It’s happened to all of us—you’re quickly ascending the steps of Lerner in hot pursuit of a table in bustling Ferris. You just finished your morning classes and are starving. And then you spot them waiting in line to swipe into the dining hall, eyes squinting and head swiveling as they attempt to find their group of friends among the mass of students; it’s the person you met late in the back corner of Mel’s on a drunken Saturday night and subsequently went home with.
The early afternoon sunlight is weak and harsh on everyone’s tired faces. They order a salami sandwich while you stand next to them, motionless and internally panicking. What do you do? Your first instinct is to turn around and walk in the opposite direction, embarrassed that you are fully clothed and completely sober. Truth be told, they have never seen you in this state before. You can feel your old hookup stare at you, but you insist on looking straight ahead. You finally summon the courage to turn to meet their gaze, but they already grabbed their lunch and left to find their friends.
Why are we Columbia students so uncomfortable with the emotional intimacy that accompanies sexual encounters? We seem to constantly put ourselves into these painfully awkward situations that might never fully resolve until one of us graduates from the University. We seem to routinely ignore those with whom we’ve shared the most intimate of contact.
Casual sex at Columbia is as common as finding vomit in a Carman elevator or someone popping Adderall in Butler 209. For many students who are busy and burdened by heavy course loads and club involvements, it is far too easy and enticing to dress up and head to Mel’s or 1020 on a Saturday night to blow off steam, go back to their room, and have mediocre, drunken sex. In the moment, the brief but intense blast of fun is unbelievably appealing.
A committed and lasting relationship is elusive at Columbia; it is rare that two people decide to become exclusive and actually date. Why dance with just one person if there are past (and future!) hookups abound at any of the multiple parties or bars you frequent? Why invest time in a budding romantic relationship if the promise of casual sex is everywhere on a Saturday night? Despite this treasure trove of open-ended “options” here at Columbia, there are so many nights that end at Koronet, drunk and probably very alone. There are multiple weekends in a row where no one seems remotely interested in sleeping with you or vice versa, and so you once again return to your dorm room alone and fall asleep with the lights on (and if you wear it, probably your makeup, too).
The blatant fear to get to know the people you sleep with is crippling and often embarrassing. When I asked a friend if she ever considered striking up a conversation with a past hookup, she mused, “What would I have in common with them, anyway?” This is, I have come to realize, how many Columbia students feel (and the school’s “burn the candle at both ends” culture does not help). So, insecure in themselves, many Columbia students can often immediately believe the idea that the person that they’ve most recently slept with would find them irritating, uninteresting, dumb, or any combination of the three.
My self-image and feelings about romantic encounters have transformed profoundly since my first NSOP party. Throughout my first year, I often found myself panicking at the thought of having anyone get to know me in any kind of deep, remarkable way—why would anyone be interested in getting to know the “real” me if I didn’t even know who or what I was and could be? I did not know how to contribute to the Columbia community in a meaningful way, both socially and academically. I swore off relationships, citing them as a distraction from the very important task of “doing EVERYTHING!” I chose to ignore potential lovers instead of getting to know them as a form of self-preservation.
As a senior, I am finally able to take pride in my own relationships—romantic and platonic—and invest in them properly because I am slowly learning to believe that I am worthy of other people’s attention, friendship, and love (and that they are worthy of mine). Building relationships is a part of a healthy, full life and should not be ignored. I am now in a meaningful romantic relationship with someone I deeply care for—proof in my personal pudding of aplomb, which grows steadily, albeit slowly.
And so, to all my old boos: Hey, how’s it going? I hope that this time, you’ll say hello back.
The author is a current senior at Barnard College studying French and Francophone studies. She’s abroad for a second time in Paris, so that’s why you haven’t seen her around campus (or else she’d totally say hello). If you want to share your opinion, disagree, or get recommendations for your next trip to Paris, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.