Three girls sit cross-legged on a towel, huddled together on the bathroom floor. It’s three o’clock in the morning, and only tentative whispers disrupt the silence. On the other side of the door, 11 girls and two counselors lie fast asleep. On this side, secrets and anxieties are released. The tornado in a bottle is finally uncapped.
Three girls sit cross-legged on a bathroom floor, letting go of inhibitions and confiding in one another, letting expressed vulnerabilities cement budding connections into deep friendships.
Growing up, I went to sleep-away summer camp. The constant contact and close living quarters of camp speed up the process of building trust, quickly creating deep bonds. Moments like the aforementioned scene of covert exchanges, moments of honest interpersonal connection, make camp a place where you can meet someone new and become best friends in a week. “Deep Meaningful Conversations,” which were frequent enough to warrant an acronym, were the foundation of all camp friendships.
However, even if the circumstances are right and you find yourself wanting to befriend someone, you must be willing to take a risk. You must be willing to give a part of yourself to the other person, who may still be an unknown entity. Covert bathroom floor conversations are impossible without this willingness. You cannot build relationships without making yourself vulnerable.
Vulnerability is terrifying. When we are vulnerable, we acknowledge parts of ourselves that scare us. We take things we want to hide and share them with another. It’s unburdening, but it forces us to acknowledge a reality we may want to avoid. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s hands. They can choose to reject us, ignore us, invalidate us. Those 3 a.m. conversations were a risk. I didn’t know those girls. They could have gossiped about my secrets. But they didn’t. They supported me and became a source of strength.
When preparing myself for the transition from high school to college, I expected a camp-like social experience. I anticipated sitting on a hallway floor and sharing my fears with that kid from calculus class. Maybe that’s a romanticized picture, colored by movies and young adult novels, but I did expect the insular environment to put friendships on hyper-speed.
Thus far, that has not been my experience.
My friendships at Harvard have been slow-building. DMCs are few and far between. People are eager to talk about the hot political topics, but less willing to discuss their own emotions.
I think the issue boils down to a fear of vulnerability. The Harvard culture of achievement infiltrates the social sphere. If we all want to be the best, do the most, and score the highest, we leave little room to admit our faults, our failures, and our fears. Vulnerability may mean confessing that we are struggling, and that, it seems, is no way to climb the ladder of success.
It’s not uncommon to hear an overworked student exclaim, “I’m so stressed. I’m dying!” People do share their struggles, but often they present a faux-vulnerability. We complain, but the underlying message is that we are capable and can handle all the difficulties we face. Shallow presentations of emotion keep relationships at surface-level and prevent people from recognizing true distress. We are comfortable expressing our superficial issues, but the deep struggles stay locked inside.
So, the tornado stays in the bottle, and we spiral on our own. This refusal to acknowledge struggle is ultimately self-defeating because isolation only makes the hard times harder. The need for reliable support networks is not revolutionary, but it is often neglected. We all strive for success, and we want to achieve it on our own.
But we’re not here just for the grades or the degree or the job. We also came here to be surrounded by diverse, interesting people. Simple as it may sound, we came here to make friends. I have felt how difficult it is to laugh about how much work I have when internally I am barely holding it together. I have felt how difficult it is to tough it alone.
I know, however, that if I want to form meaningful relationships then I may just have to be the one to leap first. I am terrified of making myself vulnerable to people who may not care about me, but relationships that may form down the road override my fear in the moment. I’ll start and I hope you’ll join me. Here are my vulnerabilities for the world to see:
I’m Romy. I struggle with anxiety, feel deeply lonely at least four times a week, and sometimes wonder how I will make it through the semester.
If you want to talk about any of this, I’ll be sitting cross-legged on the bathroom floor at three o’clock in the morning. Bring a towel.
Romy Dolgin '21, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Holworthy Hall.