Through the Looking Glass: Fewer Likes, Better Friends

by Luke Katler | 2/19/15 7:34pm

The decision to move to Foley House marked a significant change for Luke Katler ’15.

I’m facetimey. I enjoy attention, engaging with mainstream social life and being liked. I am the youngest of three, after all. I equate my self-worth to the amount of “likes” I get across social media platforms, and I’m crushed by suffocating insecurity when someone acknowledges my faults. I sang to prospies during Dimensions, dyed my hair for HCroo and wore a speedo in a Mainstage show. I’ve participated in most Dartmouth propagandistic activities in exchange for social capital. These transactions make me happy (see: my above values system). I will, however, defend myself by admitting that climbing the social ladder was not so high on my priorities list as being an accessible upperclassman mentor or finding a group of equally social people with whom I relate. I figured that my closest social connections would be the students who had also successfully infiltrated Dartmouth’s labyrinthine social networks. But I assumed, and made an ass out of you and me.

In examining the relationship of tradition and change at Dartmouth, some definitions are in order. “Tradition,” as I see it with regard to Dartmouth’s social structure, is defined by the type of social lifestyle typical of a white, cis-hetero male (myself) or someone who engages in the above facetimey activities (myself). The “change,” in my case, began last spring when I moved into Foley House.

Foley is a cooperative living house at the corner of West and Maple built around cooking and mutually caring for a free-standing physical space. It’s known for attracting a diverse group of students who appreciate engaging in meaningful conversation around the dinner table. Last spring, a friend’s suggestion that I live in Foley gave me pause. I had never lived off-campus, and the scene seemed like venturing into the Harry Potter universe — every house had its unique personality and history, and only purebloods knew how to identify School Street. Living in Foley would also mean a dramatic lifestyle change with regard to the house’s geographic distance from campus proper. My fraternity, the library and my friends’ dorm rooms would be left in my wake as I walked half a mile to get home every day. Finally, moving into Foley meant a commitment to developing meaningful relationships around unbridled relaxation. That’s intimidating to anyone like myself who’s spent Dartmouth running themselves ragged with extracurricular overcommitment.

The change, I am thrilled to say, has been my most profound quality of life improvement since investing in Spotify premium. The transition into cooking for myself and others was rocky — I’m the guy who once tried to bake cookies right on the heating coils of the oven. Venturing to Foco was an unwelcome inconvenience, and having a class in the Life Sciences Center was enough exercise to justify avoiding the gym. Even eating at Collis (less than a 10-minute walk) seemed like a day-defining commitment. I found the distance from Webster Avenue in particular pulled me away from my fraternity more and more. Over time, however, I have replaced a colorful Google Calendar with listening to records from a 1970s record player that we Foleyites repaired ourselves. I’ve opted for healthy, home-cooked meals rather than sushi out of condensation-specked, week-old containers. The blue, college-regulated stairs up to my room in my fraternity have been supplanted by creaky, wooden stairs straight out of 1917 rustic New England. Foley has represented my commitment to individuality and evolving self-awareness throughout my time at the College. It has helped me to carve out my niche in the social experience of my closest friends. I’d much rather invite them to a home-cooked meal than force myself into a mold that I had to convince myself fit like a glove. Foley taught me to pity square pegs in round holes.

I’m proud to say that my facetiminess has since given way to a personal brand of hermitism. I’m still inherently facetimey — I am friendly to and enjoy meeting new people, and it’s in my nature to try making sure everyone around me is enjoying themselves. My varied social network, however, has been reduced to a choice number of friends across diverse academic and extracurricular interests. Of course, some of these students were on HCroo and others in Mainstages, but others still don’t nominally do anything other than take classes. The latter category — Dartmouth’s rugged individualists — has brought about some of my most challenging and valuable relationships. Now, if only they’d get a Facebook.

There are two camps of friends, particularly among the College’s most charmingly Type A, self-centered students like myself. The first camp — I’ll call them the “keepers” — consists of the people whose amount of excitement to see you is unrelated to the amount of time you have spent out of each others’ physical or virtual presence. This group is thoughtful, self-aware and understands that we still care about each other despite our busyness. The other group is dispensable. I’ll call these the “guilters.” These are the friends who pushily ask questions such as, “Luke, like, why aren’t we friends anymore?” after not having seen me for a while, with the misguided intention that it will make me want to seek them out more often. These friends take me handling my life or making myself available for other friends in need as a personal attack. Every time I hang out with guilters, it feels as if I’m starting from square one. These friends, for me, are toeing the first circle of facetimey hell. I don’t need the anxiety attached to their friendship. I bite my nails badly enough already.

My list of friends has shortened, but my relationships with select people have become more meaningful and substantive over the last three terms than they had in the rest of my time here. Last term, I helped friends navigate seemingly insurmountable challenges, and being there for them would have been impossible were I to fill my schedule with Collis lunch dates. I’m emotionally and physically available, and I find myself more actively engaged in conversations. I’m careful how I advise, and I treat each friend’s problem through the lens of their experience. I am more grateful for the fewer friends that I have. Once the Dartmouth bubble pops for me after next term, these are the people that I’ll keep close to my heart. Cutting out shallow relationships in the interest of strengthening meaningful ones inevitably leads to regret about having left the former neglected. I have to remind myself that those people have other, better friends to confide in. I’ve done myself and my faltering relationships a favor and chosen to drop them or deepen them. I’ve obligated myself only to myself and those whom I most love and respect.

I was talking to a friend earlier this term who mentioned offhand that I’m known to “sometimes just stop talking to people entirely.” Unsure of how to take this, I spiraled into negativity and self-criticism, obsessively taking stock of my social relationships to see where I had given someone the cold shoulder. As my grudges typically manifest themselves in uncomfortable verbal confrontation, I couldn’t imagine why this friend — or what I thought to be his army of co-conspirators — would label me as an uncommunicative monster. But I stepped back long enough to consider that maybe this soul-crushing insult was, instead, validation. I do stop talking to people. It’s never intentional — it just happens. It’s not even that I don’t care about their friendship — I don’t talk to some of my best friends for months. To say I stop talking to someone because I have a personal vendetta against them is giving me too much credit. I just know that the keepers don’t need the validation of my constant time and energy. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s just me. Whenever I do interact with the keepers, we’re able to enjoy each others’ heightened sense of self rather than lament our lack of communication.

Since becoming a Foleyite, my social network has been reigned in. I don’t go out on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. In fact, I don’t go out all that much, period. I receive the “Let’s get a meal, I haven’t seen you in forever” text on a bi-weekly basis. I’m derided for spending so much time in Foley by outside friends. Being a Foleyite won’t go on my resume. It won’t earn me any points in the dating world (although, ladies: I can cook). It won’t get my name more upvotes on Bored@Baker or make me a more desirable formal date. It won’t get me on table (pong-speak for social capital). It will, however, give me perspective that is sorely lacking among so many people I interact with at Dartmouth. I wish there were less op-eds or student profiles about “finding your place” or “being true to your individual self because that’s what got you here,” as the message is tired and cliché and deserves a cynical 20-something eyeroll. If that’s all you took away from my story, don’t tell me. As a self-involved facetimey jerk, my ego is fragile.