In the beginning of the school year, the campus chimes with familiar sounds. The bells of Harkness toll the habitual playlist of sonic oddities (Carillonneurs, formal request for The Little Mermaid all day, every day). Cross Campus pulses throughout the day with alternating waves of commotion and calm between seminars in WLH. Birds chirp. This is the soundscape of the first few weeks of the term.
On top of this natural backdrop of Yale’s white noise, there’s a running catechism of the questions we’re repeating to everyone we know. For freshmen, it’s a rapid-fire incantation of the inane introductions: “Name? College? Hometown?” For upperclassmen, it’s summer-based: “Where were you? What did you do? Wow!” In these questions, we rejoin the social cacophony of Yale, covering the bases, getting logistics.
By now, a mere week after move-in day, we’ve all honed our Twitter-update answers to these queries. Unwittingly, accidentally, I’ve winnowed my few-sentence response to those questions down to a manageable word cloud. It’s now a compelling little elevator pitch: my passage of hours, my perceptions of the place, my research and my job, my friends. We’re all doing it, and we’ve all done pretty remarkable things with our time this summer. Ask! Your friends are pretty cool!
Yet by presenting only the shiniest aspects of summer, we’re leaving out some important life lessons of adulthood. Although our anecdotes marinate in real reflections, they’re highly abridged. I know we can’t paint a complete portrait of three months in three sentences, but in our following conversations, we need to acknowledge our fuller experiences of summer. Wherever we were — be that a hometown, New Haven, far-flung urban centers or academic programs — we were all in an unfamiliar, protean social space.
And in that new space, we all experienced a different kind of loneliness integral to adulthood.
It’s not the loneliness of being alone at Yale. Here, “alone” is a dirty word. Choosing temporary solitude here curdles with the wonder of some sort of personal defect, the opposite of liveliness, the opposite of interesting. It’s a kind of virus that stands as an antithesis to the perceived purpose of this place: connection and, notably, connections. This noxious condemnation of bite-sized solitude is damning, creating a space where we’re racing to finish things we cannot remember starting.
The loneliness of summer — adult loneliness, perhaps — is a completely different breed. In fact, it bears almost no resemblance to Yale’s version of loneliness. If Yale loneliness looks like crying as you eat cat food alone in your dingy apartment in a city where no one loves you, then adult loneliness is more taking long, meditative walks and reading books after you have chosen to not spend time with your friends. Yale loneliness is desperation, forced. Adult loneliness is chosen, coveted. Instead of tragic, adult loneliness is a sweeter dullness of routine, perhaps a quiet Tuesday night of cooking something for yourself and going to bed a little early.
In my first op-ed of the year, I want to advocate for this type of chosen separation. I hope we can each remember and realize moments of adult loneliness every week of this year. Everyone, an hour a week. This is not active meditation, nor is it vacant “stare-at-a-blank-wall” time. Instead, it’s purposeful — being pleasantly alone and pleasantly not working on something just because it’s nice.
So walking into this year, as you hear the familiar sounds of your dining hall or lecture hall, I hope you also find a place for silence too. In your this-is-what-I-did-this-summer conversations, find a place to tell your friends about the experience of comfortable, adult silence. In wondering if you really want to go to that party, maybe don’t. Think about what doing that this summer felt like instead. Sometimes in is better than out, sometimes off is better than on, sometimes alone is better than together. Moving forward, let’s together cultivate that way of being alone-without-lonely for even a little bit of time here.
Because, really. Can any club actually go up on a Tuesday? And even if it could, maybe you’d rather just be happily adult-ly lonely?
Amelia Nierenberg is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. Her column usually runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .