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.