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Taking on Loneliness, One Pancake at a Time

Charles J. Wells ’10, a former Crimson news executive, is pursuing a Masters in Modern European History at Cambridge University

Photo courtesy of Charles J. Wells.
Photo courtesy of Charles J. Wells.
By Charles J. Wells, Contributing Writer

This column is a part of the 2011 Senior Section's Moving On Into the Real World series.

And do you cook Korean food for yourself quite often?” my friend Lotte asked in her inquisitive British cadence.

The batter was sizzling, and I had no idea where to find a spatula. I didn’t want her to think that my quickly burning appetizers, Korean pancakes filled with spicy pickled cabbage, were teetering on the edge of disaster.

“Uh, yeah!” I lied. “I cook Korean food, like, all the time.”

So maybe I wasn’t necessarily the expert chef I’d made myself out to be when I had volunteered to cook for a few friends from my Masters program at Cambridge. Maybe I had never really concocted a large and complicated meal for anyone.

But I had grown tired of cooking and eating alone in my small cinderblock bedroom, tired of living with the problem my Harvard friends and I had discussed too frequently in the months since graduation: chronic loneliness.

Harvard students spend their evenings chatting with roommates in common rooms, gossiping with classmates over coffee at Lamont Café, and whining with fellow brain break frequenters while smearing cream cheese onto bagels at 3 in the morning.

Harvard alums, though, often spend their nights in great and seemingly perpetual solitude. Bankers eat takeout alone at their desks, political campaigners microwave solitary meals in hotel rooms along the Interstate, and graduate students forage for coupons and cheap sustenance.

Over Skype, one of my friends working in New York told me that she had started holding dinner parties for friends on weeknights to fill the silence of her gorgeous but empty Upper East Side apartment. She encouraged me to do the same.

“Not only will you save money, but you’ll also make new friends and feel better about yourself,” she said, sounding a bit like a late-night infomercial for diet pills or expensive workout equipment.

A sucker for that sort of thing, I decided to give it a try.

As I searched the Internet for recipes and browsed the aisles of the supermarket, it was nice to feel as though I was accomplishing something. Graduate programs tend to have so little structure. If you don’t find small projects to start and finish beneath the shadow of a distant yet looming dissertation, you might go a little crazy.

“What about flipping them with this fork?” my friend Kevin asked as the smell of almost-burnt batter began to waft from the pan.

It was going to have to work. Nervous, I stuck the utensil under the sizzling blob and counted to three.

Moments later, the pancake sizzled—and I smiled. There, in a kitchen in England surrounded by friends who had never heard of Domna, of Board Plus, or of Adams’ inhumane dining hall restrictions, I had flipped a pancake to the other side and felt—for the first time in my postgraduate life—really, truly happy.

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SeniorsCommencement 2011