If there’s one archaic saying that almost every Columbia student understands on a painfully personal level, it would probably be the phrase “in a New York minute.”
For those of you unfamiliar, the saying refers to the speed at which time passes in New York—a hell of a lot faster than it does anywhere else. While I’m pretty sure that time is a constant, I do know that my four years at Columbia have flown by at the speed at which I once was begging high school to pass in. Whether this is due to the city or all of the friends, experiences, assignments, and 1020 nights I’ve had here, I couldn’t say. But I do know that however much time I have, it never feels like it’s enough.
Time is such a precious commodity once the year gets into full swing as we attempt to balance our course requirements, meals, going out, sleeping, and Netflix needs. And all of this comes at a cost. Since we have to be at the “cool” parties and still be on our (literal) A-games in classes, this means that every New York minute has to count, right?
In my time here, I’ve learned that Columbia has an empathy problem. And I don’t think it’s that wild of a leap to assume that this is, to some degree, related to our collective need to wring every second out of the New York minutes we are given. I have noticed that our community has a tendency to prioritize schoolwork, networking, and off-campus internships over spending time with our friends and creating meaningful interpersonal relationships.
Take, for example, an interaction that I had with one of my friends last year. I was catching up with her after not having talked for a while, and I commented on having seen a picture on Instagram of her with a boy at a sorority date party. Knowing that she didn’t have a boyfriend but had been looking for one, I asked about him. “Oh,” she told me, “Yeah, we were dating for a few weeks, and I really, really liked him. Actually, he’s the first guy I really wanted to date, but I discovered that men just take up so much time and I don’t have that kind of time to waste on just some relationship right now.”
At first, this mindset was shocking to me. I’ve had relationships that haven’t gone well, and friendships that haven’t panned out, but I’ve never considered them a waste of time. But the more I turned this exchange over in my mind, the more I realized that this decision which initially felt so abnormal to me is one that, admittedly, a lot of Columbia students (including myself) mindlessly choose every day.
We’re so driven to succeed academically and professionally that friendships also seem as though they are based on utility. Just last week, someone was complaining to me about not having friends in their class, but a moment later admitted that they did know one person. When I suggested that they sit by this person, they replied: “Yeah, but they’re not going to be able to help me on homework or anything, so why bother?”
We have such a comparatively small campus, both space and population wise, yet we seem to consider the idea of befriending people because we can or falling in love for its own sake as something bad, something that we should push away in favor of getting ahead in life. And as a result, we have a campus-wide brand of flakiness that manifests in promised but ultimately unrealized lunch dates.
I think there is an aspect of self-selection in this. We all chose Columbia, to some extent, because we wanted to be around like-minded individuals who would challenge us and understand our ambitions. Columbia students pride ourselves on being driven and independent, which are positive traits in general, but in our typical New York-neurotic fashion we have taken them to the next level. We’re terrified of wasting time, and we feed off of each other’s stress and insistence on taking the most classes, joining the most clubs, having the most party invites, to the point at which our time seems too valuable to spend with people who are not directly advantageous to our academic and extracurricular goals. It’s as if we have latched on to this idea that if we get attached to other people, then we might end up making decisions that are less directly correlated to our visions of success—maybe we’ll take a job to be closer to friends or significant others, or maybe we’ll pass up an opportunity because we needed to be there for someone else, and those decisions could have consequences for our futures. But spending all your time on the one thing that you’ve decided is “worthwhile” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Everyone is busy, at Columbia and in life, but making time for friends and relationships is never something that we should consider a waste of time. People need people. When you let people into your life, no matter how fleetingly or unsuccessfully, you learn something about yourself and about that person. And if it all blows up in your face—which can happen when big personalities end up in tiny dorm rooms—well, you’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move forward with that new and sometimes hard-earned knowledge. As a newly minted senior looking back on the past three years, I can honestly say that there is no friendship that I regret, no failed relationship that I would erase from my history. And I know without a doubt that I would not have gotten through these past three years without friends who will walk me to Duane Reade at 3 a.m., make me tea at any hour of the day, protect me even when I don’t realize how much I need it, and do a million other things that I can only hope I will ever be able to repay them properly for.
The work always gets done, one way or another, and jobs fall into place as they’re meant to. When we tie our definition of success to tangible achievements like a certain salary, a certain title, or a certain job, it can be hard to remember that personal achievements matter too, and having people to celebrate with is what really makes those achievements special. First-years, I’m looking at you—even when it doesn’t feel like it, there are enough hours in the day. So don’t forget to save a few of them for the people around you, because they are what make it all worth it. So go ahead, waste my time. I’ll probably thank you for it.
Sarah Fornshell is a senior at Columbia College majoring in English, theoretically concentrating in history, and definitely minoring in archaic sayings. She is a reformed introvert and can now be found on her phone bothering people to get lunch, dinner, coffee, or drinks with her at all hours of the day. She is the former deputy editorial page editor for columns and a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. I Do Indeed Give A F*** About The Oxford Comma runs on alternate Mondays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.