Let’s answer the question on everyone’s minds this week. I had a lovely spring break, thank you. Far away from school on a sunny island, I followed my friends from site to site with a serene mind and a vacant smile on my face. Our final destination on the first day was a bar in a rowdy plaza, packed with locals watching the U.S.-Puerto Rico baseball game.
Walking into the bar, head throbbing with the heavy bass of pop music, I felt as if I had been rudely awakened. My skin crawled, and I wanted nothing more than to escape the noise. After rolling up pieces of napkins and stuffing them into my ears, I retreated to the bench near the bathrooms, watching people down cherry vodkas and cans of Medalla Light. The pub, with all its gaudy green decorations and flashing lights, seemed false and far away — a facade for something ugly and real, something that I had forgotten since boarding the plane at JFK. Even when my companions grew concerned because of my withdrawal and pulled me out of the pub half an hour later, the feeling clung — it clung until the sensation of unrealness permeated the entirety of the vacation, and I was helpless to stop it. I was frustrated by my meaningless gloom, but as the trip continued, I kept my thoughts to myself.
I can still say that my spring break was lovely, with no sarcasm at all. After all, drifting in and out of social situations is a facet of the college experience. No matter where I am, there is always that piece of me that screams that the entire situation is fake. It’s not the people — Yalies are some of the most authentic and genuine people I’ve ever met — but the experience itself of being out and about and loud and carefree. When I’m at a bar or a party, I start to feel like a prop in an overpacked mass of people who seem to like each other a lot more than they should, based on how much they’ve interacted in the past. “Acquaintance culture” at Yale confuses me — we treat everyone as old friends, even though we’ve never actually tried to get to know each other outside of fleeting party encounters. Is Yale’s secret admissions requirement for students to be uber-outgoing and perpetually down to socialize? The answer is obviously no, but I can’t help but feel intimidated when everyone has such a great time at parties where I feel like I’m drowning.
Perhaps I should apologize for being a perpetual wet rag. Then again, I don’t apologize for things that are out of my control. It’s silly for me to try to change a fundamental piece of myself to fit in with my classmates. Peer pressure at Yale is subtle. It’s not, “What do you mean you don’t drink? You’re crazy!” or “You’re totally missing out if you don’t party.” It’s your favorite people having a great time at a party when you’re in bed; it’s bracing yourself for spring break because you know everyone’s excited for the nightlife; it’s listening to your friends laugh and reminisce about nights you missed because you stayed in; it’s worrying that those people will give up on you, because all you ever do is say “Not tonight.” Well-meaning, unintentional peer pressure is more suffocating than overt coaxing and more effective than insults; it makes the occasional “Yeah, I’m down, let’s go out” obligatory. After all, as much as I enjoy the comforts of my suite, I value my friendships and my memories far more.
I’m not looking to incite rebellion against college culture. Despite my frequent reluctance to join in, I’ve had my fair share of fun. If this lifestyle is what makes the majority of my peers feel alive, then I am in full support of it. That said, perhaps it’s time for me to stop pretending that I feel the same as everyone else. No matter how fake my spring break felt, there are real problems to which I can dedicate my energy: tourist invasions of “exotic” places, international conflicts, global warming. At the bare minimum, I could start practicing what I preach about acquaintance culture: So, thanks for asking about my spring break. How was yours?