I walk back to my entryway from the library at 2 a.m., feeling dead and ready to collapse on my bed. I saunter into the opposite suite where my floormates are, hoping to find some food. A handful of pita chips in one hand, I sink into the couch for five minutes of repose. Somebody makes a comment, the comment prompts a question, which prompts another. Before I know it, two hours have passed — two whole hours of beautiful, deeply nourishing conversation. I roll off the couch, satiated.
It’s not a feeling I’m used to, and if we’re being honest, not many of us are. For the most part, Yale has it all: world-class facilities, professors, you name it, but when it comes to conversation, we’re not so elite. And we know this, too: as freshmen, we complain about the endless array of “where are you from”s and “what college are you in”s. As seniors, we grumble about the inauthenticity of networking. YDN op-eds lament how our crammed GCals have come at the expense of emotional bonding. Branford has even set up a Tea Room for “authentic discussion” on Tuesday and Thursday nights in the hopes that, over cups of earl grey, we might move beyond routine conversation.
Quality of conversation may be low on campus, but it’s not for a lack of trying. There’s a reason that “getting a meal” is such a popular activity. We look to food as the go-to setting for conversation — good conversation, is, after all, nourishing. When we ask to “get a meal,” we’re setting aside a tidy hour-long chunk in between L5 Spanish and Intro Macro to get to know an acquaintance, to get to know a friend better, to feed our desire for intimacy, to “bond.”
The dining hall meet-up conversation begins more or less the same. How was your class? What did you do over break? As it progresses, we inch into greater depths, talk about the “what do you think about x”s and the “how do you feel about y”s. Just as the conversation loses its interview-like, question-and-answer, tell-me-about-your-life edge and hits that comfortable, engaging, symbiotic groove, we realize that it’s 12:55. Class starts in five minutes. Time to put the plates away and walk over to SSS.
Once again, we’ve forgotten that an hour is too short, the dining hall too crowded, for the intimacy with another we so crave. We’ve forgotten that the 2 a.m. conversation, that deeply nourishing kind, can rarely fit neatly into our GCals. Sometimes you need quiet. Sometimes you need the insulation of the dark night sky, the understanding that you have all the time in the world, that there is no class or meeting to rush to. With these comes an intimacy that’s a bit more elusive in the Silliman dining hall — the space to know, to really know, the person across from you. To know their background, their worldview, their habits and quirks, what makes them uniquely themselves.
And sometimes you need spontaneity. Of course, meals are the most convenient and pragmatic means for catching up with someone. We should never stop “getting meals” with people. But the mind is a glowing mess of tangled nerve cells that responds in ways more complex and unpredictable than the stomach. And we need to embrace that randomness. We need to remember that sometimes, it is the very randomness and spontaneity of a good conversation that makes it, like an unopened packet of pita chips at two in the morning, so delicious.