This past Friday and Saturday, I experienced the death of the weekend firsthand. The news hit me fast and hard: the realization that there are no more $6 screenings at “Metro Movies,” no more hanging out in friends’ dorm rooms, no more eating out in crowded restaurants along Main Street, no more student-run theater shows where the audience is practically sitting on top of each other, and certainly no more parties.
On Friday night, after my friends and I ate our food that we picked up from a restaurant downtown, we wondered what to do next. The air was becoming chilly, it was getting dark outside, and the bugs were starting to eat us alive. We couldn’t hang out in each other’s rooms, and there wasn’t the usual plethora of on-campus events. Since we didn’t want to go to bed at 7:30 p.m., we decided our best option was to go to Exley where we sat outside the Science Library (Sci-Li) and played multiple games of cards. While it was a fun stint, it was eerily quiet. I presumed more people would have taken advantage of the large communal space Exley offers. However, besides the few people who walked through the building, we were all alone. This made me question, “What are other students possibly doing right now?” My friends shrugged. We couldn’t come up with any good answers then, and I still can’t now.
Fortunately, I have a car on campus, so we decided to kill time by going out for ice cream. I drove to Price Chopper where we ate our ice cream in the car and people watched in the parking lot. I wondered, “Is this how I’m going to spend my Friday nights in college?” As we drove back to campus, our curiosity about other people’s whereabouts overcame us, and we decided to take a detour down Fountain Avenue. As we drove down the street, we witnessed a group of girls bouncing excitedly into one house, and a maskless game of beer pong in the backyard of another house. I guess some things really never change. After parking the car, we decided to call it a night. It was only 10:00 p.m.
Saturday night wasn’t much better. I attended the screening of “The Mentalists” on Foss Hill which was basically a giant Zoom call that happened to be live-streamed on YouTube. While I understand the University is trying their best to provide us with entertainment, I felt like staying in my room and watching Netflix would’ve yielded a similar experience. Afterward, I had dinner and hung around outside talking with some friends in the courtyard before calling it in around 9:45 p.m. I ended up spending the rest of the night doing laundry and FaceTiming a friend.
The phrase, “new normal” has been pervasive throughout the periods of lockdowns and quarantines to the point where it’s become a cliché, but it also couldn’t be more accurate. This is the new normal. It’s hard to even remember that there was a time when we didn’t have to wear a mask everywhere. Yet life rolls on. The daily grind is still tough. Our days are still filled to the brim with classes, jobs, homework, and meetings. And, we must still work with our professors, bosses, administrators, and parents. While the weekends used to be a brief respite from our responsibilities and worries, they’re now virtually indistinguishable from the weekday. We sit in our room seven days a week to attend class, to study, and to sleep. It is entirely possible for us to spend all day in our dorm rooms without realizing that we never went outside that day; this will only continue to worsen as the temperature drops. It is easy under these conditions to stick to what we know and to stop reaching out to other people.
While going to parties, or to the movies, or hanging out on Foss may seem trivial, their loss can compound over time. This summer, I volunteered at a crisis text line where one of the most common reasons for texting in was the feeling of loneliness and not having anywhere, or anyone, to turn to in a time of need. What may start out as innocent boredom can easily lend itself to severe loneliness and isolation. While there was once a time when we could rely upon the University to entertain us and facilitate our social life, those times are gone, and they aren’t coming back any time soon. Therefore, it is up to us to come together as a community to cultivate safe opportunities to socialize. It is our collective responsibility as members of a community to make sure that we don’t let each other fall through the cracks. Attending a secret, exclusive party isn’t only bad for public health; it’s bad for mental health. Those who don’t follow the rules put themselves and their community at risk by having a good time, while those who abide by the rules wonder why their weekends aren’t as fun, or as glamorous, as others’.
Due to the varying degrees of comfort students have with socializing during a pandemic, it is difficult to offer concrete solutions. A situation that some students may be comfortable with may make other students anxious. In the spirit of inclusivity, broad solutions I can offer for opportunities to socialize are to: join clubs that plan on having safe, socially-distant in-person events/activities (it is hard to bond with people over Zoom!), introduce yourself, be open to hanging out with the residents on your hall, and meeting mutual friends through your roommate, classmates, etc., in order to expand your social network. This is not the semester we envisioned, but it is imperative that we keep honoring the code of conduct we all signed while trying to have the social experience that forms the core of college life.
I may have declared the weekend to be dead, but if we act fast, a resurrection is possible.
Zoe Genden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org