Best part about being in college: you’re never really alone. Worst part about being in college: you’re really NEVER alone. And when you’re forced to carry out every task—from the perfunctory and mundane to the private and uncomfortable—in close proximity with thousands of other students, things have a tendency to get, well, awkward. Here are just a few of the many everyday campus occurrences that make me feel awkward:
When the only socks I have left in my drawer are my knee-length holiday-themed ones, this is usually the sign that it’s time to decontaminate my wardrobe. But something about hauling my mesh bag of dirty personals up and down stairwells makes me entirely uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s the number of times I’ve been caught in the act of removing someone else’s clothes from a washer because I’m too impatient to wait for them to do it themselves. (Oh, are these your intimate undergarments in my hand, cute guy in my Lit class who lives down the hall from me?) Perhaps it’s my incapacity to transfer my wet clothes to a dryer without dropping at least half the clothing articles on the floor. Or maybe it’s because whenever my washer claims to have one minute left, it ends up spinning wildly around and making disconcerting cranking sounds for about five days while I stand there asphyxiating in panic, wondering what the punishment is for overloading and subsequently destroying a washing machine.
Not looking my best.
I appreciate the sentiment, Drake, but whenever I’m in my sweatpants with my hair tied, chilling sans the enhancement of cosmetic products, I’m often feeling far from my prettiest. Though I try to look presentable as often as possible, there are inevitably going to be times when I roll into Lower on a Saturday morning looking like a slovenly hobgoblin emerging from the dark bowels of my cave dwelling for the first time in three centuries. I’d love to float about campus every day looking as polished and put together as a collegiate Kate Middleton but—as I occasionally experience sickness, or stress, or unabashed laziness—sometimes I simply neglect to beautify my exterior, and I sulk through the day wishing I had a way of offering a campus-wide apology for my appearance, or at least a paper bag I could pull over my head.
Casual lunch dates with people I don’t know well.
Who decided that the best time to catch up/get to know someone is when you’re in the process of ingesting a New England Classic? After my acquaintance and I tango through the uncomfortable process of locating each other at our meeting place (I’m sitting at that table by the back entrance! No, not that one, the other back entrance!), frantically deliberating what food choice will make me look the least grotesque as I am consuming it, waiting for one another to buy food, ascertaining a table, and delving into some stiff small talk, we now have to contend with trying to answer one another’s questions while charmingly chomping away on a mouthful of frips. Trying to come across as cool/clever/sexually appealing while simultaneously masticating is just too much for a girl to handle.
Being unable to swipe into a dorm building.
Trying to enter a dorm building that is not your own requires stealth and inconspicuousness, two qualities that I unfortunately cannot boast. Whenever I see people heading towards the same building as me, I’ll powerwalk up behind them so aggressively that they’ll change their destination and flee away, not wanting to be responsible for letting a possible sociopath loose in their residence hall. If people are standing in the lobby within sight of the door, I’ll attempt a theatrical pantomime of digging through my bag for the nonexistent card that would grant me access to the building, only to be openly ignored. The worst, however, is when no one is even in sight, and I’m left standing behind the partitioned glass in the lobby like a sad dog left outside in the rain—my phone self-consciously pressed to my ear so it looks like I’m calling someone who lives in the building to come retrieve me—as I wait for someone to pass by.
Group fitness classes.
I love exercise. I love exercising with other people. But as often as I attend group fitness classes at the Plex, sweating with strangers never fails to make me feel awkward. Maybe it’s all the compromising Sun Salutation-type poses I must arrange my body into on my mat. Maybe it’s my utter inability to cut loose in Zumba classes, as I am about as sensuous as a potted plant. Maybe it’s because, after an hour of squatting and jumping and burpee-ing, I’m usually glistening like freshly glazed ham. Even though tossing around free weights and doing some jumping jacks on a basketball court full of your peers is always more enjoyable than chugging away on a treadmill alone, I can’t help but feel a bit self-conscious when all must bear witness to my conspicuous bodily perspiration.
Sitting alone in a dining hall.
Though you may choose to get a soup and salad for dinner, as you have no patience for the demoralizing task standing in line for food, that won’t necessarily stop the friend you’re dining with from joining the notoriously lengthy steak-and-cheese queue. In such cases, a significant time gap can occur between the time you sit down with your meal and the time your friend joins you, forcing you to start eating your dinner alone like you’re Steven Glansberg. I can pull out a book, continuously refresh all the social media feeds on my phone, or even compose imaginary text messages and make a big show of looking around the room so it appears that I am attempting to communicate my table location to my hundreds of friends, but no matter what I do, sitting unaccompanied during prime dining hours always ends up making me feel like a neon sign is flashing above my head that says “Caution: Social Pariah.”
Somehow, I have managed to avoid this quintessential college experience (natural triple in Kostka, get at me!) but I can imagine that everything about this situation—from romping through the hallways in my towel, to waiting for an available shower, to carrying out every facet of my extensive morning and night beauty regimen in the company of my hall mates—would make me feel distinctly, incredibly, unbearably awkward.
Actually, now that I think about it…
These things also make me feel awkward: Holding doors open for people. Shopping for presents for my parents’ birthdays in the bookstore. Having to tell the dining hall cashier how many cookies you have hidden in your bag. Having to interact with your roommates’ guy friends after you’ve already gotten yourself ready for bed. Waiting for an elliptical to open up. Waiting for a bus. Public transportation in general. Dancing at a party when no one else is dancing. Dancing at parties in general. Going to a professor’s office hours. Going to a public restroom. Being the first to show up to class. Being the last to show up to class. Having to pick partners in class. Trying to meet up with people for group projects. Group projects in general…
Anything and everything can become a sort of discomfort if we let it be. Until we stop caring so much about what others think, and start becoming more comfortable with ourselves and with our environment, we will spend our lives in a perpetual state of self-consciousness. And that’s really awkward.