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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 my deep-seated introversion, I have found myself wanting to reach out to my friends while in quarantine. At Princeton, I’ve always liked to spend a lot of time alone — not because I don’t like people, but because being with them is tiring. Yet now that I am alone most of the time, I want to talk to them, interact with them, and spend time with them as much as I can.
The first week of quarantine was blissful. After discovering unheard-of quantities of free time — a commodity for any Princetonian — I decided to make myself busy. Amidst a flurry of online courses and new projects, I decided to get back into the daily yoga routine I’d abandoned freshman year, pick up three new languages (two of which I, admittedly, already had a background in), read a book a day, and relax in the evening with the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly livestream. For the eternal overachiever like myself, quarantine was heaven: I finally had the time for all of the interests I had neglected for most of my Princeton career.
As I write this, I am in the midst of a really bad day — or what is, at least, looking to be one. I tripped on a rock and got dirt on my white pants. I cannot quite bring myself to write the paper weighing on my soul. After two months and two interviews, I still don’t know if I’ve landed my summer job yet. I don’t feel very good. I cried in front of a professor. And worst of all, these events seem to have colluded in making my mood as bad as can be; I have no desire to be sociable, pleasant, or nice to the people around me.
I don’t believe that I would have liked my first-year self very much. That version of Leora was remarkably set in her ways. She stuck to certain ideas strongly, like that everyone who drank alcohol was bad, regardless of quantity and context. Sophomore Leora softened a bit — she realized some of the drinkers were OK — but she still silently vilified them and thought drinking was a mortal sin.
One of my best friends likes taking videos of me when I’m not paying attention, especially when he knows that I am about to do something dumb. Take, for example, the time when he convinced me to play a video game for the first time in my life. I thought that I would have a “safe space” to learn to play Smash Brothers. In reality, he was videoing my struggle with the gaming console. I only figured it out when I looked over at him and realized that he had stopped playing altogether and was holding back laughter.
As I near the end of my undergraduate career, I have some advice to pass on to other students: make meaningful friendships with people who share your values and (at least some) interests, explore classes outside your comfort zone, and apply for cool Princeton funding opportunities that allow you to go abroad.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been watching my friends in tech and finance find out what they’ll be doing next year. From jobs at Amazon and Google to the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey, they’re preparing themselves to be scattered across the country. Meanwhile, I sit and wait for my fellowship results to crawl into my inbox, anywhere between March and May. The wait is horrible, and I feel like a failure in the interim.
Over the course of our Princeton careers, people come and go: friends, lovers, partners, and, for some, even family members. We make regular choices about whom to keep in our lives and whom to distance ourselves from — some people we keep because they bring us joy; others we keep because they fill a specific need, be it psychological, academic, or physical. Relationships — whatever they may be — are all based on choices.
I really don’t like math. It’s absolutely terrifying: as soon as an Excel spreadsheet opens, the tears appear. I’ve cried in front of professors about it, and it never becomes less mortifying. I’ve tried to deal with my math phobia over the years by going to tutoring, asking friends for help, going to therapy, and spending hours banging my head against a wall. But more often than not, at the end of the day, I’m still really scared of math.
It was getting pretty annoying: a friend in a foreign country only ever texted me when she needed help with her English homework. She was important to me, so at first, I was happy to oblige. After the fifth or sixth time, I began getting annoyed. Then, when I visited the country, I invited her to grab dinner with me. She accepted — but later reneged and never followed up. It hurt, but it finally hit me: I was “useful” to her. I served a very specific purpose in her life, and that was to help her with English homework.
When I lie in bed at night unable to fall asleep, I reach for my phone so that I can scroll through my favorite Facebook posts — namely, the anonymous submissions on the Tiger Confessions group. The proclamations of love give me joy, and the inside jokes make me laugh. The heartfelt confessions that I find there remind me that I’m not alone in whatever I’m going through.
Studying abroad is like that whooshing feeling of freedom you get when you start college: no one knows you peed your pants in seventh grade; no one cares that you were a nerd in high school; no one knows anything about your past. After five weeks in Russia’s capital city, Moscow, I’m basking in this anonymity. It’s nice to recreate myself again.
Sometimes the only reason I can finish an assignment is by knowing I get to read a book when I’m done. The realization that I can spend time with friends after completing an essay or problem set is motivation enough to finish the job. After a long day (or perhaps just several long hours) of doing homework or paid work, it’s critically important for me to relax — be it by watching a movie or going for a walk — so much so that I’ve proactively built this time into my schedule.
I wish I could express to you how bad I am at dancing. I recently bragged to a friend of mine that someone had flatteringly told me that I “had moves.” He was stunned. “That’s a lie,” he said.
My former roommates refer to the December of my freshman year as the “Dark Ages of 2016.” My then-boyfriend and I had just broken up. I spent hours crying every day, and it was a struggle to leave my room. I didn’t eat much. I slept a lot. I listened to sad music on Spotify. The only time I left my room was to shower. It wasn’t a happy time.
I’m exhausted by the time I get to my room in the evening. Classes are tiring and my job requires mental energy and effort. But when the evening rolls around, I’m not tired because of my work and my classes so much as I am tired of interacting with people.
Sometimes, the bravest thing I’ll do all day is put my arm on the armrest of my chair. Surrounded on both sides, I often feel forced to make myself as small as possible. I don’t want to bother them. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to take up space. But I’m a living, breathing human being, and I have no choice but to do so.
Every year, when Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, rolls around, I find myself staring at a list of people I’ve offended. It takes me hours to put it together; I go through my phone contacts, Facebook, and even class rosters to mark everyone I’ve annoyed, hurt, or disappointed. The process has become automatic at this point, but it’s nonetheless unpleasant. I don’t enjoy being reminded of all the times I’ve screwed up.