Hello . . . My Name Is . . .
And I Just Love Mixers!
I GAVE UP a date Saturday night to go to the Adams House mixer. Why on earth did I do that? Because somebody handed me a pink sheet of paper at the free concert in the Yard earlier that afternoon and I was touched.
"To the women of Radcliffe from the men of Harvard," it read, "we invite you to wine, music, and fantasy. . . ."
So, I thought it was sweet, and that they really meant it, and sure I'd go. Why not?
Well, I could cite lots of reasons why not to have gone now. It was your basic mixer. Lots of hungry Harvard freshmen, a few super-self-confident Harvard sophomores -- they'd been through this scene before--and more non-Cliffies than you see on a Friday night in the Square.
The dining hall was dim, the music was loud, and there were lots of people milling around. As usual, few were dancing. Most of the girls were sitting or standing in clots, trying to look conspicuous. Most of the boys were wandering around, sizing up bods, looking for that Girl-in-the-Sky. Later on, they'd go back to their roommates and report how it was such a drag, and well, no, they hadn't met anybody.
IT WAS all so sad and yet so typical of every other mixer I'd ever been to before. What struck me this time, though, was the contrast between this mood and that of the free concert. What had happened to the excitement and joy and fraternity we'd all felt when we were standing out in the cold March air? What happened to the smiling, grinning, happy faces? Where were all those boys who had been so genuinely eager to talk, just talk, to Cliffies? What about the invitations we'd gotten to come down here anyway?
A boy overheard me tell another that I went to Radcliffe. "A Cliffie!" he shrieked in disbelief. "Honest to God? I didn't think you girls lowered yourselves to come to these things."
"Some of us do," I said. "We're girls, not just smart. We like to meet people, we like loud music, and some of us can even dance," I smiled.
His eyes looked away and roved over the crowd. "I don't date Cliffies," he said and moved on.
Wow, I thought. Fine. Great. But I wasn't asking you to take me out; I was merely trying to return the friendly invitation I received. Obviously, this boy wasn't interested in meeting me, Cliffies in particular, or any other girl in the room, for that mater.
In fact, few boys seemed to be trying to meet girls at all. Either they cruised around the room aimlessly, or they appeared to be having token conversations. I overheard the usual, "What courses are you taking?" "When I was in Europe last summer. . . ." "Do you know. . . ." But nothing more substantial or personal than that.
IT WAS all so superficial, so guarded, so deliberately light, and a little bit phony. It was exactly the kind of unsatisfying human interaction that I thought people at Harvard were trying to get away from when they invited us to the "so aptly named" spring festival at Adams house.
Maybe we weren't supposed to go to the mixer. But someone had announced it at the concert. And the pink sheet said we were invited to music in the afternoon and to spend the night(s) at Adams House. There we were promised "the joyful transformation of our daily life and the end of alienation."
But we certainly weren't welcomed at the mixer. In fact, these people seemed oblivious to any festival of life, and they weren't aware of one more girl's presence. There was absolutely no feeling of community at the mixer. There was only the feeling of people desperately on the make.
There was enough competitiveness and defensiveness in that dining room to make any attempt at communication inappropriate and completely out of the question. Besides, nobody seemed interested in talking to anyone else. People looked uneasy whenever the music stopped. That was a signal to start talking, and that was what everyone feared most. People were content to dance their hearts out impersonally, but not to reveal their hearts in a personal conversation.
Each one remained an anonymous individual, safe and insular. Was this a way out of alienation and into joy as the pink sheet promised? On the contrary, it was self-defense and nothing more. There was no life at the Adams House Blizzard Mixer. There was only survival.
THE MIXER reminded me of Harvard-Radcliffe relations in general. There was that same insidious lack of communication that is so characteristic of university life here. The fact that I was one of three (that I counted) Cliffies there, that being a Cliffie was a strike against me, that I thought Adams House wanted to meet me, and that nobody knew that--a real communications breakdown of the first order.
Why can't we simply admit this fact? We want to meet you, Harvard, and you want to meet us -- at least those of you who aren't wrongly afraid of us do. Why can't we get together? It's such a tragedy. We have so much to give to each other, to share with each other, and to learn from each other. We want to know each other as people first, not as dates or as members of a "relationship," but as men and women with something to say to each other.
But it's so hard to meet people naturally around here. We all know that. You can't meet anyone in a large lecture course. You're too busy taking notes, and then you have to dash from a section in Holyoke Center to a class in the Fogg. And how many people get into the Loeb crowd or on the Yearbook or the CRIMSON? Extracurricular activities--the few that there are--are out. And what else is there? Mixers? Ha. Dorm parties? You need a date, which means you already know someone. Nobody gets invited as a single. There are no open dorm parties at Harvard. What else is there? Nothing.
WHAT THIS PLACE needs so desperately is a student union. Not a Hilles penthouse or the Lehman Hall that was, but a real place where we can go and have something to eat, music to listen to, and people to meet informally, without any pressure. Where people will accept you as someone who didn't feel like studying that night or talking to the same dorm people, but as someone who wanted to meet some new people.
This is what co-educational living is all about, and if we can't have that for awhile, then we should have a substitute and soon. Aren't we tired of all or nothing relationships? Aren't we limited by knowing only a few people casually and even fewer well? Isn't it about time we did something to make our four, brief, crucial years here count for something more than a few A's and B's? Isn't the time long, long overdue to put an end to our self-imposed loneliness?
Yes, but how many of us are capable of that? All of us are, but too few realize it. How many of us can drop our defenses, stop protecting our slick Harvard exteriors, and start treating each other as warms, sensitive human beings? How many of us are able to celebrate a festival of life at this point? The concert said a few. The mixer said not many. The fact is that most of us are psychologically incapacitated. And this may be the real tragedy after all.