My first week of college, in 1998, the RAs in my dorm told us advisees that our hallway was special. Third-Floor Blair, off Blair Arch in Mathey College, had a reputation for creating unusually close friendships. I was skeptical. Like most college kids, I figured that my interests would lead me to friends.
As the year progressed, I set about finding a social niche. I spent a week in the marching band. I sent article ideas to the Nassau Weekly. I hung around an eating club. I hung around a boy at an eating club.
I didn’t join an eating club, I no longer play the clarinet, but I do work as a writer — and for all the people I’ve met along the way, the people I remain closest to are six or so girlfriends from Third-Floor Blair. I see someone from that circle nearly every week. We exchange emails several times a week. One of those friends even convinced me to move to China for five years. We have slept on one another’s floors, been to one another’s weddings, traveled the world together, and supported one another through job crises, breakups, and medical diagnoses. In 2013, we threw a 15-year friendship party.
We’re tight enough that people often remark on our closeness, which got us wondering: Were our RAs right? What was it about Third-Floor Blair?
Some of us think it was the mere power of suggestion. The dating site OKCupid ran experiments and found that telling two users they’re a good match, even if they aren’t, will make them like each other more. Perhaps the same forces were at work on us.
Others are convinced that architecture determined our destinies. The rooms on that hall were tiny, one-room doubles — no elevator, no air conditioning. We slept in bunk beds above floor space big enough for two desks and not much else. By necessity, the hall became one giant common room. People were always out there — chatting in doorways, forming study groups, stretching, or walking around with a pan of microwaved brownies and offering bites. If you came home from the Street at 3 a.m., someone would be in the hall, reading or studying, to greet you. At the end of the year, people piled unwanted clothes outside their doorways, prompting a spontaneous clothing swap.
It helped that the hall was carpeted, which made the floor comfy, and that the bathrooms were at the ends of the hall, requiring us to walk back and forth constantly, prompting even more interactions among neighbors. I’m close with my freshman-year roommate, but for those who didn’t hit it off, the hall brought still another benefit — a whole pool of other potential friends, right outside the door.
Sophomore year, I lived the way most of Mathey did, on an entryway instead of a hall, and I didn’t make any friends there. A neighbor and I would see each other, smile, and then — because there’s no way to comfortably linger on a stairwell — off we’d go to our separate rooms, not to cross paths again for weeks or months. I imagine that people who lived on entryways from the beginning did turn to classes and student-activity groups and eating clubs for friends. As a TFBer, however, it seems that for all my personal and scholarly pursuits, the thing that most defined my social world — then and now — was my completely random room assignment.
After I graduated, Third-Floor Blair was renovated, and those cramped, one-room doubles were turned into quads, with two bedrooms attached to a common room. I know this because I happened to be on campus soon after and went to see for myself.
I had to knock on someone’s door to see — because nobody was hanging out in the hall.