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The Saran-Wrapped Soul

There's plastic between us

Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: [email protected].

Dear Your Sorry Ass,

I’m in my third year of college at a large and prestigious STEM research school. It’s very dystopian here. I’ve tried hard to make friends—I even rushed out of desperation last year—but though I was a “legacy” and conventionally pretty, none of the sororities wanted me. I’m involved in a leftist group there that operates out of a charming old radical bookstore on campus, and I write for the school newspaper.

I feel like I’m wrapped in Saran Wrap, and I can’t ever really connect with the other kids.

But the kids in the bookstore are pretty internet-y, and I can’t seem to crack into their friend circle even after being there for a year. The newspaper students never got close with me, and this past year they’ve been going out of their way to exclude me—ever since I turned down the editor of my section after going on two “dates” over the summer. (I was under the impression that he was gay until date three.) I always thought college would be my time—though (I think) I’m friendly and kind, I’ve always had a hard time socially. I just feel like I’m wrapped in Saran Wrap, and I can’t ever really connect with the other kids. My one dear friend is graduating soon, and I’ll have another year after this one. I was wondering if you had any advice for how I should try to spend next year? Should I stop trying and dive into the depressing aloneness, or should I keep trying to win over the people in my student orgs?


Don’t Wanna Stay, Don’t Wanna Go


Dear Don’t Wanna Stay,

If you’ll allow me to engage in some vulgar class warrior hateration, may I proffer that you have in fact dodged a bullet? Even if you manage to avoid the barbarities of commonplace rituals like hazing and keggers, fraternities and sororities are elite cults. And anyway, friendships of social proximity aren’t ideal, nor are they even guaranteed by membership. Remember the infamous University of Maryland Delta Gamma email? When one ambitious college junior (graciously renamed “Julia,” perhaps to protect her from retaliation) caught wind that some of her sorority sisters were cheering for the visiting sports teams, she upbraided them with a rather harsh memo that included the famous line:

I will fucking cunt punt the next person I hear about doing something like that, and I don’t give a fuck if you SOR me, I WILL FUCKING ASSAULT YOU.

Now I’m well aware most sororities memberships do not come with threats of cunt punting, but it’s worth pointing out that “Julia” here was not merely a sister, but an “executive board member.” As a general rule, I would say it’s very fraught trying to make friends through institutions that have “executive members.” The undemocratic nature of these organizations lends itself to abuses of power. And possible cunt punting.

Likewise, while the school newspaper might seem like more of a shared activity than a job, you’re still looking at a professional atmosphere, where people are oftentimes more interested in their own bylines than befriending a colleague—and as another woman in media, let me say that I’m sorry, and not at all surprised, by your exclusion from the group after rejecting a higher-ranking man. I regret to inform you it’s not a dynamic that disappears when you enter the workforce, but at the very least you tend to have more recourse as an actual employee.

“The American Left” is still a small and provincial little scene, prone to insularity, cliquishness, and lifestylism.

I’m also not surprised by the lack of chemistry with your comrades. “The American Left” (whatever that is) is still a small and provincial little scene, prone to insularity, cliquishness, and lifestylism. Someday of course, we will be mighty enough that this won’t be a problem. Comrades will be everywhere, and you’ll be stumbling over fellow reds with whom you share an easy rapport. For now, though, it all amounts to an alienating social tendency, one that has a detrimental effect on the left as a whole (so, lefties, be friendly!).

It is one of the cruelest and most enduring myths that college would be anyone’s “time.” (The worse, related myth is that high school is a repository of lifelong friendship.) College students are on average now busier and more stressed than they have been historically; bluntly speaking, the standard undergrad age group is marked by anxiety and social awkwardness already. Making new friends is difficult for most people, but combine that with the inexperience of youth, and it can feel like there is a barrier between you and everyone else. At least your metaphor invokes Saran Wrap! That implies visibility!

My advice is simple and likely not immediately satisfying: keep moving, try new things in new surroundings, and get comfortable with yourself. A year may seem like a long time, and in terms of loneliness, it definitely is, but you’re in this weird, transient phase of your life where it’s both easy to meet people but difficult to connect with them. So you’re going to have to look around, maybe in places you don’t frequent. Expand your interests and hobbies, or at least your terrain, and you will find kindred spirits eventually. In the meantime, don’t sink into isolation, but do learn to enjoy being alone—now may be a good time to discover dining or drinking by yourself. Maybe you’re a Book at the Coffee Bar Girl! I’m a Book at the Coffee Bar Girl, and I make friends by accident half the time, even with my permanent scowl!

Sometimes you luck into friendships, but it usually takes some searching and work. Any attempts to rush it or “hack” bonds of affection are likely to backfire. So avoid getting cunt-punted, and take the time to find your people.

Want some Sorry Ass advice from The Baffler? Send your gripes and conundrums to Amber Frost at [email protected].