I’m incredibly fortunate in that one week from today, my parents will celebrate 25 years of being happily married. That’s 25 years of mama and papa slow-dancing around the kitchen table singing along to Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.” Mama and papa sharing bottles of wine by candlelight. Mama and papa breaking out a guitar and serenading each other with 1960s Bollywood ballads. Mama and papa growing old together, acting like children while raising their own.
So, I’ll admit it. I’ve been taught, by relentless demonstration, that romance is real. I am, to a fault, biased in favor of love. I haven’t gone five minutes of adulthood without crushing hard on some unsuspecting boy, I fell asleep during “Shawshank Redemption” but could watch “Love Actually” back-to-back all day, and cuddling is my favorite activity. I am that love-chasing, PDAing, nauseating person, and I will argue, to the death, that companionship (be it romantic, platonic, or familial) is the most essential component of happiness and individual growth.
Enter Columbia University.
“The first week I came to Columbia, I knew the deal,” says one Bwog commenter. “I called my mom and said ‘forget about me having a boyfriend/dating.’ It’s not happening here.” Seven thumbs up. “Love does not exist here,” claims a second. Twenty thumbs up. “One of the main problems,” explains a third, “is that the general atmosphere just isn’t conducive to real dating.” Fifty thumbs up.
The “general atmosphere” at Columbia is a nebulous and often-debated thing, my understanding of which is wrapped up in buzzwords. Stress. Competition. Pressure. It is an atmosphere that, starting with our acceptance letters, has rewarded us for beating others out, for being overwhelmingly Type A, and for getting ahead. Even for those of us who want to, being in a relationship is at odds with our goals as Columbia students: It requires time that we must spend doing homework, energy that we don’t have left after our internships, and mind-space that’s currently occupied by our extracurriculars. Although we’re taught to be critical at every turn, this is a mindset we’ve donned unquestioningly. We’ve quietly forgotten to ask ourselves: Really, is that what college is for?
If we were to remember that our success as college students isn’t measured by GPAs and job offers, but rather by our growth into well-rounded and independent individuals, perhaps it would seem more rational to take the time to nurture friendships. If we could remind ourselves once in a while that we are not here to become lists of credentials, but rather to learn as much as possible from those around us, maybe we would understand that relationships are essential to our being educated. If we could step back from the daily grind long enough to remember that college is not a means to a professional or academic end, but a personal one, I think we would be able to look up from our laptops long enough to fall in love.
A little over a year ago, a Columbia student named Gray skipped his introductory Russian class and, instead, spent the afternoon turning New York City into a giant scavenger hunt. It was set in motion at 6 p.m., when I left work and the building security guard handed me the first clue. Two hours later, when I had been sent scavenging to and through various rom-com landmarks by a host of kind strangers wielding love letters, I found Gray at the edge of Central Park with a picnic of chicken tikka masala, asking me if I’d like to be his girlfriend.
Whether we’re challenging each other’s philosophical assumptions, getting each other through loss and fear, teaching each other our languages and cultures, being critical of each others’ work, looking out for each others’ wellness, keeping each other on task, or simply nudging and guiding and protecting and holding each other on the tortuous path to becoming realized adults, I’ve said yes every day since.
Rega Jha is a Columbia College senior majoring in creative writing. She contributes regularly to The Canon.