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In case you've been too busy writing your thesis to notice, spring is almost upon us. The bolder of songbirds have returned to serenade early risers. Crocuses (or is it crocii?) are sprouting through the meager snowdrifts that characterize winter 1997. The gallow-like wooden steps that protect winter visitors to Widener library from ice-under-toe will soon be removed, and landscapers will begin working round the clock to re-carpet the Yard with emerald sod. Californians will cease complaining about the "brutal" Boston climate. But a plurality of us probably won't notice the seasons changing unless it might be the basis for an essay question on the midterm exam of some forsaken science core.
March and April mean midterms, papers and job applications. Whither our biological alarm clocks? Where, praytell, is our spring fever, our raging hormones? Ah, you reply, this is Harvard and we forego such pleasures. After all, everyone knows there's no sex here. But to say that Harvard students are sexually repressed is platitudinous. For many years, Harvard's tireless cadre of dilettantish social critics and pseudo-intellectual newspaper columnists have decried the lack of "healthy" sexual activity at the College. Even the venerable New York Times jumped on the bandwagon. In a recent article on megatrends in college dating, the Times pointed to the "atrophied social skills" of students at elite universities.
The propagation of this truism begins even when we are in the womb of our Harvard careers. Pre-frosh are told to expect four years of near monastic conditions. In a scene that can be likened to a weaning infant bidding farewell to his final bottle, first-years watch mournfully as they learn how to unroll a condom on a wooden penis. Lamenting Eros' death at Harvard is like watching the State of the Union address; it's not at all revealing, but still important enough to ruin a night of TV. In truth, the weighty miasma of chastity that hangs over Harvard merely clouds a deeper problem that no one wants to address: Harvard students are afraid of intimacy.
Sexual dissatisfaction is only a superstructure reflection of the fact we scared of getting close to one another. At parties, we blare music for people to enjoy themselves without feeling burdened to converse. We reserve wayside salutations for only our closet friends, often not acknowledging longtime acquaintances. Upperclass students, how many of the people in your entries do you actually know by name? And how often have you used the anonymity of e-mail instead of the telephone, even to communicate with someone who lives a few rooms away?
The majority of people with whom we "socialize" know little more about us than what is contained in the headings of our resumes. Perhaps divulging anything more intimate would be a bad career move. Maybe sharing an emotion or two might jeopardize our chances at becoming president or winning a Nobel or Pulitzer. After all, having anything beyond our curricula vitae renders us vulnerable. But vulnerable to what? Will the supermarket tabloids really lambaste us for disclosing to a study partner how our day was? Are we honestly so important that we must protect our egos at the expense of that which makes us human?
This is not to recommend that we should rush out to share the traumas of our childhood with the individual sleeping next to us in Ec 10. A culture of over-sensitive narcissists is almost as unfortunate as the present protocol of coldness, distance and barrier-building. Yet how can we expect to get someone in bed with us if we can barely tackle conversation that revolves around subjects other than our job searches or how overworked we are?
Too many students at Harvard hunger for human affection. Some solve the problem by living vicariously through the gossiped lives of others. After all, it is considerably easier to discuss the affections of others than to acknowledge our own. It's likewise less painful to mask our failings in a veil of situational celibacy than to wrestle with the deeper, more troubling lack of human closeness. It doesn't have to be this way. It's springtime, damn it.
Gabriel B. Eber's column appears on alternate Saturdays.
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