At some point in my early teens, I created a mythology of the college relationship. It would involve a wonderful meet-cute. It’d be easy, romantic, and I wouldn’t put in much work.
This wasn’t completely unfounded either. My cousin got married this summer (!)—they met their future spouse at a Hawaii-themed party at Virginia Tech. My mom asked my dad to borrow some Debussy etudes for her from The Juilliard School library five months before graduation. A friend’s mom told me she met her future husband on the first day of freshman orientation. I figured it would just be a thing.
Reality check time: I am a senior, I’ve never been in a relationship, and I am devastatingly insecure about that fact.
Instead of being proactive, I have Columbia Crushes. For the uninitiated, it is a Facebook page with almost 3,000 followers that links to a simple Google form: “Anonymously submit your feelings about your crush. We're more than happy to spill the tea for you.” These then get dumped onto the page every so often, for viewers to scroll through and like.
There are three general phenotypes of Columbia crushes:The really specific ones. First and last name mentioned. This person knows who you are. As a result, these posts generally get a ton of attention. The ones from actual strangers. This will be a description asking after a blonde in Butler who wore a black shirt at 9 p.m. on Wednesday—the perfect avenue for friends to tag friends who just vaguely fit the description. The hilariously deep ones written by someone who wishes they majored in creative writing and never quite grew out their 2007 Pete Wentz bangs. No indicator of who these posts are addressed to either.
I am describing all of this in such detail because to be totally honest, I derive an amazing amount of pleasure from reading what strangers have to say about each other.
What makes it so appealing? Anonymity.
Anonymity gives us a freedom that we don’t allow ourselves on a day to day basis. Columbia, on the most basic level, has a community problem. Yes, Columbia can and should give students more avenues to develop community. But adjacent to this is a flaw in the interpersonal structure we ourselves reinforce on campus. The lack of real dating culture is just a byproduct. It reflects our fear of emotional vulnerability.
Yeah, I know this is a frequently written about subject at Columbia, but that doesn’t make it less relevant. Even just speaking for myself, in the last three years, I have not made an effort to change. I have a hard time making eye contact or saying hello to any of the people I would really like to get to know better. In fact, the more I avoid, the more impossible it becomes to do anything but that.
Vulnerability is scary and involves a risk of rejection. Perhaps to “get ahead,” we don’t want to waste our precious time on moments that are one-sided or expend too much emotional labor. It’s better to just be cool and silent. We wait for someone else to be brave.
I find Columbia Crushes to be the sweetest (and yes, sometimes creepy) antithesis to this mindset. While we hide in anonymity, it is still such an honest journal of the most basic attraction. There is a real giddiness, too, in seeing your friends written about. We see them as so entirely worthy of admiration and true love that we'll write stuff about them too. It might not be much more than a reminder of how human we all are, but isn’t that special anyways?
Human beings are evolutionarily social creatures. We crave intimacy and positive reinforcement. I sometimes catch myself wondering: Am I so intrinsically unlikeable? No, I don’t think I am. But the truth is, I need to put in time and effort if I want to experience emotional vulnerability. Taking the time to deepen any of your relationships (romantic or otherwise), chatting on Saturday nights, throwing birthday parties—this is the stuff that I will treasure and remember 10 years from now.
Columbia Crushes had been inactive for a tragic 18 days. Around 3 p.m., I opened up Facebook and grinned at its return. It is a pure place where we allow the cheesiest, most honest forms of kindness to exist. I hope it sticks around. Maybe it does perpetuate my romantic notions, but cuffing season is rapidly approaching. It’s not a bad thing to put more of yourself out there in the day-to-day. I am also dying to see someone write something about me. Please.
Sabina Maurer is a senior in Columbia College majoring in biology. It helps if you say hi first.
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