Awkward eye contact with a Tinder match in the Science Center. Pointed avoidance of last semester’s situationship by the bagel station in Valentine Dining Hall. Amherst can be a lot of things, but for many of us, it’s not where we find The One. As a belated celebration of this campus’ most awkward pseudo-holiday, here are four glimpses into the stories of alumni who have done the impossible: finding love at Amherst.
Jennifer Jang ’92 and Sam Becker ’92
Years Together: 34
Jennifer and Samuel’s freshman year was a series of near-misses. Though they lived only a few rooms apart in Valentine Dining Hall, and had their first-year seminar and a Mandarin class together, the two were acquaintances at best. “We just saw each other around,” said Jennifer. “We were — we still are — very different people.” Jennifer was a WAMH DJ and a member of the Bluestockings’ founding class; Sam was a lacrosse player with a habit of early-morning bike rides through the bird sanctuary.
But they bridged the gap between their social circles in their sophomore year, when they ended up in a third class together — an arts course, this time as partners. “The point of the class’s projects were, with your partner, to sculpt each other,” Jennifer explained. “So it’s a lot of time together … just the two of you sitting there staring at each other’s faces, like for hours on end. And so we started to spend a lot of time talking to each other.”
As the two grew closer, they went on a series of “un-dates” — situations where one considered it a date while the other didn’t — a reggae concert, a trip to Puffer’s Pond, a movie. At the end of the school year, Jennifer returned home to California, while Sam went to lead a white-water rafting expedition in North Carolina.
“Me, I’m a letter writer. So I sent him a letter that summer … and his parents forwarded it to where he was, in North Carolina,” Jennifer said. “I was astonished — I was actually very surprised when I got a letter back.”
And so began “a whole letter-writing summer … an epistolary romance.”
“I don’t think we were that forthcoming in real life — we were both a little bit shy. And yet, with a letter … maybe [we] felt safe,” she said.
Paola Garcia-Prieto ’18 and Alina Burke ’17
Years Together: Five or Six (Depends Who’s Counting)
Paola and Alina’s story began the night before Alina’s graduation, when an alcohol-induced commencement party hookup pushed their two-year friendship into uncharted romantic territory.
“It was like, really bad,” recalled Alina. “Like going-home-across-the-country[-to-]Arizona-right-after bad.”
The two first met during auditions for a Green Room production of “Into the Woods,” at which they both were trying out for Little Red Riding Hood. (“She got it, and I got some random ensemble part. I was just along for the ride,” Paola said). Paola, whose freshman-year friend group had recently been dissolved by a messy breakup, began to hang out more with the theater community.
The following school year, when Paola was a junior and Alina was a senior, the two arrived on move-in day to find that they were neighbors.
“I had an emotional support animal my senior year, so because [Paola] was my neighbor, she kind of became co-dog mom,” Alina said. (Her dog, Mugsie, was said to have been a minor campus celebrity.)
Throughout the year, Paola and Alina grew closer, with Paola choosing to stay on campus rather than study abroad and miss Alina’s final semester at Amherst. But even as their chemistry, which “was always there,” grew more palpable, both tried to prioritize their friendship. “We were part of this larger group, and we didn’t want to mess up dynamics,” said Paola.
Even after their first foray into romance, both women harbored serious doubts about the future — they were reluctant to do long-distance or even label it a relationship.
“We decided — let’s kind of put it on pause and see where we’re at after I graduate,” Paola said. The next summer, the two made it “official official,” and Paola moved to Arizona, where Alina was living.
“I would definitely say this is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in,” Alina said.
“I had all these rules in my mind about what relationships were like, and how much I was allowed to express and give, and all of that … totally dissolved,” Paola added.
The couple got engaged in December 2021 — they both proposed to one another — and are looking to get married in Amherst.
President Michael Elliott ’92 and Jenn Matthews ’91
Years Together: 33
Perhaps Amherst’s most well-known alumni couple, Michael and Jenn provide a glimmer of hope for self-proclaimed newspaper nerds everywhere. Though, in Jenn’s words, “the clouds of time and other substances” have made the meet-cute’s details hazy, the couple first clicked in the basement of Pratt dormitory: They were working as editors in what was, at the time, the newsroom for The Student (yes, the very same!).
“It was kind of grimy. There was one big room and a little room with computers, like really old-fashioned computers. You had to be in the space, on those computers, and you’d run into people,” said Jenn. “And it was all-encompassing… [we] lost three days a week to it.”
In their (limited) time outside of the newsroom, the couple focused just as much on getting off campus as staying on it. Trips into the town of Amherst or Northampton were frequent — often to restaurants or pubs that have since been replaced, they noted. Now, the couple live only a few hundred feet away from that newsroom, and walk into the same downtown they visited when they were college students. “It still has the same earthy, liberal-New-England vibe it did then,” Jenn confirmed, though certain 2000s classics — like Antonio’s, which opened in Michael’s senior year and after Jenn had already graduated — are notable new additions.
Though it’s perhaps a bit “swankier” now, the couple feels that Amherst’s campus also holds the same charm that framed their “golden experiences” at the college. As they list off different buildings, comparing those that stood during their four years at Amherst, certain places and anecdotes shine through those clouds of time — setting off the Hitchcock fire alarm with an attempt to make nachos for the Super Bowl; the classrooms where Michael did research assistant work for Emeritus James E. Ostendarp Professor of English Barry O’Connell, who would later officiate the pair’s wedding.
Stuart Robbins ’20 and Michael Barnett ’18
Years together: Six
Driven by a crush he was harboring for the head of Green Room, and with absolutely no acting experience under his belt, a freshman-year Stuart decided to audition for one of the theater club’s plays.
“Mind you, I've never actually done theater before. I hadn't been in any kind of production,” Stuart said. “But I thought Michael was really cute.”
On the day of auditions, Stuart arrived feeling prepared (“I have an audition. It’s gonna be great. I show up.”), and was promptly informed that there will be a singing component to his audition (“And I am not a singer, I will tell you that”).
Faced with the choice of any existing song, Stuart decided on the ABCs.
“And so I’m walking around the stage, singing my ABCs for this group of Michael and his friends,” he continued. “And then, I kid you not, I forget the alphabet… at H.”
Michael asked him out for a celebratory coffee anyway, and Stuart ended up as the butler in “The Importance of Being Earnest” — a play that does not require any singing.
With respect to dating culture at Amherst, or lack thereof, the couple mentioned hearing more conversations about hookup culture than actually bearing witness to examples of it. “It’s a very different experience to be dating at a small school,” Michael said. “A lot of people at Amherst are very awkward, and it does feel like things are very high stakes, but [they’re] really not.”
Stuart’s words of wisdom: “If you want a private date, you have to go off campus.”
“We tried [dates] in Val a few times,” Michael explained, “and we always ended up eating with six or seven other people,” finished Stuart.
Stuart and Michael are getting married this September – a celebration that will also serve as a reunion for their Amherst friends.
Ellen Lake ’91 and Chris Green ’91
Years together: 33
Ellen and Chris seem like a case study in successful Amherst socializing — their cross-quad friendship began their freshman year (when they lived in North and Pratt, respectively), and held strong through the following years. Both were heavily involved in campus clubs and activities, working as DJs for WAMH and in the then-campus center snack bar, playing rugby and soccer.
It was near the end of their junior year that their friendship started to transform. Chris, a geology major, helped tutor Ellen, who was taking an introductory geology course — a rock-tray-inspired connection that Ellen pointed to as a significant step in their shift towards romance. The two finally got together at the school-sponsored Casino Night, a semi-formal event held in Valentine and “one of the only dress-up parties” they attended at Amherst. The next morning, Chris overslept and missed a geology field trip, a mistake that he did not hear the end of from his teasing friends.
Ellen emphasized the role of spontaneity in both their relationship and other Amherst relationships at the time. “Things have changed so much — we had no cell phone, no laptop. I mean, people were just starting to get emails at Amherst in the computer lab. So it had to be a lot more spontaneous.” Their adventures took place in and out of the classroom — from the bird sanctuary to the art studio where their shared printmaking class was held. With Chris living in Humphries house and Ellen in off-campus housing, the two would trek back and forth — “down the tracks, which then wasn’t paved, wasn’t like a real path, it was just railroad tracks. So we would walk down the tracks over the trestle,” Chris described.
“There was no social media… you hung out with somebody physically all the time,” Ellen reiterated — food for thought, perhaps, or something to disregard altogether as we reach for Instagram.
A parting disclaimer — at the end of the day, whether you spent Valentine's Day yesterday with the love of your life, crying into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, or leafing through homework in Frost, “it’s all nonsense,” in the words of President Elliott. “There’s a constant state of anxiety on college campuses — there’s always somebody wringing their hands about how terrible it is that there’s hookup culture and not formal dating. It was true 30 years ago, and it will be true 30 years from now. And it actually always turns out just fine.”