Libresco: Ain’t no such thing as a free YaleLunch

Apocalypse Next

Perhaps you missed it in the deluge of panlist spam that has gripped the campus since we returned from break, but last week a new Yale organization made its presence known. YaleLunch (transplanted from Harvard) has set up a website to match students looking for lunch partners. The idea is fine, but the tagline used to sell it is troubling. The e-mail began, “Meet new people over lunch! YaleLunch is expanding into the Yale community to connect students over lunch, because you should never have lunch alone.”

Well, why shouldn’t you? I know, I know. This is Yale and not a moment of productive time should be wasted. Especially time spent in the public eye. It’s one thing to be forced to dash into a dining hall to grab food to eat on the run because your schedule is just too intense. After all, talking about how little time your schedule leaves you to eat, and the heroic sprints down Science Hill you had to make to get anything at all, is a popular genre of bragging on campus. But for whatever reason, it’s not really acceptable to linger in the dining hall on your own. What’s with the dead time? And isn’t there something sad about eating alone?

When a friend of mine realized we weren’t going to the same dining hall (picky eater that I am, I had scanned menus ahead of time for a tolerable vegetarian option), he was apologetic. “I could go with you instead,” he said. “I don’t want to make you eat alone.” I insisted I didn’t mind, since I’d been waiting all day to finish the newspaper anyway, and now I’d have some breathing room to do so. Overcome with pity, he apologized again.

Apparently, leisure reading or studying should be a shameful activity, hidden away in my room. Our campus can feel overrun with Type A personalities, who always have their eyes on a goal and have ruthlessly pared down their lengthy list of activities and commitments with an eye to that goal. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice to think of every solitary lunch as another missed opportunity, another way to let ourselves down.

It’s hard to fight against that idea, when bigger powers than YaleLunch keep promoting the idea that socializing and time with friends are means to an end, not ends in themselves. A friend of mine was asked at a job interview, “What are the adjectives your roommates would use to describe you?” She was slightly nonplussed, since she isn’t accustomed to thinking of her suitemates as walking, talking testimonials to her social and professional skills, and, since she wasn’t interviewing for a consulting job, she didn’t expect her interviewer to think that way either. It’s not natural to think of the people we spend time with as qualifications for jobs and testimonials to our success rather than friends.

Social time and leisure time shouldn’t be seen as a new benchmark to measure up to, but even well-meaning organizations like YaleLunch with its guilt-tripping tagline can lend support to that little voice in the back of your head that keeps asking “Are you optimizing?” Social success is defined by each of us; no one should be held to a standard that makes them uncomfortable.

For some people, YaleLunch might be a fun way to meet new people that is slightly less sketch than posting on YaleFML. For others, YaleLunch is offering a solution in search of a non-existent problem. If YaleLunch wants to celebrate the diversity of Yalies, it ought to be able to respect their diversity of interests and social attitudes. So stop the solo-lunch shaming, relax and enjoy yourself — well, unless they’re serving tofu apple crisp.

Leah Libresco is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.

Comments

  • sethriddley

    Hi Leah,

    I’m Seth. I’m the guy who started YaleLunch (and HarvardLunch). I totally agree with your article–there’s nothing wrong with eating alone–at all–of course. YaleLunch is just a fun thing to do, not something that solves some terribly serious social problem. Yes, please, relax and enjoy yourself. :)

    Sorry that the publicity inadvertently implied otherwise. :)

    Seth

  • seriously

    @sethriddley:

    Really? With all due respect, I don’t think an email explicitly saying “You should never have lunch alone” – and then linking to an Amazon page featuring a networking how-to book titled “Never Eat Alone” – should be categorized as “inadvertent publicity”. I understand that YaleLunch is, as Ms. Libresco stated, a well-meaning organization, but it wouldn’t hurt to pay more attention to the way you market it in the future. “Never” is a powerful word.

    Sincerely,

    A Yale student who enjoys occasional meals by himself.

  • sethriddley

    You’re right: point taken. I eat by myself all the time, too! :) -Seth

  • Jaymin

    I often justify my occasional solo meals in Commons in similar terms, but sometimes I wonder if I’m simply excusing the fact that I don’t got the balls to go up to a rando an introduce myself over lunch. This site may end up being a good icebreaker.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I went back to grad school (Bread Loaf School of English, M.A,. Middlebury ’97) when I was 45 in 1990. Even at that so-called “mature” age, I dreaded walking into the dining hall (which was ALWAYS crammed with occupied tables of eaters) unless I had a “conversation companion” already in tow.

    Seems strange for a grown-up. Eating solo in the non-academic world doesn’t bother me a bit.

    Fishbowl?

  • mliu1010

    Haha WOW [some] YALIES HAVE NO SENSE OF HUMOR.

    The “never eat lunch alone” link was included tongue-in-cheek. It was used as a catchline, offered as a perspective. Don’t isolate one phrase in the advertisement and write an entire exposition criticizing YaleLunch for corroding away at some sacrosanct personal time. Obviously people enjoy time by themselves, and there is definitely nothing wrong with eating alone.

    Also, YaleLunch offers another service Miss Libresco conveniently failed to mention. It gives you the OPTION (no barrel of a gun here) to dine with a student organization you may want to learn more about. Sure you can cold email them, but YaleLunch has consolidated many of the organizations for YOUR ease of use. And think about how this service may change the recruiting process when Class of 2015 comes in.

    I thought Yalies would have a subtle enough sense of humor and understanding that the “never eat lunch alone” was not meant as a normative statement. Can’t believe I had to clarify this in a YDN comment. Use it as an ice-breaker. Use it to find out more about a student organization you think sounds pretty cool. No compulsion for you to love your rando match or join the organization.

    Respectfully,

    Mary Liu
    aka the Yale side of YaleLunch (not a cantab)

  • ds747

    Haha WOW [some] YALIES ARE RIDICULOUSLY OBNOXIOUS.

  • YaleTemp

    Whoa Leah, stressed much? Okay, so eat alone already. No reason to devote a whole article about how offended you are about an advertising slogan.

  • River Tam

    People are ends in and of themselves. Friendships and connections you form with people are means to an end, even if that end is merely happiness. Roommates are ends in and of themselves. Their relationship to you, however, is a means to an end, whether that end be happiness, roommateship (by definition the instrumental value of your relationship), or a job.

    Philosophy 101.

  • exwalkon

    @mliu and YaleTemp:

    I suspect that Ms. Libresco was not actually “offended” by YaleLunch’s slogan, but rather was using it as a symbol of what she perceives as a broader culture of compulsive networking that exists at Yale. This is a common (if tired) way to write an op-ed (see, for instance, everything David Brooks has ever written). Sentences like “It’s hard to fight against that idea, when bigger powers than YaleLunch keep promoting the idea that socializing and time with friends are means to an end, not ends in themselves” suggest that YaleLunch isn’t the real target of Ms. Libresco’s critique.

    Of course, this requires being intellectually charitable enough to a fellow Yale student to trust that she isn’t saying the stupidest thing her words could possibly mean, but rather the thing that her words appear actually to mean. I know that’s kind a leap for some Yalies.

  • yale_09

    Nice column. Brings back memories of when, as newly-arrived freshmen, the class of 2009 was subjected to a Freshman Address by the author of “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time” (the networking book mentioned above). It was kind of repulsive. Noah Lawrence actually wrote a similar column in response to it back in ’07:

    http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2007/sep/10/despite-popular-belief-eating-alone-is-ok/

  • Undergrad

    @exwalkon: I second that–this article wasn’t a criticism of YaleLunch but of the broader culture at Yale. There really does seem to be a conception on campus that time spent alone is time wasted. Even studying is supposed to be a social activity–to be done in Bass, in full view of everyone else, where there might be a chance that you’ll see someone you know and fall into a whispered conversation.

  • Leah

    exwalkon, yale_09, and Undergrad have it right. I don’t think YaleLunch is destroying the fabric of campus social relations or that people shouldn’t use their service, but their email (inadvertently or no) tapped into a very efficiency-focused approach to life and social interactions that is too common on campus. That attitude was my target, not the creators of YaleLunch.

    Thanks for the Noah Lawrence link, yale_09!

  • penny_lane

    I wasn’t aware that eating alone is so stigmatized past freshman year of high school…I miss eating alone sometimes. It was when I read novels.