Editors’ Note: This piece originally appeared in the 2019 Commencement Issue, published on May 20, 2019.
Nobody makes time for love here. Yale is a “prestigious,” “high-achieving” school — we erect gothic castles as dorms and admit moneyed students under dubious circumstances. Constantly striving to be the next big lawyer, doctor or president, our classmates keep real feelings at arm’s length. Feelings are inconvenient when scheming for a lucrative career during these bright college years.
I grew up in a working-class suburb in the Midwest, so transitioning to Yale was difficult. Until I arrived on the east coast, I didn’t know words like “semantics” and “deontology” existed. I didn’t know how to jockey aggressively in seminars — how do people say so much without saying anything substantive? From the ornate Hogwarts-esque dining halls to the constant liberal hysteria, college was a spectacle to me in every way.
At Yale, love is an abstraction; Yalies thump novels from the Western canon and lament over their loneliness but rarely put in the effort to sustain something raw and beautiful. Supposedly, the hardest part of Yale is getting in, but I disagree; this school fosters perpetual anxiety. Whether they are working on problem sets, essays, auditions, or interviews, nobody ever seems to be done with work.
Logistically, hookup culture seems to makes sense. We can easily jump back to work after a hasty meetup — making out with some dean’s son can happen more often and readily than you think. They say that if you don’t subscribe to hookup culture, you miss out on the “college experience.” It’s better than loneliness, right?
Friends enter Toad’s alone and stumble out in pairs; fast intimacy is easy and abundant. Sauntering out of makeout sessions in unkempt dorm rooms, I thought I had mastered this lifestyle. I rationalized away the butterflies that flitted in my stomach.
I had the audacity to fall in love once. It began when we matched on a dating app; I was bored and listening to Frank Ocean, so when Oli messaged me, I shrugged and said why not?
Everything about him was electric. There are more things in heaven and on Earth than can be dreamt of in philosophy. He was tall, dark, handsome and his eyes graciously crinkled when he laughed at my absurdist jokes.
Raised thousands of miles apart, we only met because of our beloved school. On our first date, we meandered all around New Haven as we explored each other’s histories. His refreshing sense of humility soothed my insecurities. Oli’s long fingers waved around when he told stories about his father. Those same fingers left me blushing when they caressed my cheeks across the bed.
I jumped at the notifications that secretly buzzed during classes. We eagerly exchanged banter, literature and memes, and I snuck a few sniffs of my sweater when his smell lingered. Propping my chin up with my hands, he confided in me dreams of becoming a lawyer, professor and president. People gushed about the prospect of us becoming a “legacy family.” Yikes — but I didn’t completely hate the idea.
Such a chaotic tenderness. I wish I had the words to articulate how I felt when I was with him because “happy” is a gross understatement; I felt alive. But more than that — something inside me transcended ordinary existence when we were together.
But he fell into the same pattern as every other flighty Yale student. His excuses bubbled up overnight. A huge assignment was due one week. A consulting PowerPoint needed to be constructed the next. In my mind, he prioritized work over whatever sacred thing we had — or whatever thing I had imagined.
“You — I mean this, is too much for me,” he stammered over the phone. “I think we should stop.”
“Yeah.” I lied. “Good luck with your work.” As I ended the call, the room felt unbearably quiet. Was I too much? Maybe I got in the way of his dreams.
I tried to steel myself, but hot tears streamed down my face anyway. Oh how they burned.
My friends told me I felt empty because without the rose-colored glasses he was not who I had thought he was. Looking back, they were right. Constantly making excuses for Oli, the relationship was unfair for me. Love shouldn’t be this difficult.
Months later, Oli asked to see me. I noticed his hands clenching and unclenching in the dark as he apologized. The slender fingers I once admired now contorted uncomfortably with shame and regret. Burned out, Oli had dropped out of school indefinitely.
He asked me if I had been with anyone else since we were last together, and his shoulders sagged when I said I had. He had been unable to find someone after me.
I had wanted his apology, but it didn’t make me happy.
But I moved on. Time doesn’t stop for anyone, you know. The new guys were cheap imitations of Oli, but I developed feelings for a few of them. I’m a hopeless romantic, but my feelings are painfully genuine.
Those flings fell apart when I demanded respect. I refuse to be the “chill girl” — the girl who acquiesces as a means to a meager slice of companionship. Call me old-fashioned, but asking for decency is reasonable. There are dozens of ethics courses here, but Yalies rarely apply their lessons to their own lives.
Inexplicably, my failed romances became part of a formative college experience. Nights spent raging with friends over inadequate text messages devolved into laughter as we scarfed down dry falafel sandwiches. And college is so much more than romance. In my four years, I’ve joined protests, traveled the world, and fallen into many jaunty adventures with friends.
As a plucky, educated woman, I learn more each day about what I want out of my relationships. I, and we all, deserve people who enthusiastically nudge us into better versions of ourselves. I hope to eventually become a lawyer, but I will never settle in my relationships. Maturity sometimes means finding comfort in loneliness too.
My story is not just an elegy. It’s also a love letter, an ode, an angsty battle cry. As I trip over the Cross Campus pavement, I still hold my head high because there is more to life than we can imagine; there is free choice even when all is predestined. I may have already bumped into my future spouse, or maybe they will be introduced at a lame cocktail party. Maybe they will be a law student I bump into at the library, or a colleague, if time tests my patience. Or perhaps they’ll be just another random person on a dating app that I mindlessly match with on a lonely evening in some anonymous city. I know someone is out there for me, and I’m so excited to meet them.
Kelsang Dolma is a senior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .