Everybody flakes

Opinion by Ethan Chua
Feb. 28, 2017, 12:24 a.m.

As a Stanford student, I’ve had to grapple with all sorts of challenges, ranging from calculating orthonormal bases to explaining the symbolic qualities of Raphael’s Transfiguration. But, one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever faced is answering the question: “So, when are we all free to meet up?”

Scheduling a hangout with a group of friends sounds simple in principle, but is nigh impossible in practice. At first, Friday seems fine, but then it turns out someone has a chemistry midterm; on Saturday, a couple of friends have to rehearse for a play; on Sunday, there’s a cappella rehearsal; on Monday, internship interviews and problem sets abound. Someone sends out a when2meet link. Then there’s a Doodle poll, followed by a Facebook one. After all the votes are in, everyone settles on Thursday night. But when Thursday night comes around, half of the group doesn’t show up. The reasons why are varied: unfinished essays, office hours with a computer science TA, procrastinated grant applications, oversleeping. But that, it seems, is how life works at Stanford. When everyone is so busy and accomplished, you can’t expect them to always show up.

One thing I’ve learned after coming to Stanford is that people here have vastly different priorities: some students want to take advantage of academic opportunities, some students want to apply for lucrative internships, some students are dedicated to a particular performative or extracurricular activity, others want to get involved in cutting-edge research. These are all admirable endeavors and a central part of Stanford culture. But, nevertheless, I find myself disquieted by how relationships are often left out of students’ priorities because of how our culture glamorizes the markers of personal achievement.

We all want the shiny new tech job. We all want the thousand-dollar research grant. We all want the writing prize. We all want the concert hall solo. So we put the time in for the things we want, knowing that it takes a lot of work to get there. But when it comes to relationships, we often want trustworthy friends, understanding lovers and rewarding sex — except without having to put in the same time.

We’d never skip out on an interview with Morgan Stanley or Facebook, so why is it so easy for us to cancel on the San Francisco trip with friends we’d planned for weeks? We’d never miss a chance to sit down and grab dinner with our dream research adviser, so why is it so hard to make that same time for the people we care about? We applaud classmates and peers who spend summers interning at tech firms or planning public policy, but we rarely have the same respect for those who choose to spend summers at home with their families or catching up with friends who study elsewhere.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with prioritizing academic success or career advancement over relationships. Stanford students come from a diverse range of backgrounds and cultures, and this naturally translates to distinct goals and priorities for each individual; we all want different things from our Stanford experience. And the time we have here is ours to use however we see fit — and that can mean 20 unit quarters for one student or a plethora of extracurriculars for another. But what is troubling is how, at Stanford, we tend to respect those who prioritize achievement over those who prioritize their relationships, and we tend to chase after that respect ourselves. We value being productive over being caring; we value being busy over being present.

The truth is relationships take a while to build. They require time, commitment and vulnerability. Perhaps we should start recognizing that friendships take work — admittedly, a different kind of work from what we put into our problem sets and job applications — but work, all the same. Perhaps we should start treating the time we spend on our relationships with the same respect as we do with the time spent on our personal goals. And perhaps we should start treating the time other people make for us — for dinner, coffee, movies or even a quick check-in — with that respect, too.


Contact Ethan Chua at [email protected]

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