Reflection: So Good to See You!

One writer reflects on the shortcomings of social life at Dartmouth and looks back on life before college to find ways to improve it.

by Solenne Wolfe | 2/10/23 3:05am

by Samantha Paisley / The Dartmouth

This article is featured in the 2023 Winter Carnival special issue. 

Compressing the natural progression of a college semester into a barely two month-timeline means that every week here on campus feels like a whirlwind. There are midterms three weeks in and birthday parties and dinners and plans to do ambitious things — like go on road trips to Canada and take beach days in Maine. 

So much of the Dartmouth “community” is a gesture towards community — less so a concrete attachment to a person, place or thing, but rather a desire to be tethered to that thing. Dartmouth’s ever-shifting life makes it hard to have anything permanent — especially friendships — yet the insular nature of the College and its unconventional scheduling can pull us from long-standing friendships formed before Dartmouth. In this strange middle ground, we seek true friendships in an environment marked by transience, urgency and impermanence, fighting the feeling that people are always coming and going.

There is a notion at Dartmouth that for a friendship to work, you must intentionally invest in it. Of course, intention is integral to any relationship, but it is to an inflated and consequential degree here: You might miss dinner plans with someone at the end of a term, and then not see them for a whole year afterwards as you alternate “off” terms. 

With the ever-changing population at Dartmouth, it can feel hard to have permanent friendships, or a sitcom cast of characters that form a perennially-available friend group. This is true of relationships in your early twenties regardless, but there exists a certain desire — no, need — to be friends with everyone at Dartmouth that isn’t present elsewhere.

Things at Dartmouth often feel precarious, on the verge of changing at any moment. It is impossible to keep track of when people will be on campus and what will happen to your social support system in the wake of the changes each term brings. In response, the unspoken rule is to make sure to keep open the possibility of being closer friends with just about everyone, to keep people feeling positively towards you in case you need to tap into that positivity when suddenly your friends are all elsewhere. How upbeat and cheery we are in every small interaction we face during a walk through the dining hall or library is taken as a stand-in for how kind we are, how willing to listen to others we are or how pleasant we are to be around generally — and it’s exhausting.

It means that social life here can feel all-encompassing. It can feel like the rises and falls of interaction are what determine the landscape of our social existence, our existence among others. 

And given the insular nature of the College and its particular schedule, it is even harder to make time for “home friends.” I’ve found that this immersive environment makes me less likely to keep up wholeheartedly with my friends at home, my friends who know me not for how bubbly I was in Blobby or how out of it I seemed at lunch in the Hop, but who know me for falling asleep at movies and ordering takeout to the playground after hours, for what I do when I am totally comfortable and have nothing to prove, when I am not worried about losing or making friends.

The other day, I was reminded of this phenomenon by a strange, familiar yet distant figure — 8 Ball Hall. Wrapped by panoptical windows that face into the underbelly of the Collis Student Center, the Hall sits empty most of the day. It couldn’t help but remind me of this New Year’s Eve when my friends and I played just about 20 games of pool, in the lobby of a brownstone on Columbia University’s campus. 

When I think about life before Dartmouth, I’m flooded with memories of getting caught in the rain, mesmerized by my first psychedelic experience at the Met and late nights at the baseball diamond in Park Slope.

These moments didn’t come through a concerted effort, or a long-planned weekend trip, or a group chat that was constantly talking. These relationships required less direct attention to build and maintain — it almost feels like a foreign concept that we became friends through happenstance, through last-minute plans and mutual friends. Perhaps it's the rosy glow of nostalgia tinting my memories, and perhaps everyone feels this way about their high school friends. Still, somehow, the lack of effort it took to become close to them makes me feel like these friendships were filled with more sincerity than some of my friendships here. 

But friendships within the Dartmouth community are not to be undersold — people here are largely kind and open, and in some way or another most of us are connected by a handful of degrees of separation. Most of us know each other, have seen each other and we all speak in the same lingo — Foco, @now, need three, flitz. We email each other birthday party invites and share swipes and DBA like they’re Monopoly money. It is rare to be in a space where we can interact so frequently and so easily with one another, where “far away” means a 15-minute walk. The D-Plan guarantees that every term brings a new set of routines and oftentimes new friendships. We find ourselves spending more time with different friends, based on running into them frequently or starting to share mutual friends or sharing interest in the same activities or just having the same schedule for eating and moving from building to building. 

Yet, when it is so easy to make friends and add people to the growing list of friends we really “should” see, we can become callous to the beauty in friendship. It can feel like friendship is a euphemism for a social form of networking, where we treat everyone like a possibility — a possibility for a party invite or someone who shares a lot of mutual friends with us, or someone who could teach us this skill or take us on that DOC trip. With all the requisite lunches and coffees and get-togethers, it can feel like playing whack-a-mole with your time to try and maintain long blocks of free time wherein work can actually get done. 

I didn’t spend my teen years trying to make the most of the “experience” of growing up in my hometown; I didn't worry about trying to squeeze as much juice as possible out of my evolving relationships. I didn’t hold myself to the impossible standard of making everyone happy all the time without trying and without seeming like I was dependent on the relationship.  Maybe the thing to do is just to stop trying to do anything more than be present in the interactions that I do have, and not treat them as means to an end.