MAHONEY: Compressed bonds

We are a vigorous breed, college students. We share meals, suites and beds, inhabiting an idyllic world in which we are all youthful, and at Yale, mostly ambitious. In just a few months of school, we might have more inside jokes and crazy party stories in common with our college social circle than we ever shared with our childhood friends. Parents, curfews, school schedules, faraway houses and separate apartments kept us from that experience at home. But do drunken nights make friendships? Do joint study sessions bring us closer?

I went home last weekend. My best friend’s dad was dead. A great man, my neighbor, who had let me into his home for 18 years, was gone. I returned to pay tribute, but mostly for my friend. I was not alone. A bus from Penn State, an old Jeep from Messiah College, cars from Rutgers and UDel and Maryland — all of them making pilgrimages back home to a little suburban town in New Jersey. A transfer to Penn Station, thirty minutes of NJ Transit, and I stepped out of the old station to the streets I knew, the movie theater’s lights blinking in the brisk night. Mom dropped me at his house, the windows dark. But I knew my friends would be there, chilling in the basement, like they always had been. My best friend opened the door. We hugged. No words, no words, were worthy.

A few weeks later, as I called to check up on my friend from my dorm room, I wondered if we could ever find what we found at home, at college.

True bonds are more organic than any institution’s safety net. Surely, there is a great support system here at Yale: deans and advisors, dozens of people ready to offer sympathy in your darkest times. But who will you find in the next week, the next month, the next year, to pull you from grief, or just shoot the breeze? Who is your first call after tragedy? Which face do you want to see? Which voice do you need to hear? Blood runs deep; many of us are lucky to call upon a mother, a father, a brother, a sister. Who’s next? Is it our college friends? Perhaps such a question is unfair, too morbid to contemplate, but I suspect that many of us realize that our lifeline would not be found on campus, not yet. Maybe 18 years of memories cannot be compressed into four years. Maybe our closest bonds will always be with the boy and girls with whom we became men and women.

We Yale students love to move. Oft swamped with work, we take advantage of the freedom afforded to us. There is dynamism on campus, the late night section traffic of students hurrying between streetlights, the brimming libraries and coffee shops, the chants and the running crowds in courtyards on weeknights. Some of us frat-hop, pregame at suites upon suites, and finish the night at a greasy spittoon, maybe a usual haunt, maybe with a usual friend. Some of us give ourselves to an organization: a newspaper, a team, a society, an a cappella group or a political party. We organize into interests, into pastimes we wish to pursue. Back home, we have to do more with less. Personally, I like pretty slow Friday nights; I like to talk over bad movies, sit around a fire pit and play Mario Kart with a projector and a bed sheet.

At Yale, we seem to lose an essential ingredient to great bonds: comfort in silence. Our experience lacks empty space. Where are the nights where we laze around with a single beer, milkshake or Arnold Palmer in hand, content in the natural pauses in conversation? I hope some of us have found that intimacy, when a night in is the best use of our time, when a few friends on the couch is enough. I believe we have it, the base of friendship to be satisfied with only each other’s presences. We must only accept that a quiet weekend is not a lost one.

There will be nothing to Instagram, no neon-clad people falling over one another, no song lyrics to scream in unison, no photogenic smiles, no videos of a cool band or a poetry reading, no hookup stories, no drunks suspended between friend’s shoulders. There will be no “Remember that one time!” or “Best night ever!” There will only be people. We could all use a few more nights procrastinating, sitting around with suitemates and teammates and friends. And we may already have lifelong bonds here; we just don’t realize it yet.

Jack Mahoney is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Contact him at john.mahoney@yale.edu.

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