Please, take time to share a meal with your friends

By FRANK GUERRIERO | October 4, 2018

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At a school like Hopkins, it can be hard to find quality time to connect with people. Our lifestyle is conducive to shutting in without realizing it, and in those moments, we distance ourselves from friends and worsen their own solitude. This has been especially true as the nearly semester-long midterm season has finally begun to so rudely introduce itself.

More than once in the past couple weeks, as I carefully peeled my nose from the pages of Italian novels to which it was glued, I realized that it had been as long as a couple days since I’d had a real conversation with some of my best friends. Among the stresses of accumulating reading loads, the impending doom of paper deadlines and the fast-approaching first round of exams, I’d reverted to some of the isolating habits I thought I’d learned to avoid.

I’m sure my friends and roommates were going through a similar phase. Questions about each other’s days elicited one-word answers, memes went unnoticed or unacknowledged (or worse, haha reacted), and we sometimes went days without seeing each other’s faces. Isolating yourself may be a natural reaction to these moments, but when we distance ourselves from the people we care about, it can make stressful times even worse. Plus, simply put, I started to miss my friends.

But it can feel awkward or unnatural to reach out in an inorganic way. For whatever reason, we often avoid outwardly expressing a desire to reconnect with friends. Maybe due to fear that our concerns won’t be reciprocated, or perhaps the fear that approaching a friendship as something that deserves attention and maintenance will put off the people we care about. My solution to this dilemma was the same as my answer to most other problems: I made dinner.

Specifically, I spent a Sunday afternoon procrasti-cooking a very inauthentic ragù alla bolognese, risking permanent exile from one of my favorite cities by omitting the white wine and only using one type of meat. At about 6 p.m., once I’d successfully reduced the aromatic pot of meat sludge to a perfectly greasy consistency, I shot a “come and eat” text to my friend, put a pot of water on the stove and tried to put together a proper Sunday dinner.

I strategically piled up an unnecessarily large bowl of pasta for each of us in order to guarantee an hour or so of quality time, and we caught up on our classes, extracurriculars and personal lives throughout the semester to date. It wasn’t even that we hadn’t spoken in a while, as days without a text from her waking me up earlier than I want to are few, but actually sitting down together free of distractions allowed us to reconnect in a way that can often be difficult at a school like Hopkins.

And making food the center of these occasions gives you opportunities that other moments may not. What you cook for one another may bring up a story that you’d like to tell, recall a memory that you’re compelled to share or reveal a part of your identity that you’re proud of. Also, the very act of putting effort into “nourishing” a friend is a gesture that’s hard to replicate. I generally tend to shy away from the “food brings us together” trope, as it very often works exactly to the contrary. But in this case, it happens to be very true.

This is especially so if you, like me, don’t necessarily do the best job of making it known how much you appreciate your friendships. My friends gracefully execute the challenging and often thankless job of keeping me from driving myself crazy over school, work or personal stuff, as I’m sure yours do, too. They deserve to know that I value everything they do for me and that I admire the crap out of them. And since I’m not the best at stopping for a minute, sitting them down and telling them what awesome people I think they are, the least I can do is throw some pasta together on a Sunday night.

The dish doesn’t have to be hard and definitely doesn’t have to be extravagant, though you’d probably earn a couple extra friendship points if you put something seriously delicious together. I like to use food to share a part of myself or to prove to my friends that they deserve a little extra effort, but I definitely don’t always have the time to stand over a pot of bubbling meat and aromatics for hours on a Sunday. Bake some cookies, stir-fry some veggies, maybe mash up some guac. And if you don’t trust yourself to put even that together, just buy them a bowl of ramen.

Whatever it is, look up from your reading, from your problem sets, from that plastic ball and stick kit my poor roommates had to deal with at one point and feed your friends. They’re bound to appreciate it, and who knows, you may get a free meal out of it yourself a couple weeks down the line.

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