Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

September 12, 2001:
Abandoning the eating club scene
One senior decides to go it alone, becoming an independent after pursuing Prospect's path

By Kristen Albertsen '02

I am Independent.

No, I am not self-employed, nor am I any more confident than your average 20-year-old; I look forward to Mom's home cooking and my birthday money as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, I am Independent, with a capital 'I'. I belong to no eating club at Princeton; I do not call Ivy or Cottage or Terrace my home. I eat tuna out of a can and cereal out of a box.

I wasn't always Independent.

When I first arrived three years ago, I saw myself as a typical Princeton freshman. I voiced opinions I was not sure were mine, I laughed at jokes I didn't find funny. I tried to cultivate a clarion soprano and a mean backhand, and I signed my name on a hundred lists and received a hundred emails in return. I was searching for myself in the context of Princeton's social straitjackets.

One Saturday night in the early fall of that year, I discovered my first eating club. I don't remember which one it was; they were all nameless to me at the time, 11 different possible means of self-definition, complete with mahogany pool tables and beer. As the weeks progressed, my friends and I would venture out to the Street on weekend nights and quiz one another as we passed the clubs, testing knowledge of names and stereotypes. Deciding what face we wanted to wear that evening: a civilized affectation in one, and wild and crazy grin in another. We would begin the night in groups of 10 or 12, and slowly lose members along the way: She was going to stay here for a little longer, he was involved in a pool game there. Soon we started crossing clubs off the evening's repertoire: That one was a loser club, the other impossible to get into. And the circles in which we rotated grew smaller, both in size and scope.

In the spring of freshman year, several friends and I settled on one particular club. On the weekends, we would walk down Prospect with assurance and purpose, our jaunty gaits directed at our chosen club. We knew upperclassmen behind the bar and on the dancefloor. We were invited to private Wednesday night parties. I, for one, felt older, mature, sure of who I was and where I belonged.

We were all lucky enough to join our chosen club in the middle of sophomore year. It was a fun, socially motivated year. That year we took a lot of pictures and ordered a lot of late-night pizzas.

Midway through junior year, I started to feel confined by the social mold I had so carefully constructed for myself. Meals, instead of fun, were frustrating; so many superfluous and banal dinner conversations eked out of relationships saturated with convenience and over-exposure. Saturday nights, instead of a blast, were boring; the same games, jokes, and beer. And the thought that nettled me incessantly was that I knew how neat and smart and cool my friends were, and yet we had grown so similar, in experience and expenditure of time, that there was nothing new left to say. I decided my strong friendships did not need to be dictated by scheduled interaction, nor my sense of self dictated by where I belonged.

And so I quit my eating club this year, my senior year, to the surprise of my parents, friends, and even myself. I have encountered sadness and resentment but also understanding and encouragement. I've been meeting fascinating new people, and been having fascinating new conversations with some of my oldest and closest friends.

When I tell people that I am an "Independent,"I receive looks of curiosity and intrigue, as opposed to the social sizing-up to which I was formerly accustomed. Call me an iconoclast, a recluse, a defector, an individual. I don't really feel like any in particular. The decision I made would not be right for everyone. In fact, I am still not completely confident I made the right decision. But I lived three years on one side of the orange and black rainbow, and feel it's time to experience the other. It's been a liberating one, this departure, a precursor of many to come.

Kristen Albertsen '02 is majoring in comparative literature. She can be reached at albertsn@princeton.edu