My sophomore year of college I had this roommate named Jen, who at the time was a senior bio major gunning to be a nurse after graduation.
She came from Big Bear, CA, was the eldest of a tight-knit family of four children and a single dad, and had just a few friends at school. Most nights she spent working on homework or watching television on her laptop. Her schedule would proceed as follows:
4 p.m.: Arrive back at the dorm from a full day of classes.
5 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Sleep.
9 p.m. – 5 or 6 a.m.: Work/Watch TV.
6 a.m. – 9 a.m.: Sleep.
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Class.
Technically speaking, she was getting around 7 or 8 hours of sleep each day, but broken up into segments. This sort of lifestyle was only possible if a person had little to no social life.
I have since lost contact with Jen — she’s not on social media, her school email became deactivated after a while, and when I switched to a new phone, I lost her number. I often wonder what happened to her.
I remember this one night I asked her, “What’s your biggest aspiration in life?” Most students at an elite institution of higher education would spell out some grandiose plan to become a leader of the United States, a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a founder of a world-changing NGO. Dreams stacked on dreams; rarely did you hear anyone pine for less.
Her reply: “I want to own a house.”
That blew me away. It was so simple and so beautiful. Here she was at one of the best universities in the nation, earning a degree in something that would undoubtedly lead to countless opportunities … and her biggest aspiration in life was simply to own a house.
I knew very little of her then, and I’ll know even less of her now. It’s funny the people you hang on to in the post-grad maelstrom. There are of course your core group of besties, but even communication with them dies down after the first few months. There are the relationships you try to hang on to because there were good times had, but the maintenance of such ties requires too much effort. Then there are relationships that you rekindle, new people you meet, and a whole set of different friends that you move on to.
Everyone else becomes like Jen — a fond memory, but someone you are unlikely to speak to or run into ever again. The only difference is that with Jen, I have no way of reaching out to her. She’s lost to me. With the rest of my acquaintances, I’m connected through Facebook and various social media platforms. I always have the option of chatting them up. I simply choose not to.
Is that what 95 percent of my relationships are fated to become though? A series of Jens who I can only wonder about?
I recently procured a Tinder in which I present myself as a ridiculous, party-crazy, Vegas-lover. On Tinder you make snap second judgements of a person based on a small photograph or two and maybe a few trite lines of summary. You could claim that Tinder is superficial, “you can’t really get to know a person this way.” But that’s the point isn’t it? You never truly know a person. You could be roommates with a person for a whole year and only know that her biggest dream is to own a house. “Dream: own a house.” There, four words and you know as much about the essence of Jen as I know.
You could love someone for years, you could live with someone for decades, and you still don’t really, truly know them. Maybe Kanye West is on to something with his narcissism schtick.
Love yourself, because there is no one else who can love you or know you more than you. For the people worth hanging on to, don’t let them turn into Jens. If we’re all isolated islands of thought and emotion in the end … well fuck it, at least be an island everyone comes to party with.