An Age-Old Lesson: Quality over Quantity

Ava Raffel

Starting Duke during a pandemic has made me miss the ability to see people together. I didn’t realize how it would feel to try to have a conversation with a classmate who was sitting six feet away from you, stationed in their own bubble. When I heard that in a normal year, Marketplace was where most first years met their friends, everyone just squashed together at one long table, my jaw dropped. This year, Marketplace tables were either divided by plexiglass and six feet apart, or closed all together. I just wanted to meet other people. I wanted to be able to have what my tour guide had explained as the perfect class size, where you could go anywhere and see someone you knew, but always be around people you’d never met before. I wanted to be known and know people. I wanted to be able to return to my default friendly smile and not have it be blocked by a mask. I wanted to have a roommate, to go to parties, to games, to class in person.

I got none of those things. I didn’t have the quantity I was promised, the do-everything-all-the-time-and-never-sleep culture that I’d adapted so well to, and to me, that seemed the greatest loss of it all. However, I’ve slowly come to realize that the usual Duke year would have been too much all at once. I would have been confined by the average college stereotype: sleep, social life, school—pick two. Duke in a pandemic, though, didn’t seem to conform to this rule. Social life and school were so different that I’ve had more free time than I can remember having in years.

And yet, with all these barriers, hearing that LDOC was in just 14 days nearly brought me to tears. I thought at first, maybe it was because I felt regret that one of my four precious years at Duke had been wasted—but that’s not right. This year was not a waste, it just wasn’t traditional. Finding community at Duke was different this year. In fact, it was here that I first felt that two people could be enough.

So instead of quantity, I got all the experiences (well, most) with the same two people. My mom joked that they were my family. At the time, I thought that was a kind of silly idea, but I think they kind of became that, my Duke bubble, my Duke family, my girls. Reflecting on this, I realized I hadn’t had girlfriends like this in a long time, maybe because I never had enough time in high school to be with someone non-stop. I learned that the secret to those TV girlfriend relationships— how they finish each other's sentences and spend every Friday night together— was that they continuously chose quality over quantity. One, two, three people were enough.

Close your eyes and count to ten if you mess up, start over again. That little rhyme was how friendships started in elementary school for me. It was the simplest connection. A little handshake that brought us together. If you know it too, that’s enough. We can speak the same language. Growing up, how you find relationships changes. Moving, starting over, gets scarier. It’s not as easy as just joining some new girls on the playground. Going to college, I’d always imagined by the end of the year I’d know everyone there was to know. My phone would be filled with pictures of all these new people I’d met. Instead, it was countless photos of the same couple of girls. I couldn’t get over how few people on Duke’s campus I knew, and how almost all of them were from my dorm building. I doubted myself. How could these be my people if I had such a small population to choose from? I guess the fact I’ve found two people I love so much from such a small subset at Duke was maybe just a stroke of luck—friendship, in general, is pretty random. You meet by chance, but if you manage to stick it out, there’s enough bizarre, hilarious stories for a lifetime, and I think, perhaps, that’s what makes the occasional moments of sister-like bickering, passive aggressiveness, or full out fights, worth it.