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Monday, September 27, 2021

Column: Freshman fail

I wish I could say I had a great relationship with my roommate freshman year.

I can’t.

Freshman year was like having a baby with Michael Cera: nine awkward months punctuated by miscarriages of social interaction.

Part of it was letting the year get off to a rocky start. The rest was allowing my rocky start to snowball into an avalanche of social ineptitude. Coming into college, I had a romanticized perception of the next four years. I figured I’d be a beast at life, have epic adventures, get laid and become best friends with my new roommate, “Jake.”

In reality, I was a scrub. My adventures were all imaginary. The only place I got my dick wet was in the shower.

Throughout fall quarter, Jake and I barely exchanged a word. During Welcome Week, we made casual conversation and I assumed it’d get easier as the year progressed. But I made the mistake of visiting friends in Berkeley during the weekend when everyone in the building got to know one another. I had a good time in Berkeley, but it wasn’t worth the trip. Amtrak fares drained half of my checking account, I slept on the floor for two nights and I made the conscious decision of hanging onto high school friends at the expense of making new ones in college. That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was not correcting my first mistake. I didn’t take the initiative to introduce myself to people in my building, and once the school year started, no one had any idea who I was. Life went downhill from there as I became more withdrawn and lost the confidence to talk to people. I ate alone, although I craved conversation.

My darkest hour came on a November morning at the DC, when I saw a couple set down two water glasses on opposite sides of a table. When they left to grab some pastries, I moved the two glasses and took a seat. They came back, and I pretended to be apologetic about my “mistake.” I sat there, engaged them in awkward conversation and ruined their intimate breakfast. That was freshman year: a miasma of the lifeless, the lonely, the boring.

Out of sheer boredom, I designed an experiment to see how long Jake and I could go without having a conversation. The experiment lasted six days, speechless moments upon speechless moments constructing a Fort Knox of golden silence and unadulterated quietude.

Once I finally broke the silence, things improved. I made a few friends, broke some ice and had a few good memories. But it was a dream diminished, and I wondered how great the year could’ve been if I had opened up, instead of retreating into a cocoon of insecurity.

So if you don’t want to be me, don’t take anything for granted. You get a blank slate in college, and no one cares who you were in high school. And even if you fuck up, you can always try to make things right.

I didn’t think I’d ever get along with Jake, but now he’s one of the few people in Davis whom I do not actively root against. That’s not to say you have to become best friends with your roommate. Some people are just fucks.

But if you try to go through college without making new friends, you’re going to have a bad time. We enjoy life through the help and society of others, not by running twisted experiments on roommates or by cock-blocking people from an intimate breakfast. Then again, maybe some of you aren’t wired to be social butterflies. Maybe you’re like my friend “Todd,” and you harbor a dream of going to Mars so you can spend six years away from humanity.

That’s cool.

Maybe it’s your destiny to be an introverted boss. Just make sure you don’t close the door on friendship too early.

BEN CHANG will engage you in awkward conversation at bcchang@ucdavis.edu.

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