I’ve always lived on the social fringe, hearing about parties from a friend’s text message or from an acquaintance passing by. Friday and Saturday nights spell an uncomfortable limbo, as I wait to see if invitations come my way. I’ve never been one to crash — even at open houses I feel out of place without a close connection — but some nights this passive attitude can leave me dissatisfied, with nobody to blame but myself.
At every school there is the familiar divide between partygoers and everyone else. This divide is a function of both access and desire. Access comes down to knowing or being a person that is willing to buy alcohol. Desire, of course, come down to whether a person finds drinking fun. By these two factors, we sort ourselves into satisfied social clusters. Fortunately, I don’t sense much of a hierarchy. The two groups coexist on weekend nights, equally content.
Often forgotten, however, are those that fall in the middle, in terms of both access and desire. My invitations to parties have always come from an immediate circle of peers willing to buy alcohol, but waiting for them to communicate leaves me in a state of uncertainty that is often not worth the hassle. More to the point, I still cannot tell whether I actually enjoy going out. At parties, I often think the reward was not worth the trouble. But when I stay home, I regret having passed up the opportunity to meet new people and have fun with friends.
This past Friday night, after fruitlessly looking for something to do, my suitemates and I decided to stay in, order pizza and watch a stand-up special on Netflix. What should have been a great time for some reason left me oddly discontent. Maybe it was because one of my closer friends had found her way into a party while I had missed out; but I had been to parties like that and felt dissatisfied there too. Maybe it was because earlier in the night, a friend mentioned wanting to expand his social circle by meeting new people. Had I settled too quickly into a close group of friends? Yet just that morning, I was feeling grateful to be spending so much time with so many good people. Maybe it’s not party culture that dissatisfies me at all. Maybe it’s the fact that after 18 years I still do not know exactly what makes me happy.
My confusion about party culture speaks to larger uncertainties in my life. I have no clue what I want to major in. I love jazz trumpet, but for some reason I’ve never wanted to go to a music conservatory. For a period this summer I wondered whether I even wanted to go to college, or if I was just doing what was expected, what was customary. As I walked to Old Campus the other day, I thought about my dissatisfaction and felt ungrateful. Surrounded by beauty and opportunity, how privileged was I to have the luxury of discontentment?
What I began to recognize, however, is the positive role that discontent has played in my life. It has helped me find what doesn’t interest me and guided me towards things that do. Dissatisfaction tells us that we are having new experiences that help us discover what will make us happy. If we think about our lives as a graph, and see our true identity at any moment as a point along a line, deviation from this line will of course cause unhappiness; yet it is this irritation that will steer us back towards the point of self-truth. Dissatisfaction suggests that we are taking steps to better understand ourselves.
With so many opportunities and experiences to be had, college forces us to confront restlessness and learn from it. My uncertainty about party culture will, in the coming years, enable me to learn what elements of it I enjoy. And who knows — maybe I’ll find a major along the way.
Elliot Connors is a freshman in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .