Vivian Tong

Life at Yale is complicated. Friendships are complicated — you fight and you drunk fight and you sober fight and you cry and apologize and drunk apologize and hug and share a blanket and apologize again and whisper secrets and hold each other and tell each other you love each other. Classes are complicated — problem sets are long and papers are longer and exams are concerningly short and it’s 2a.m. and you’re sitting in the Pauli Murray library with a big bag of salty pretzels and a mug of hot chocolate, crying because you’re alone and your biochemistry exam is tomorrow and you still haven’t memorized that long list of oncogenes. Life at Yale is complicated. Love at Yale is even more complicated. 

But before there is time for the complicated, there must be time for the fun. Talk to strangers, flirt, kiss in the middle of the sticky TOADS dance-floor on a Wednesday night until you realize his lips are too wet and yours are too dry and you’re suddenly too sober. Forget his name by the next morning and ignore his “Let’s get coffee!” message because you know neither of you actually wants to get coffee. Meet a blonde girl at a party and talk for hours about her family and her pet dog named Addy, brush her hair behind her ear and tell her she looks beautiful and change your mind and say you’re sorry and you have to go because you realize you’re bored and tired and don’t want to talk anymore. 

Talk to, flirt with, kiss strangers — for as long as possible. Because eventually, the messy meaningless kisses will be tainted by complications. Eventually, you will be kissing a tall stranger on the sticky TOADS dance-floor, and you will be thinking about somebody else — your best friend, or the boy you sit next to in organic chemistry, or the girl who lives down the hall, who you wish lived in your bedroom, who you see every morning and every night and want to call yours. You’re thinking about that someone, watching them kiss another — his hands on her body, around her waist, palms against the rips of her dark blue jeans, fingers running through her dark hair and down her back — and you turn and find the closest lips and press them against yours and hope it feels good. And you pretend you’re kissing him. That’s when you know it’s complicated. 

Love at Yale is complicated because relationships at Yale are complicated. Because you leave bits of yourself with the people around you, because you find the parts of yourself that you love and the parts of yourself that you hate in rooms full of other people — people you’ve fought with and people you’ve fought for, people you’ve slept with and people you wished you had slept with and people you lied about sleeping with, people you call friends and people you wish you could call friends and people you used to call friends. Life at Yale is a swirly red berry-flavored lollipop, spinning with people and secrets and sweetness and bitter aftertastes and a red tongue at the very end. Take a lick and if you fall in love, everything else will feel numb. 

Part of the complication with love at Yale is that you are bound to fall in love with someone you are not supposed to fall in love with — the boy who won’t commit to anyone, the girl who broke your suitemate’s heart, the person you swore you would never like because they were too close and they meant too much and you couldn’t stand to lose them. 

 Falling in love with a friend is like taking a deep trip into the world of paranoia. Everything — every brush of his wrist against yours, every time she laughs at one of your stupid jokes, every compliment of your outfit — means something. Is he trying to send a message? A subtle hint? You cannot ask. You cannot ask because asking would be risking everything — the summers spent sharing rooftop sunsets and cold beers on midnight beaches, the afternoons spent microwaving cheap chicken nuggets on your living room carpet, the late nights spent laying side-by-side on the sofa analyzing yourself and each other until the sun came up and you both accidentally fell asleep. 

Asking now would be risking all the times he watched you cry over a failed exam or a terrible breakup, all the times he told you everything would be okay, all the heated arguments, the angry words you shouted at him when you were jealous that he was still sleeping with another girl, the long hugs that came afterwards, the nights spent convincing yourself that nothing meant anything and that you were just friends. Because if you weren’t just friends, it would be too complicated. Far too complicated.

When platonic turns romantic, friendship grows into that dreaded combination of lust and love and obsession and admiration. You are falling in love with your best friend — the friend who knows everything about you — your childhood dream of becoming a pilot and your inexplicable fear of yellow tulips, your mother’s favorite cardigan and your father’s belief in ghosts, the amusement park ride that first made you sick, your preference for white wine over red, your tendency to eat chocolate-chip ice-cream when you’re on day three of your period. 

 You sit in the laundry room at 3a.m., waiting for the dryer to finish drying your clothes. Two minutes left on your machine. Seven minutes left on his. You make eye contact and he asks if you’re wearing mascara. You love that he noticed. Should he have noticed? Would a friend have noticed? 

You turn back to look at your laundry spinning in the machine, drying and spinning and whirring and you answer, “Yes.”