 1,000 SUNY Cortland students Wednesday.
“Why is it so hard to say what we feel while sober?” Cohen asked the overflow crowd in Corey Union’s Function Room. “Millions of people will not find you hot, it’s a fact of life. But someone will. Take risks.”
A nationally syndicated advice columnist, Cohen is the author of the books “The Secret Truth” and “The Naked Roommate and 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College.” He is planning a book about how to be a new father.
Several campus departments sponsored Cohen’s talk, including residence life, athletics and counseling. The students in attendance were roughly half freshmen, required to attend because of a freshman seminar about adjusting to college life. Athletes formed a large percentage as well; they are required to attend programming about responsible behavior.
Cohen’s talk was titled “Tapping the Keg of Truth: The ‘Why’ Behind College Drinking,” yet he didn’t spout statistics or preach about the dangers of drinking.
Instead, he wove his message through funny stories about his lifelong pursuit of love, mixing that with asking students about their situations.
Cohen talked about gaining weight in high school because he turned to food for comfort after girls rejected him. He described losing a two-year girlfriend because her father disapproved of him. He discussed finding the bravery to approach girls who might be out of his league, and finding success.
When Cohen inquired how many students in the room were single, about two-thirds raised their hands. He picked a few from the crowd, went to them and asked what kind of partner they were seeking.
Later, he did the same with students in relationships, asking two male students how long they’d been dating their girlfriends and how they met. One, nicknamed “Bagel,” said he’d seen his current girlfriend on Facebook, the online social network, then walked past her residence hall room and complimented her on its décor.
“That’s kinda creepy but whatever,” Bagel said. No, Cohen responded, Bagel had courage.
Bagel said the two had been together “three or four months.” Cohen said he might want to remember the exact date, for anniversaries.
“Most of the time, we don’t approach people outside our bubble,” Cohen said.
Afterward, students said they thought Cohen was engaging and had a strong message.
“Did students get it? I hope so,” said junior Angeline Conte, a resident advisor. Fellow RA Matthew Lucas, a senior, said he thought Cohen’s stories would resonate with men, even if the women in the crowd seemed to laugh and react more to Cohen’s stories.
Two senior swimmers, Jeannine McNamara and Sam Long, said usually SUNY Cortland athletes are asked to attend programs at the start of the academic year to be reminded of making solid decisions about their social lives. McNamara said the college’s programs are typically more serious.
Cohen said afterward that he has been a columnist since graduating from Indiana University 13 years ago. He started with the Daily News in New York.
He’s been making presentations to college students for nine years, since Purdue University asked him to speak at its freshman orientation one year.
“I’ve always enjoyed that face to face connection,” Cohen said. “I’m a researcher as well as a columnist.” He said athletes are often told to attend presentations such as his because “they are leaders on campus. If you can get them to be vulnerable and share things, it really sends a message.”
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