The pathology of a budding Columbia relationship requires the vanishing act our friends perform when they chum up with a new romantic partner. Passive time spent in lounges, dining halls, or study spaces become a precious commodity--the shared time that, in the past, melded into the everyday. Suddenly, now seeing that same friend becomes a cause to celebrate.
It’s easy to brush this aside as “typical,” the begrudgingly acceptable honeymoon period we expect of most newfound romances. But we should call out this behavior for what it is. We shouldn’t sacrifice friendships for our partners, and we shouldn’t designate our lovers as the only shareholder of our time.
I say this as the hypocrite that I am, after sacrificing all of my friendships to the ritual fire of an intense relationship. It was difficult for me to see then, when I was so wrapped in anxious love, but now the all-consuming vacuum of intense relationships seems nauseating. To make room, we trim and snip at other relationships to carve out space for a significant other. The relationships, whether they be romantic or not, comprise the support system that we rely on. It is our tendency to utterly fail at balancing these relationships that is unhealthy. In short, we are a bunch of infantile narcissists incapable of not being the center of someone’s universe.
Rousseau wrote at length about amour propre, the “self-love” that is felt only through the validation of others. “Man is born free,” he said, “and everywhere he is in chains.” We crave a sense of prioritization, an infantile instinct to be externally valued. But these desires serve to restrain us, trapping our insecure minds in the opinions of our peers. Prima facie this seems normal, albeit slightly pathetic. However, it’s not trivial to understand where we fit.
Our attempt at understanding focuses on the behavior of the people around us. My professors and teaching assistants give me a good sense of my intelligence by discussing concepts with me. My friends guffawing at my blunder let me know how suave I am and a quick glance, and a blush from a stranger is telling of my dashing looks. But this all pales in comparison to the validation gifted by a romantic entanglement.
The inherent problem with our facilitation of social circles is that we disproportionately prioritize people not based on their support for us, but rather by the extent we are validated by them. In other words, we like to think of ourselves as another person’s “someone.” The fetishization of being possessed, the revelry we gain from being possessed by another person, runs deep in our psyche. We enjoy being able to say that someone is “my girlfriend” or “my best friend,” but we really bask in the saccharine glow of being called “my boyfriend.”
I did not understand this until I lost the possessive, until I was no longer “her boyfriend.” She would call on occasion, keeping in touch as agreed upon, but I could not stand these calls. These conversations were probing, mechanical exchanges of nothing. Say something—anything. But she couldn’t. It was not that she did not care. I was simply no longer needed.
My mismanaged support structure imploded. It was a giant obelisk, dwarfing any of its surroundings. Sure, there was a visitor center and perhaps a few ancillary buildings, but the bulk of the effort went into erecting the pillar. Proudly it once stood, validated by the sheer intensity of its size and relative importance.
But it was simple. And its utility was limited. Far more useful would have been a simple home. The house needs the foundational bricklayer of our closest friends, and then acquaintances to buttress the structure. The roof is completed next, with the sheathings and shingles of classmates and mentors, rafters and ventilation. Then come the insulation and wiring of family, finished off by the flooring and furnishing of a wonderful partner. Like a nice lamp.
In order for a good house to be built, each component must be considered carefully for the support and functionality it provides. In the same way, we must observe each of our relationships for what they are. The goal should be to build a complex, multilateral support system, rather than a single pillar that bears the entire burden. We should appreciate our significant others and our closest, most intimate friends without forgetting to rely on the friends around us.
I should know. I set my house ablaze to clear space for a giant obelisk of a relationship, and when the monument sagged and ruptured under its own weight, I was alone. I salvaged what I could and searched for new parts. I was welcomed by raised eyebrows of old friends surprised to see me at parties while joined by new ones. And so my home here has been built anew, perhaps missing some tiles and furniture. But it is structurally sound and relies upon all of the people around me to keep me safe and sheltered.
And so if we can collectively avoid succumbing to the need to be a singular priority for one person and instead find holistic validation in the milieu of our friends and acquaintances, perhaps our friends will no longer abandon us after a passionate evening in EC.
The author is a junior in Columbia College studying biology and computer science. He is the vice president of the Columbia Science Review, social chair of Club Zamana, secretary of Club Bangla, and co-chair of the Rabi Social Committee.
Love, Actualized is a weekly op-ed series on love, sex, and dating at Columbia. To respond to this op-ed, or to submit to Love, Actualized, contact email@example.com.