Article Image
Helen Yang / Staff Illustrator

“Would you want to grab a drink sometime?” I texted while I had a blank Word document on my computer. I had a paper due in the next couple hours and it was still not written.

He didn’t respond.

I vigorously started typing nonsense on my computer that I pretended was for my paper to distract myself from his lack of response.

“Yeah, when works for you?” he finally responded.

I waited double the amount of time it took him to write to me to text him back.

If I really had my priorities in order, I probably would have waited until I submitted the paper to start this texting game, but the stress from the assignment (and the terrifying inadequacy it made me feel) caused me to manically seek an escape through his attention.

I think Columbia students have become masters of escapism. I mean, who wouldn’t become that way under the crushing weight of pressure we put on ourselves? Just as Columbia students are smart enough to tackle challenging problem sets, we are also clever enough to find the perfect way to reach a brief moment of instant gratification—a hit of serotonin before facing reality once more.

Some self-care methods that produce serotonin are very healthy: exercising, socializing, sleeping. But, as a senior, I’ve seen distraction techniques to avoid the seemingly endless job hunt become increasingly unhealthy, on top of our countless other assignments. Drug and alcohol use is an example, but a far more common and pertinent form of escapism goes unnoticed: toxic interactions.

For example, every finals week I seem to make increasingly rash decisions in terms of my relationships, romantic or otherwise, because of the rush of dopamine that comes from a risky text. Although this rush can happen at any time, it feels especially heightened when loads of other assignments are demanding my attention.

When I was writing my thesis, I entered into a flirtationship that I knew wouldn’t work because the validation distracted me from my major academic project—the one that actually required my attention. Both parties were emotionally immature and although it was fun in the beginning, it eventually started to cause extra stress on top of all the work I wasn’t doing. He wanted attention and did not care about my feelings; I wanted a distraction.

I didn’t realize it was toxic. Toxic is a very loose term, and although many Columbia students might be able to recognize certain aspects of a relationship as toxic, many are ignored. Perhaps this is due to social media: If a couple seems happy on Instagram, that’s what I should strive towards, right? Maybe in the dark recesses of my subconscious, although I’d never admit it, I want that seemingly blissful, picture-perfect Instagram relationship.

However, a post belies the whole story: Toxicity in any relationship can be generally defined as a situation that takes a toll on one’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. If a situation is starting to make you suffer then it is toxic. Lesser known examples of toxicity are cycling repeatedly through breaking up and getting back together, lack of proper communication, lying, deception, lack of privacy, as well as criticism and contempt.

Because of the Internet, the idea of toxicity has been magnified and possibly even glorified. I see tweets daily from people pining after those who leave them on read for 24 hours, but in turn, ghosting others who respond right away. The “finsta” is another platform where we feel oddly safe enough to broadcast our reckless tendencies while concurrently complaining about how weird situations can be with whoever is in our love life now.

In my experience, these toxic situations seem to get magnified under stress; people end up using others as their escape. But just because we’re all always stressed doesn’t mean we can always all treat each other poorly.

Hookup culture, which is particularly pervasive at Columbia, and its mantra of pretending to care less than the other person has also added to this idea that communication is a sign of weakness. Maybe this occupies another part of our subconscious: We want what we can’t have. And although these tweets are obviously humorous, I do think a certain amount of precaution should remain in the back of our minds when analyzing the situations we may get ourselves into.

Now that I’ve finished my thesis, I don’t talk to this boy anymore—I figured I can maybe enjoy my free time more healthily and validate myself. We’ll see how long that lasts before my next assignment is due.

Christina Hill is a Columbia College senior studying history and Slavic studies. She turned in her thesis on time.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact

Stress Stress culture toxic relationships escapism procrastination
Related Stories