It’s a familiar game by now at Yale. Every day, you bump into two, maybe three acquaintances with whom you exchange a series of well-meaning platitudes culminating in the phrase, “We should get coffee sometime!” Most of the time, you do mean it, but almost never do you actually do it. If you genuinely want to spend time with someone, maybe you try subversively messaging, “Wait, do you mind if I violate a social convention and actually follow up on getting coffee?” (True story.)
It is regrettable that this phrase has become so common that it has lost almost all of its meaning. Nevertheless, I think that we are generally on the right track when we pursue social bonding through coffee dates and scheduled meals. There’s something comfortable and essential in sharing food and words with a friend, and in devoting time to learn more about someone in a non-professional context.
My problem, though, is that I try to escalate the coffee game. After managing to pin down a time between classes to finally catch up with a good friend and having a thoroughly wonderful conversation, I decide to take our relationship to the next level. “We should try hanging out every week!” I suggest brightly. Said friend reacts with enthusiasm.
Of course, we both forget that we are sleep-deprived college students with Calendar apps that resemble elaborate Tetris arrangements. Maybe we do manage to keep up a weekly date for a while, but eventually we both slip back into our respective vortices of classes, extracurricular activities and accidental naps.
At Yale we are forced to act as our own personal secretaries. We strive to manage mercilessly inflexible agendas, painstakingly structuring class upon meeting upon appointment, confronting our commitments one by one. So many of us don’t even pause in our day to eat a proper meal — we bite off more than we can chew, and so we down coffees at lunchtime. When it comes to friends, we end up agonizing over how little free time we have and struggle to squeeze in a date … two weeks later.
We’re too busy, we say to ourselves and to each other.
Consistent, emotional intimacy is difficult to maintain, especially in a place where work is frequently overwhelming, friendship boundaries can shift within the span of a week and only a few days of negligent silence can become insurmountable. In the hectic rush of “doing Yale” day-to-day, we go weeks without seeing or even really thinking about people we were close to only last semester. Our social lives can seem as sporadic as our schedules are regimented. Under these circumstances, people easily drift apart from each other.
Something that has been distinctly lacking from my Yale experience is the stability of the “family dinner.” At home, no matter how busy I was, I would surface from my work, help spoon rice into bowls and eat with my family. Even if we hadn’t seen each other for most of the day, dinner was our time to reconnect and relax together. We might chatter about school, tell the same jokes and gossip about the same drama three nights in a row. Every day, I had the easy, comforting affection of my family’s dinnertime gatherings to look forward to.
I yearn for that same stability, for an active maintenance of my dearest relationships. Under the pressure of our punctilious internal secretaries, though, there is little time for weekly coffee dates and dinners.
And that pressure affects everyone. Last weekend, I came to the realization that I hadn’t had a proper conversation with one of my best friends in about two weeks. Constantly swamped with work, I had kept rescheduling our hangouts and falling out of touch. After he reached out to me about it, I realized I needed to make deliberate time for our friendship. So we decided that every Friday night would be our Official Friendship Time, when we would catch up and spend time together.
Families who eat dinner together really do feel closer to each other. It doesn’t actually matter if food is involved or not — the idea is to keep ourselves from being starved of intimacy. Ritual social time is one of the best ways to remain close with the people who have become our family at Yale.
So this Friday, I’m firing my secretary for the night. Why? I’m going to be busy watching Netflix with my best friend.
Sherry Lee is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .