Schwartz: The Dartmouth “Way of Life”
Is there a right way to live in college? And does anyone monopolize it?
We all know “The Most Frustrating Man Alive.” He’s the friend who’s social to a fault, can’t concentrate on a single goal without remembering thousands of other things that he has to do and — most dastardly of all — feels the need to talk to you about all of it. One night, my Most Frustrating Man Alive and I were having the same conversation that our interactions always devolve into: a lighthearted argument about whose approach to living at Dartmouth was better, mine or his.
My friend, who we’ll call Scott, goes out of his way to “make the most of Dartmouth.” In his mind, this means going to every party, getting drunk at every opportunity, hitting on every girl and — you knew that the sentence was going to end like this — sleeping with as many of those girls as possible. Scott’s rationale for this behavior is simple: you’re only in college once. When we’re 30, he reminded me, getting drunk and crawling into bed at 4 a.m. will be totally inappropriate. Scott wants to get the most out of his youth while he can.
On the other hand, what I want to do is to excel: I intend to become both an author and a lawyer in my life, and much of what I do here is funneled toward those goals. Granted, not every moment is — I do have friends. I even do that crazy thing that all first years were secretly terrified of: never hang out with those friends without getting a lick of work done. But sure, compared to Scott, I’m an insular person. Most of my free time is spent either writing dreadful autobiographical vignettes or obsessively reading about royal history, and I’m equally content doing all of that either with a whole group of friends around me or curled up in a chair alone. Actually, that’s the perfect word for how I generally feel: content. I could spend the whole day writing in bed and be absolutely satisfied, and I wonder with genuine curiosity about what kind of party could possibly be making such a racket at 3 a.m.
Our differences wouldn’t be worth writing an article about if it weren’t for one crucial factor: Scott isn’t content, and I am. You see, his way of life — the incessant partying, the ravenous desire for social connections, the insatiable appetite for girls — wouldn’t be a problem if it were all that he wanted. But it’s not. This is a man who desperately yearns to succeed, and he knows perfectly well that the key to that success is in his academics. But does he typically treat his academics as a priority? No. He runs himself into the ground and knows browbeaten exhaustion better than sleep, berating himself by the hour for letting his schoolwork fall by the wayside. He wants to find love, real love, but gets trapped in the vicious cycle of spotting one girl after another to hook up with. He has a vigorous sense of ambition but can never settle down enough to work toward his goals. He is, in a word, discontented.
That’s why he and I keep revisiting this conversation. I want him to be content and can’t understand for the life of me what appeal parties can possibly have to a guy who clearly has such a bright future ahead of him. Likewise, he can’t fathom how I am content. How can a girl, his eyes always ask me, who remains ignorant of virtually all social events be content?
My answer is this: I have what I care about. I’m going to Dartmouth, a school that I love. I have my friends, who are as vivacious and irrepressible as any group you’ve ever seen. And I have my classes, the 5 year olds that I work with at the local daycare, my writing … And yet, Scott has the nerve to tell me that I should get out more. As if I’m the unhappy one.
But is he right? This is the question that Scott encouraged me to pose, when he ordered me to write an article about our conversations and was even kind enough to dictate the title. Is he, in his scatter-brained way, right? Sure, his approach is contradictory — he wants the nights spent out with girls and the days blossoming with good grades — but is he right? Is he getting something fundamental out of college that I’m unwittingly missing out on? It’s true that the fraternities and sororities hold no interest for me, that I’ve never been to a Greek house and don’t plan on breaking that trend — but am I making a mistake? Is Scott’s way, as uncouth and irresponsible as it sounds to me, “getting the most out of his youth” after all?
I don’t know. At the end of the day, I can’t know. As Scott put it before leaving to go panic about another assignment, I’m never going to be able to convince him to keep a diary, and he’s never going to be able to convince me to go to a fraternity. We’re at a stalemate. But the thing is, the one truth that I can take from my ongoing debate with The Most Frustrating Man Alive, is that what matters is knowing where you are on the spectrum. What matters isn’t so much whether you’re content or discontented or anywhere in between on that sliding scale, but whether you can talk about it. If you have the audacity to acknowledge how you feel and the luck to have someone in your life who you can discuss it with, then you’re well on your way. And Scott and I, through relentlessly challenging each other on our approaches to living at Dartmouth, have found that. I hope that everyone reading this article can say the same.
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