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Op Eds

Fellow Freshmen, This Housing Day, Let’s Just Be Friends

By Nina I. Paneque, Crimson Opinion Writer
Nina I. Paneque ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

I was never very cool in high school.

Maybe “cool” isn’t the right word — I did have a social life (sort of). What I’m trying to say is that I never had a big group of friends. I’m quite intentional about who I choose to devote my time to, and it never seemed worth it for me to base a connection on something shallow.

Instead, I chose a few good friends that I’m still close with even after moving for school — our relationships were never built on foundations of convenience or proximity, so a few thousand miles didn’t change much.

Then I got to Harvard, where making friends — like everything else on campus — isn’t easy or natural. With Housing Day looming near, it has become a task grounded in strategy and approached with forethought — maybe even a little transactional.

Of course, it’s incredibly difficult to build friendships organically in a world where we can’t see each other smile in person or freely hang out without worrying about getting sick. Our offhand comments to “grab a meal sometime” are bound to be less sincere if solely for logistic purposes. Now, everything is planned.

But does that mean everything must also be calculated?

Blocking has been a complete nightmare, and I’m one of the lucky ones. Having spent the fall semester on campus, I was at least able to meet a few of my classmates. Still, there have been moments where I have felt not just lonely, but completely alone. I have felt unwanted and disliked. Unworthy.

Many of my peers aren’t at Harvard solely for academics. We’re here to rub elbows with future Nobel Laureates and be in breakout rooms with Junior Olympians. In short, we’re here for the “network” — whatever that means exactly. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that was part of the allure for me too when I enrolled.

So I think that when it came time to blocking, a lot of people hit the ground running. Conversations were premeditated weeks, if not months, in advance. Comfort and shared interests weren’t the only metrics used to assess potential blockmates — social implications were also taken into account. There was an element of cunning in a process that should have been grounded in nothing more than personal connection.

I’m still not sure if that’s a product of Covid-19 or just an aspect of life at Harvard I totally didn’t see coming.

Besides the question of who your blockmates are, there’s the added dimension of how many you can call your own. Do you have seven? If not, surely you must have five? Who are you linking with? God forbid you’re an international student taking classes at 3 a.m. and blocking alone — I’ve heard floating described as “social suicide.” Harvard could give Regina George a run for her money with as many people as I’ve seen get hurt in the past week.

Blocking is an outdated tradition that — while always being difficult for students — has especially failed to account for our present, very messed up world. I’m not sure it’s possible to form strong connections with seven people after one semester in regular times. The College is asking the freshman class to do that without having ever met in person.

I know all this and still found myself crying on a few occasions. Why have I been so torn up about it?

I’ve never been someone who felt the need to count my friends, or who was insecure about my ability to make them. I’m confident in the few but strong relationships I’ve built. More importantly, I’m excited to continue to meet the rest of my class over the next three years. But the blocking debacle made me feel as though the friends I made weren't good enough somehow.

Blocking has become this metric through which we judge ourselves and each other — how we measure the relationships we’ve had and those we’ve failed to build. And, somewhere down the line, we might have allowed it to convince us that we haven’t connected as deeply as we thought. Because, in our minds, could it really be possible that you’re close with someone if they don’t want to block with you?

Out of the fear that whatever (or however many) friends we’ve made aren’t enough, we’ve stopped waiting for things to happen naturally. We’ve allowed friendships to become about more than mutual trust and appreciation. We’ve done what competitive Harvard students do: we adapt.

I worry that in manipulating something so delicate as friendship, we run the risk of also soiling the very thing we seek.

So to my classmates: We cannot continue to approach every interaction with the expectation that we are getting something out of it for ourselves. We must not judge each other for not having enough — or any — blockmates. It doesn’t mean the time you’ve spent here hasn’t been meaningful.

Instead, let’s have the courage to be clear about where we stand with each other from the beginning. Let’s say what we think and be open about what we feel. More importantly, let’s just be friends and forget the rest.

Nina I. Paneque ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.

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