Thursday, October 13, 2016

Take it from Me, Column 2: Adam opens up (unedited version)

Thanks to everyone's powerful response to the first column, I am eager to share the stories of other alumni filled with their insight and realness about how they, too, felt neurotic, insecure, anxious, disconnected, and under-achieving... and what they wish to tell their younger selves. For this week, here goes:

1) Go. To. Therapy. More precisely, go earlier. It would have helped me as a student, friend, and an athlete. I was depressed at least half of college, and it’s hard to live your best you when you're a disconnected, anxious mess. Like anyone suffering from depression, I had my reasons; my dad was an absent, narcissistic alcoholic who valued me for my flattering-to-him accomplishments. My mother—to her credit, was very loving and present—is an evangelical Christian who thrust her religion’s regressive morality and her abusive second husband on me. I felt like I was raised to not have needs or feelings. My job was to be some sort of saint and achieve stuff to make everyone around me look good. Go to a fancy school. Get good grades. Be a track star. I was miserable.

I tried Monsour a few times early on. The therapists were either impossibly cheesy or totally passive. I couldn’t take them seriously. No disrespect to the hard and important work they do, but my experience is not uncommon. I found a therapist senior year that I could work with—it can take a few tries—and it changed everything for me. So many of the bad decisions I made in school were a product of gaping emotional wounds. I either didn't open up to people, or I opened up in the wrong ways.Example: a disastrous, “this-is-out-of-nowhere-since-we’re-friends-but-I’m-gonna-show-up-and-spend-an-hour-telling-you-I’m-in-love-and-we-should-be-together-no pressure” emotional vomit episode to a friend my senior year. It ended badly for both of us, especially me. Don’t ever do that. Ask them on a date. If they’re not into it, let it go and see point 2.

2) Romance: Date people from other campuses. I can’t overstate the utility of distance and mystery in romance—deliberately asking and going out with someone, then going away to your own spaces. It keeps the pressure off and makes breakups and rejections way easier. Going “off-campus” would have made it easier too, in the spirit of the liberal arts, in order to get a more broad education in romance. It’s really easy to feel like one’s romantic options are limited to a) a codependent relationship or b) nihilistic no-strings-attached hookups, which is true if you limit yourself to the hall you live in. Cross the damn street and free yourself.

2a) Deal with your weird issues around sex. I’m embarrassed to say but I’ve realized that at the time I honestly didn’t believe women actually desired sex. It made initiating anything feel like I was imposing my horniness on them. This is absurd, yet understandable. Growing up super christian, sex was this thing the “men really want/was bad” and women “put up with/faked interest in” to manipulate men. Ick.

3) Ask for help, you twit. I never asked for help academically—I was arrogant and ignorant. Like most of us, I had been one of the—if not the—smartest kids in every class before college. I’ve since embraced being an ignorant, bawdy moron, and the freedom is delicious. At the time, though, it felt so vulnerable and taboo to admit shortcomings; I thought asking for help was for the dumb kids, and I was afraid of being judged by others.Papers are hard. Did I even once go to the writing center? No. I often wasn’t understanding core concepts in a class. Did I ever see a professor to ask for help? Nope. I want to scream at my younger self: “YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. THAT IS WHY YOU WENT TO SCHOOL, TO LEARN STUFF YOU DON’T KNOW, YOU ARROGANT ASSHOLE.” Claremont faculty and staff are paid to do exactly this. Go to office hours and be direct about your ignorance. Afraid of judgment? Take comfort that everyone is both messed up in their own way, not to mention totally self-absorbed, so just let that go. Not convinced? Re-read this column.

Take it from me: the Intro Column

I started a column in the student newspaper of my alma mater, Pomona College. I feature alumni giving advice to their younger selves, and talking about regrets from their time in college. I am going to republish the columns here and in a few cases post the versions that did not make it to publication or were cut down for various reasons at the editorial stage. You can also read these at


Welcome (back) to Claremont! You are here to learn, to tackle the big questions, and to become great citizens. You also have another more urgent question to answer: How do I college? What should I do, or not do, to have an awesome time and not end up a regretful mess?

I am here to help by talking to alumni about what went right, and more importantly what went wrong, in their college days so you current students can hopefully do it better.

Why should you listen to me? You shouldn’t. Just kidding, of course you should—I’m the best thing that has ever happened to you.

A bit about me: I graduated Pomona 2001. I majored in linguistics, ran cross country and track all four years, and was a sophomore sponsor, a junior RA, and an OA leader. I threw some parties that I'm rather proud of (including participation in the record-setting Beer Mile, may it R.I.P.) In the name of helping those coming after me have a better time, I spoke at first-year orientation about how no one at Pomona ever has sex, so just give that up now (not a completely accurate sentiment, but the speech really happened). In other words, I did a lot in school and I want to help.

This project started as a conversation with my great friend and fellow Pomona alumnus J.B. Waterman. We often speak about Pomona and really connected on how our college experience was so different than what we had hoped or expected—it was way lamer.

We killed ourselves in high school to get into college, fantasizing about an epic, romantic, and wild experience. College was the promised land of parties, pranks, brilliant conversations, deep connections, adventures, getting past first base, meeting women who actually wanted to go past first base, and doing badass academic work while becoming an adult. That's why we worked so hard in high school to finally thrive in college. Right? Right?!?!

In reality, we showed up to find a much more confusing situation with a bunch of people who were kind of like us in ways we didn’t always like; equally inexperienced and clueless while subject to constant overthinking. I’ve come to realize that whimsy, adventure, romance and actual-not-just-imagined-sex are, in my experience, largely incompatible with being clueless and overthinking. PSA: You can and should establish consent and use protection without overthinking.

Rally as we might, each semester looked the same. We arrived super psyched to do all this awesome stuff and have it be amazing, but within a couple of weeks we found ourselves, well, not psyched, not doing awesome stuff, and certainly not feeling amazed, or even particularly connected to our classmates let alone collegial.

What gives? The first issue was my own unrealistic expectations. What I knew about college was gleaned from college viewbooks (too glossy), movies about college (too vulgar), stories from older kids I knew in high school (too exaggerated) and, most of all, my own fantastical projections of what I wanted it to be (too escapist). Claremont is sort of some, but not really any of these things. Small, cozy schools full of brilliant over-achievers.

I wasn’t the smart one; everyone was the smart one. Not exactly DTF party animals.

The second issue was me. I had my charm, but I was kind of a mess. I was mostly clueless, often obnoxious, unreasonably horny, dealing with undiagnosed depression, and new to the game of college. I had a lot to learn about myself and my new life, but for whatever dumb reason I seemed to think everyone around me knew what was up—they really didn't—so I freaked out about making any mistakes.

This is where I come in to *try* to help. Rather than generalized, gauzy, nostalgia-rife advice that could apply to anybody, I intend to share real alumni candidly speaking about how they specifically screwed up, how they were stupid, clueless, anxious, depressed, or ignorant—because everyone is—and how they could have made their college experience a bit more awesome.

So I’ll go first, and speak to 19-year-old me: “Adam, if you are into/maybe friends/maybe flirting with a girl, and you aren’t sure where you stand but you somehow end up in bed together with your faces two inches apart, there is a really, really good chance she wants to kiss you more than she doesn’t want to kiss you. Do not overthink this, chicken out, and then be surprised if she stops hanging out with you. Make. A. Move.”

Any alumni interested in participating, or students interested in flattery, email me at