Singin’ the Chicago Blues

First year comes with a unique sense of solitude.

By Linus Recht

Ah, the freshman blues (or first-year blues I suppose, in University of Chicago parlance). They seem to have a universal quality to them, and they seem to strike most people at just about the same time. The noise and colors of O-Week have faded, the aggressive “glad-to-meetcha” friendliness is evaporating; suddenly you notice a routine has grown up around you and you’ve already been an observer for some time. And then come the blues. Ah, the blues.

The initial excitement of college (college!!) delays their onset for obvious reasons. Furthermore, at the U of C, by merit of the books we all seem to have read and the shows we all seem to have watched, there’s often a surprisingly familiar tone to conversations, and your new friends all seem to have the sarcasm and biting wit that were so rare back home. It’s nice. It’s nice right away.

But the shared sense of humor, the ability and desire to jump into conversations with people you’ve just met, the fun and the laughter of O-Week, the “reminds you of your best friend back home” feeling so familiar to anyone who’s ever found him or herself in a new place—there’s a temptation to mistake these things for immediate and deep friendships. And though they may be eventually, they obviously can’t be so instantly entrenched. How could they be? And whoa, we’re suddenly grown-ups. That’s scary, too.

Everybody seems to suddenly realize these things at about the same time. The sense of new friendship exists, the sense of being liked is very real, but the sense of solidarity that you felt with your close friends back home just hasn’t developed yet. The walls haven’t come down. And we are social creatures, for sure—but even more so we are familial creatures. We’re seeking to create families of friends; we’ve just lost two families (our actual families and our high school friends) and we need that kind of support again. But it’s slow coming.

So we think of home. Home home home. Skypeing suddenly has a sense of panic to it. Homesickness swoops in. Hello, first-year blues.

There’s universality to this sort of crisis. In their benevolence and wisdom, those very smart persons who invented this whole “collegiate system” came up with a partial solution: roommates. The house system is fine for summer camp-esque diversions, but there’s a relationship you have with your roommate that’s somehow more personal than with any other person you could’ve met yet. It’s not just due to sheer hours spent together; there’s a vulnerability that you can’t help but expose when living with another person. There’s a trust in being with someone when you sleep. Even terrible roommates (side note: you know who you are, and please stop what you are doing) become like family surprisingly quickly. Not completely, obviously, but often close enough.

“I’m going back to the dorm,” quickly becomes “I’m going home,” and nestled in that word “home” is the implicit suggestion that when you get there, you’re going to see Josh or Lori. And you’ll talk about your day a bit. And you’ll gripe about homework. And for a few short minutes, everything will seem, if not all right, then all right-er. You’ll make it. Etcetera.

So, while I disagree with much in the staff editorial from October 3 on the problems of the new Midway House (full disclosure: I live in Midway House and enjoy it), it does have a significant problem: All but a few of the rooms in NGRH are singles. They are roomy, they are comfortable, and they induce jealousy in many of the people we bring here to tour the place. But they are not appropriate for first-years. They are not an appropriate place to ride out the first-year blues. To be totally alone for the first time is a gut-punch of an adjustment for anyone and everyone. To have to deal with it without the traditional transitional phase of having a roommate will, I anticipate, prove to be particularly difficult for Midway House. With physical walls come emotional ones, and to feel walled-in can be a very lonely thing.

There’s a quintessential and oft-described first-year feeling of being alone in a room full of people. The real solitude, however, is when you’re all by yourself at night.

Linus Recht is a first-year in the College.