Senior Panic

There was a guy in the ward where I grew up who was a half-generation older than me. He was extremely cool, a handsome man, smart with a great personality, and we younger boys all sort of idolized him. (He later would be my SP and do a term as an AA70). From time to time he would mention a phenomenon that he claimed occurred at BYU, which he called senior panic. Senior panic is when you’re cruising along at the Y having a great old time and all of a sudden you realize it’s your senior year, and you haven’t managed to get married yet. And, knowing full well what the young adult singles scene is like back home (not much there), you begin to panic and get a little bit desperate to find someone to seal the deal with.

I got married myself just before my junior year (very BYU of me, I know; what can I say?), so I never personally experienced senior panic. And for a long time I was rather dubioius that such a phenomenon existed. That is, until one of the most bizarre nights of my BYU church life, where I experienced a perhaps less virulent strain, which we might call “End of School Year Panic.”

My student ward was having a fireside to mark the end of the semester; this would have been in April, I’m guessing. I brought a date to this event–the woman I would later marry. Notwithstanding the fact that I was clearly there with a date, at various times during the course of the evening four different girls basically hit on me (in BYU terms, that is–you know, laughing too hard at my jokes, stroking my arm familiarly while we talked, trying to figure out if there were a way we could get together over the summer, that sort of thing). I was stunned and wondered where these girls had been earlier in the semester. The most remarkable turn of the evening is when one of these girls sat next to me (she with her date to her left and I with my date to my right), and then she proceeded to rub her foot against my leg during the talk. I was paralyzed with confusion as to what the hell was going on and what I was supposed to do about it.

Only later did it hit me. These girls weren’t all that interested in me specifically. The school year was winding down, they were faced with the imminent prospect of going back to their homes far away with little Mormon population, and they were just panicking a bit. And then I realized that my childhood friend was right; senior panic is a real phenomenon.

Do any of you have any senior panic stories? I assume the same thing happens at BYUI as well; can anyone who attended there confirm or deny?

Comments

  1. No–doesn’t really happen anymore. I know this comment will be followed by a bunch insisting it does, but until someone admits to themselves experiencing senior panic which resulted in them shamelessly throwing themselves at women/men whom they otherwise would have no interest in, I’m sticking to my thesis.

  2. Solution?

    Grad-School.

  3. Worked for me.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    If it matters, the event I described occurred in 1980–almost 30 years ago. So Mathew may well be right that it doesn’t happen much anymore and that times have changed.

    I like the grad school idea!

  5. The main marriage-related panic I had at BYU is that I would actually get married. I didn’t (and haven’t 10 years later) and now wonder if I shouldn’t have been so scared…

  6. I like the scientifically selected sample, the careful attention to appropriate social science testing protocols, the exclusion or explanation of other possible explanations (showered recently? new cologne? appearance of being “spoken for” made you irresistable?). All in all, Kev, you convinced me! :-)

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Heh, Mark B., there was nothing scientific about it, and the thought had occurred to me that the expressed interest of another woman might have made me temporarily appear artificially more desirable to these girls. The “panic” idea merely struck me as the most compelling explanation, but that was just a gut reaction on my part. If no one else has any experience with this phenonmenon, maybe it’s illusory after all. That’s why I wrote, to see what people’s experiences and stories were.

  8. When I was a senior I asked a girl out and she kicked me to the curb. We remained friends, however. A few months later we went to a ward party together. When some other girls flirted with me at the party, my friend got jealous and made her move: feigned a sore neck, asked for a back rub, then kissed me. We were engaged within 4 weeks. So, like Mark B, I wonder if being spoken for—or sought after—isn’t more motivating than senior panic.

    One question: before now, was Mrs. Barney aware that her date allowed another girl to stroke his leg for an hour?

  9. i’m 28, on the other side of grad school, and just beginning to experience “senior panic” — although it’s actually “aging out of the singles ward panic”

    yeah, i know it’s actually “YSA ward” but i refuse to bow to the patronizing / condescending YSA/SA terminology. i mean, my grandfather, who just got married, was attending a SA ward — i think they’re “OSA” and we’re just SA. of course, soon, I will be “OSA” myself.

  10. One instance of senior panic, and one instance of “end of semester” panic at BYUI

    These are both from my wife, FWIW.

    One girl, named Melissa, was my wife’s roommate. Last semester of senior year, she’d tell her roommates, “I have a boyfriend, I think he’s the one.” She’d date them for a week, and then say “He’s not the one.” When questioned about why the abrupt breakup, she would say “If I know he’s not the one, why should I continue dating him?”

    My wife’s response? You’re right, 3 casual dates to Hogi Yogi really tell you all you need to know about a guy.

    Second story. A guy named Jared. Came off his mission and got engaged 3 months later. Yet oddly enough, he hadn’t gotten that whole “flirting” thing out of his system. I was dating the girl who would become my wife at the time, and he would hit on her. No joke, he told her once at church, “I’ve seen you around campus. You have a sweet spirit,” and my wife really wasn’t sure if he was hitting on her or trying to boost her self esteem. She’s walked by him and his fiance before sucking face, and he’s staring at her with his eyes open. Ugh he just creeped everyone out. I don’t know if that’s officially “end of semester” panic or just a creepy guy.

  11. I was an RM, married freshman. Great post, but it’s hard for me to relate any personal stories, since I also was the only married senior in my entire graduating class. (Which means I was the only married student in my entire class for all five years of college.) Constant sex among unmarried undergrads I was aware of; senior panic, not all all. Why would they panic when they didn’t want to get married and were having sex regularly?

    BYU really is a unique place.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    BrianJ, Mrs. Barney didn’t know while it was happening, but I told her about it afterwards, upon which she got a good laugh.

    Which is why she’s Mrs. Barney.

  13. So Mathew may well be right that it doesn’t happen much anymore and that times have changed.

    Probably due to the advent of Singles Wards outside of Utah.

  14. Didn’t you all learn that “sweet spirit” is a euphemism for “a barn that no amount of paint will improve”?

  15. I was just teasing, Kevin–thus the idiotic looking smiley face at the end of my comment.

    I remember hearing about senior panic from well before I started at BYU–I grew up in Provo, attended a student ward during most of my teens (my dad was the bishop) and had a sister three years ahead of me at BYU–but I can’t think of any examples right off. My wife did dump a guy she was dating just before the start of her 2nd semester, senior year. And she did marry me 8 months later, just 32 years ago today (we’d known each other for years). So, is dumping the other guy evidence against senior panic, or is deciding after years of acquaintance that she would “settle” for me evidence in favor?

  16. Alternate theories which might also be considered:

    * Kevin’s animal magnetism and Svengali-like affect on the ladies;

    * Spring fever, or S.P.A.S. (Seasonal Public Affection Syndrom?);

    * Contextual sublimation — was this a morality fireside by any chance?;

    * Feminine competitive Darwinism – maybe it was the fact that Kevin was with a female companion that drove the other girls crazy;

    * A confluence of any or all of the above.

  17. I think I had one roommate who was experiencing senior panic – probably over a period of months. I remember seeing him packing up his stuff as he prepared to move out and go to California for grad school. Still unmarried … and he was visibly frustrated and angry about it. I found his anger a bit odd … it’s not a guarantee that you’re going to get a wife with a BYU diploma. But he was obviously very upset about the whole thing.

  18. Kevin, was this before or after your modeling career took off?

  19. #14 I am sure that is not true of Brandt’s wife. I think it is just mostly a way to come across as being more interested in the spiritual than the physical part of a person (yeah, right!).

  20. Peter LLC says:

    I had a run in with summer-before-junior-year panic, i.e., “ack, this guy wants to hold hands but I don’t want to get married yet!”, which is of course just a (natural?) response to perceived senior panic in the other party.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    KyleM, this was during my modeling career, which raises interesting possibiities I hadn’t considered…

  22. I saw the grad school corollary at work. Dick Badger, the dean of students (who also was director of admissions) at the law school I attended (in Chicago), used to tease us BYU grads about one of our fellows who declined admission, telling Dick that he had decided to attend the law school at BYU instead.

    And, the BYU grad explained his reasoning: he was single and thought his chances of finding a nice Mormon girl to marry would be better if he remained in Utah.

    I think he did find a wife, and he’s now a federal appeals court judge–so I guess it worked out. But he did miss out on three fabulous years in Hyde Park.

  23. grad school… the snooze button on the alarm clock of life.

  24. Kevin’s modeling career REALLY took off but not all the way.

  25. I also married my junior year at BYU, but had a good buddy who broke things off with his girlfriend about the same time. Going into our senior years, I remember that he definitely got worried about heading into grad school (outside Utah) without having gotten married. In the end, he did get married that last summer in Provo. So, yes, I’d say that in his case, the “Senior Panic” phenomenon was very real.

  26. Researcher says:

    Mark B: happy anniversary to you and your wife!

  27. This was post-BYU, but the year I was 26, I became progressively more obsessed about my age, unmarried state, and lack of visible prospects. It was tied in my mind with my mother’s death at age 37 and that of a grandfather at age 42. I kept thinking “Next I turn 27, and that’s close to 30, and I’ve probably already lived out most of my lifespan and will be dead in a decade.” Then I turned 27, and the weird frame of mind evaporated.

  28. I didn’t have anything like Senior Panic, but the lefty-cool crowd I hung out with eschewed such things anyway — we generally thought getting married at BYU was terribly bourgeois, not having a very good sense of what that meant.
    I agree that 30 Panic is probably the new Senior Panic. I had a bit of that, and still own the almost-used engagement ring to prove it.

  29. I saw this as an outsider.

    I graduated with a Finance degree and then got a job in Provo. The only housing I could find in Feb. 1996 was a four-months-remaining single student housing contract in a really bad apartment complex. I technically qualified because I’d been enrolled in school in the previous twelve months. Very strange. I was working an entry-level career-type job 60 hours a week, with one of the most prestigious employers in all of Utah county. So, even though I was over 300 lbs, engaged, and drove a beater ’79 Toyota pickup, for the first time in my life I had chicks all over me. Honestly. I was/am about as attractive as a mud fence plastered with tadpoles, and I was getting asked out multiple times per day. My roommate flew into a spit-launching rage because (he claimed) his telemarketing job and three-month medical mission release wasn’t getting the leg-stroking he’d had before I moved in. When he started spreading rumors that I was spending my salary on hookers in Wendover, I was actually relieved. At the end of the semester, I managed to find a black hole basement apartment where nobody store my groceries and where nobody ever bothered me unless they needed a substitute for their Primary class.

    Anyway, these were senior girls in their last semester of BYU, and I was an RM with a BBA and a job. It was a wonder to behold, and I don’t think I realized what was going on until I saw this post.

  30. As a current BYU student, I have witnessed the “senior panic,” although now it might be referred to as the 5-year panic, because for the girls I know it lasts the entire time they are in college until they get married or can’t justify another semester. This one girl I know was in her last semester of school (in her 5th year) and started dating a boy at the end of February. She really like him, but she was planning on possibly going away to grad school that fall. She was constantly worrying about what would happen in April when he was going home for the summer – if they would be engaged etc, because she obviously wanted to get married and leaving Provo without a man seemed quite traumatic. Obviously the boy (who still had plenty of time left at BYU to find a wife) wasn’t quite ready to commit after only a couple months, and that was the end of that.

    And of course there was my roommate’s panic – she had basically come to BYU with the idea that she would be married by the time she graduated, and when she realized that she was graduating without a husband she had no idea what to do, but eventually decided to stay in Utah because it would be easier for her to find a husband (and because she had an internship, but she refused to apply for internships out of state, even though she’s not even from Utah). She considered waiting another year to graduate, but I told her that would be stupid, because she was never going to find a man in Provo (I know, I am such a nice person).

    The guys here seem less affected by the Senior Panic, but I have known several who have chosen to attend BYU grad school programs in the hope that they will find a wife (what other reason could one possibly have for getting a master’s degree in humanities at BYU? :) ).

    Fear the Panic – it is very real. I’ve noticed that ward activities seem to be a breeding ground for the Panic, and so I tend to avoid them. Bad me :)

  31. MikeInWeHo says:

    When I read the headline of this post, I assumed it was a conversation about turning 40. Carry on.

  32. Believing in proxy ordinance work as we do – I suspect a student’s parents may often experience senior panic in behalf of a graduating student.

    When my parents were dating, my father was graduating from BYU and planning to attend grad school at the University of Chicago. I seem to recall hearing a story about a tart remark from my grandmother helping to speed things along – something along the lines of: “if you two are in fact planning to get hitched, I would like advance notice to prepare for the wedding” … or something along those lines.

    At least that’s how I remember the story. I’ll verify.

  33. Re: #14 and #19

    From what I recall of that “Sweet Spirit” comment, he wasn’t referring to her as “ugly,” but was a type that wanted to show off “spirituality” by commenting on anothers, probably referring to her always having a smile (which would have been hard for him to see, seeing that this was in the winter and nobody sees anyone’s face in the winter in Rexburg)

  34. I agree with Norm (#9). The new panic is approaching 30 and having to be kicked out of YSA and join the SA where the men are 20 years older than you. The panic solution is to move out to Utah to find a husband. Usually the person moves back to Nashville in 6 months/1 year and realizes the odds are just as good here as there.

  35. I have a good friend a couple years younger than I am who recently graduated from BYUI. No boyfriend, no dates, no marriage prospects during her entire last year, if not longer. She was 23 and had mostly younger friends – 19 and 20 – who seemed to make a HUGE point of her age, her single status, and her need to be married. At one point, one of these young girls was discussing a boy problem, my friend offered advice, and another girl said “Why are we even listening to you? You’re old and you’re not even married.” I would wager (based on my incredibly small sample size) that senior panic might be more of an issue at BYUI? Maybe just among that particular group of girls…

    Also, I attended BYU and broke up with a long-time boyfriend (who I had thought I would marry) two weeks into my last semester. As I was considering breaking up with him, I remember weighing into the balance of pros and cons the fact that in 3 months, I’d be graduating and moving on and my chances of finding a mate might diminish. I was not deterred. Insert eternal gratitude here.

    This was a fun post. Young single Mormon culture is absolutely fascinating.

  36. Maybe LDS Singles should consider the advantages of hiring matchmakers, as the Jews do. Evidently we need some help. Afterall, we are old at 30, if not yet married. Thoughts?

  37. Meredith C says:

    Or we could just consider marrying Jews – the men on Jdate are WAY more eligible than the men on LDSsingles.org

  38. Meredith C says:

    (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone. I’m sure there are a lot of nice men on LDSsingles.org. I just know not where to find them.)

  39. My brother and his wife were the unique BYU combination of “senior panic” and “dating your home teachee”. 14 years later, they’re still one of my favorite couples.

    A far more virulent (though now less rare) dysfunction is RM Rush. It’s not quite as frenzied, but the root beer goggles are twice as thick.

  40. I never felt the senior rush, even after knowing I was going to graduate from BYU single. Of course, I was one of the wierd guys who went on his mission after college (which I don’t recommend). Though the story is that if you do graduate single, you get a refund on your tuition. I’m still waiting for my check.

  41. #38

    Dude, if they were really eligible then they wouldn’t need a dating site.

  42. I visited my friend, a freshman at BYU, in the spring of ’88. Whilst occupying a stall in the ladies’ room, I heard a sobbing girl and her friend enter the room; said sobber choked out, “I’ve been here for over six months and I’m not even engaged yet!”

    I don’t know what to call that kind of panic.

  43. My parents probably experienced senior panic when first my sister, then I, then my other sister graduated from BYU unmarried. I never knew anyone who was graduating without getting married who was terribly worried, though, although I would be unsurprised to learn that some are.

  44. I got married right after my mission while I was technically a freshman, even had the wife walking in graduation 8 months pregnant – so we were the opposite phenomenon at BYU, those who get married and have families ASAP. Anyways, I did through some very bad educational choices, have the opportunity to return to BYU and live in the single student apartments for a term while my wife and two kids remained back in the mid-west. The three guys I roomed with had all graduated and had good jobs, but chose to remain in single housing next to campus with the high hopes of getting a wife. There was a lot of sadness tinged with desperation with a couple of them, so I would definitely say it is a problem for men as well.

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