Enter Cupid. Maybe.

The Last Chance Dance: when graduating seniors get one more try at true love—or something like it.

Mark Ostow

Mark Ostow

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Freshman year left me with crushes aplenty, but I still have six semesters to resolve them. Seniors taking part in one well-known pre-commencement ritual have six hours. Welcome to the Last Chance Dance: Yale undergraduates’ final fling before they stride, stumble, or stagger into Real Life.

The dance, at the Empire nightclub this year, runs from 9 p.m. till 3 in the morning. Every senior class for about a decade has held it. Other schools have their own versions. The whole affair runs on the creation of some clever coder: crush-matching by database. Participants enter up to five names of classmates they’ve eyed from afar but pursued only in their dreams. If two people enter each other’s names, it’s a match, and the new couple gets to stuff their own personal Wuthering Heights into the temporal equivalent of a comic strip. The unmatched majority can attend anyway, with high hopes.

I’ve made arrangements to crash the party with several senior companions, none of whom was matched. But they don’t seem to mind. “I shot for the stars and missed, but there’s still hope!” one insists, as we cut across the Green. They discuss “how crazy this is” and how they’ll never dance in college again. Silence descends when the club comes into sight, as though everyone is lost in memories of their first party at Bulldog Days. Will Yale end as magically as it began?

We’re waved into a club quickly nearing capacity, with a thirsty throng overrunning the open bar. Attire ranges from suits to t-shirts for men, and from little black dresses to little colorful dresses for women. One couple catches my eye. They were matched, they tell me. She’s been sweet on him since freshman year, while his was a more recent crush. “Did you enter any other names into the database?” I ask.

“Nope!” she says immediately.

We wait for him. A long pause. Then: “Of course not. I put her name in five times! Heh.” His smile is bright; hers gets a few watts darker. I leave before I do any more damage.

Since mutual crushes are more common in Jane Austen novels than reality, singles abound. Some are content with the company of their secret societies; others go on the prowl. One pack of athletic-looking men stands ready as their leader peers into a room—but he waves them on: “Nothing but dudes in here! Keep going!” Elsewhere, future dynamos of the tech world maintain stiff upper lips. A conversation with two, condensed: “Isn’t it great how we’re engineers with jobs? Date? Who needs dates?”

A couple makes out near me, and I assume Cupid’s arrow has hit its target. Five minutes later, she’s kissing another guy with equal fervor, while Partner No. 1 dances cheerfully next to them. Have computers solved the problem of the love triangle?

By night’s end, most seniors have left, but the senior I know best is still alone. “Man,” he says, “you shoulda seen me last night. I was on fire!” Suddenly, a woman appears and hands him a slip of paper. She walks away, and he doesn’t follow, but he’s clearly flattered. “She gave me her number? I’m not even brave enough to do that!”

I’m no romantic, but in that moment, even I believe in the magic of last chances.  

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