“Man, Noel, I wish getting a boyfriend at Columbia was as easy as writing a paper. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just pull all-nighters and get boyfriends?”
It was about 3 a.m., and I was sitting in my friend’s room in Wien on a Friday night, working on an art history paper, of which I no longer remember the topic. And yet, I remember her exact words as we discussed the state of (lack of) romance in our lives. To state the obvious, romance is hard to find if you’re writing papers in Wien on a weekend night.
“I don’t understand. You’re so career-focused and academically driven. How can you be so proactive about everything in your life except for love?” a friend once perplexedly asked me.
Most Columbia students are proactive with almost every aspect of their lives—except in romance. We challenge ourselves with double majors and multiple internships, and we’re not afraid to ask for what we want in terms of academics and careers. From fellowships to job offers, we rarely settle for less than the best. And yet, when it comes to romance, we post our admirations on Columbia Admirers, sending our desires to an audience that hears but rarely answers. As someone who is particularly apathetic about Valentine’s Day—except for the discount chocolate the next day—I am guilty of putting career and academic ambitions before any romantic ambitions. While I can, for the most part, foresee my grades by studying hard and attending class, I cannot foresee another person’s feelings—and that uncertainty is what drives me to Butler on Valentine’s Day.
“Why do I want a girlfriend? I want a career first,” my friend, a senior in Columbia College, scoffed over dinner.
But why can’t you have both? Why can’t you be proactive in both your career and love life? I asked a graduate school friend for her experienced opinion, given that she is at a different stage in life than a 22-year-old undergrad.
“When I was in college, I definitely put my academics and career first. While I didn’t rule out the opportunity to meet a great guy and spend quality time with him, I knew I was focused on personal development,” she replied. She noted that without knowing what you want in life and having a clear career direction, you can’t really be proactive about relationships.
Another senior chimed in, “I think people think that everyone at Columbia is way too busy to be in a relationship. I think that’s true to a great extent, but I also think that it’s such a self-fulfilling paradox that people don’t put themselves out there enough to actually make anything work or even realize that other people might have feelings for them at all.”
At Columbia, we learn to open our minds to great books and new philosophies—but we’re still hesitant to open our hearts to love. We speed read through The Iliad, but we also obsessively re-read text messages sent from our crushes. We exchange lingering glances, but we keep our mouths shut. We hesitate. We pause. We stop. With a problem set, you are either right or wrong. With love, being wrong could feel very right—and vice versa.
A friend in a committed relationship said, “I think investing time and energy into building strong friendships and relationships can make it easier, in the long run, to deal with the academic and professional pressures that Columbia puts on us. In that sense, being in a long term, stable relationship has made me happier more secure and much more productive than I thought it would.”
I remember being in my art history lecture a week later. The girl sitting in front of me spent the entire class period on a guy’s Facebook, pausing ever so slightly on every photo where he was with another female. I understand that sentiment all too well—the curious feeling of hope and hopelessness when you like someone at Columbia, but instead of asking them out, you stare at their Facebook when you should be paying attention in class. And who knows—maybe he’s sitting in his lecture class, typing your name into the Facebook search box, too.
With that in mind, perhaps my happily-coupled friend is right—the time that we spend pining about unrequited love could be spent being proactive and ultimately finding someone who feels the same way. We don’t have to be actively searching for romance—but just as we enter the classroom with open ears, perhaps we can leave our dorm rooms with open hearts. We are so quick to protest and speak out at this school, but are we willing to stand up for our feelings, too?
Noel Duan is a Columbia College senior majoring in anthropology and concentrating in art history. She is the co-founder of Hoot Magazine. You Write Like a Girl runs alternate Wednesdays.