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Close quarters prevent privacy

I do not generally consider myself an antisocial person, but I find myself infected with a growing obsession to get away from people.

Personal space is an elusive, often impossible goal at Princeton, unless one lives in a single. My two roommates and I had one of the worst draw times last year, thus ending up in a two-room triple built for two people. Although I don't parade about in the nude or engage in behavior generally considered especially embarrassing or hate my roommates, I still need to be alone sometimes.

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My roommates have as equal a right to be in our room as I do. Our collectively erratic schedules are such that there is an equal likelihood of someone being asleep in the bedroom while two people are awake in the common room at 3 a.m. as at 3 p.m. The ironic result is that I often resort to going into public to achieve the next closest thing to privacy.

Last night while one roommate slept in the bedroom, the other studiously typed her paper. To avoid disturbing her intense literary production and to get some "privacy," I went to the hallway, only to run into my neighbor in an identical predicament — cordless phone in tow, hand pressed to the other ear to drown out noises from the entryway. I tried to alleviate the congestion by going upstairs, only to have the static become unbearable.

Other less-than-satisfactory solutions I've attempted include taking a walk along the towpath, venturing into the pseudo-anonymity of Nassau Street or hiding in the fluorescent silence of a study room. While Carnegie Lake is breathtakingly picturesque, practical considerations such as an upbringing in a temperate climate and a relative aversion to extreme cold prevent me from traipsing over there at whim. Nassau Street takes a cue from the "Cheers" theme song (where everybody knows your name), as it is impossible not to encounter a familiar face no matter where one goes. Study rooms are good places when you don't want to hear anyone else, but the strange, hostile looks should one break that veil of silence veer towards the intimidating.

The cold hard reality is that college is an irreconcilably public affair. Just as I must endure the sickeningly mushy phone conversations of my roommate better suited for an AT&T commercial, so must they put up with my sporadic, 2 a.m. exercise sessions when I decide to end my month long vacation from strenuous physical activity. A private relationship in college is almost an oxymoron; few relationships can remain secret. My friends have elaborate signals — a sock on the door, code names on the message board — to prevent surprise intrusions. Even still, those very signals that seek to preserve privacy also publicize the fact that a private moment is being shared.

Princeton desperately needs some spaces for private escape. Amherst College has a few unoccupied singles in their dorms — lockable only from the inside. Students can find guaranteed privacy for a few hours, or even a night. A no-questions-asked night at McCosh Health Center simply does not provide the equivalent unpenetrable space or peace of mind that a temporary single does.

In the meantime, there are other steps that can be taken to alleviate the problem. Common courtesy and special allowances during especially stressful times can work wonders toward preserving the collective sanity. A cordless phone with over a 30-foot range helps, too. Liriel Higa is from Los Angeles, Calif. She can be reached at lshiga@princeton.edu.

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