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Making an effort

<p>Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.pexels.com/photo/arms-bonding-closeness-daylight-1645634/" target="_self">rawpixels</a></p>

Photo Credit: rawpixels

After four years of writing an ersatz advice column for The Daily Princetonian, I am writing what is likely my last column, reflecting on the wisdom I’ve gained over my time at the University. Looking through my columns is much like reading a diary: I get to see all the things that have bothered, uplifted, and saddened me at Princeton. During sophomore year, I wrote what I believe to be my most poignant column about dealing with depression, and a year later I came to the conclusion that it was okay to be single — all on the pages of the ‘Prince.’ It’s been a pleasure and a joy to hear from people who felt I had voiced their feelings in my columns, and I’m sad to see that experience come to a close.

Despite occasional forays into other subjects, my column has focused primarily on relationships, be they with friends, significant others, or with ourselves. They have been integral to my time at Princeton, just as they are to everyone’s four years here. From empathy, rejection, and appreciation to asking for forgiveness from my best friend, I’ve talked about it all. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned over all of these experiences — and reflecting on them in my columns — it is that relationships require effort, especially at Princeton, where there are so many demands on our attention and our time.

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Especially in quarantine, now that our friends don’t live next door and aren’t physically in class with us, we have to actually make time to interact. It’s not as easy as walking into the dining hall and spotting a friend to have dinner with anymore — it now requires sending a message, scheduling a time, and following through on those plans. It requires showing consistent care for the people in your life, whether it be calling them when they’re sad, sending them tokens of your appreciation, or helping them with their homework. We now have to take the initiative to maintain our relationships — with everyone, from friends to professors to love interests.

While this lesson is especially clear in quarantine, this is also the case in life. No matter where you are or what situation you’re in, maintaining relationships requires effort. I’ve had arguments with my friends — and even lost some — as a result of this: even when we are on campus, it’s hard to devote the kind of energy necessary to cultivate vibrant friendships and romantic relationships. You still need to set aside time, show involvement, and be emotionally available to them. Once we’ve graduated and entered the real world, this is still the case: these people don’t disappear, but our willingness to make the effort needed to keep them in our lives sometimes does, as our new jobs and new friends and new hobbies take precedence.

Over four years of reflecting on my relationships, I’ve come to the conclusion that many of the unpleasant situations I’ve written about might have been avoided if I’d just tried a little harder. I might not have hurt my best friend’s feelings had I taken the time to consider his point of view. I might have received a better grade in the class had I gone to office hours more often and cultivated a relationship with the professor. Building connections takes work: psychological, physical, and spiritual. Nevertheless, we so often forget this — so often, in fact, that I’ve made a column out of it.

As quarantine goes on and our friendships feel ever more distant, this message becomes increasingly timely — especially for seniors, who won’t have the luxury of returning to their friendships in the fall. Now, more than ever, we need to show our friends, significant others, lab TAs, and professors that we care. Send them a quick email or text. Send them a package that you know will make them smile. Have a meal together over video call. Work on your theses together. Synchronously work out. That effort will make a difference: no relationship can survive without both involved parties putting in the work it requires, just as a flower cannot grow without both sun and water.

In the last few weeks of my undergraduate career, I have been looking at all of the “flowers” I’ve planted, and wishing I’d done a better job. There were times I didn’t spend enough time with a particular person, and times when I didn’t reach out enough to someone else. Conversely, there were times when individuals didn’t make enough of an effort to spend time with me — and, eventually, I got fed up with having to be the one to put in the effort every time.

With that said, I’m not sure that there’s anything I’d change. I’ve learned a lot, and I kept the relationships that enhanced (rather than drained) my life the most. My only hope is that others will be able to learn from my mistakes over the past four years and cultivate the tools to preserve the connections they make with the precious people in their lives.

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Leora Eisenberg is a senior from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at leorae@princeton.edu.

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