Authentic Eagles: Emily Akin on Cynicism

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic individuals.

Emily Akin, A&S '15

I’ve always been a realist. Not necessarily in a negative way, but I never bought the whole “happily ever after” shtick. I come from a family full of divorcés—parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Divorce has always been a member of our family. There was always someone coming or going.

I saw that divorce could be ugly, but I also watched how it could make a couple happier in the long run. Essentially I found that marriage does not always equal “happily ever after.”

Despite the positive outcomes I saw from some of these divorces, there were too many negatives to overlook; I became a relationship skeptic from a very young age. My observations influenced the way I managed relationships, both romantic and otherwise, in my own life. I guarded myself behind a wall of sarcasm, not wanting to let people in when I had seen firsthand the damage that a careless “other” could do to a susceptible heart.

The realization that I was not entirely comfortable being close to another person came in high school. I had friends, I had boys, but I was not thinking deeper than the surface — where a scratch could barely hurt me. It was easier. I had a snarky comment ready for every situation, and could laugh off even the harshest critics.

I sought no lasting relationships that countered my views, meaning my skepticism festered and turned to cynicism. The last two weeks of my senior year of high school—during which I lost two of my best friends because of a fight over a prom date — did nothing to improve my attitude towards friendships as I looked towards college.

Coming to Boston College was never my ideal situation, but September 2011 found me moving in to Cushing Hall on Newton Campus. I quickly found that leaving high school behind was something I could do pretty easily — all you had to do was drink alcohol with people and they were magically your friends; college was amazing!

Freshman year whirled by in a blur of Rubinoff and MIT frat parties. Everything was surface level; no one bothered asking probing questions or talking much beyond figuring out the night’s plans. This was my comfort zone, and I excelled at it. My sarcasm was still passing for wit, and I was having fun. I turned down invitations to 10 o’clock mass on Newton and Appa meetings; in my mind I was too cool for that reflective stuff. I didn’t want deeper relationships, I just wanted an eight-man.

Sophomore year, the cracks in some of these friendships started showing up, and junior year I found myself right back where I had been in high school. It was a formula I had mastered—make artificial friends, get in a stupid fight with artificial friends, realize neither of you really like each other that much anyway (so what’s the point of faking it) and either a) never talk again or b) coexist without really talking.

I would absolve myself of all guilt, laugh it off and chalk it up to the fact that “people are the worst”—a cavalier comment that I was truly starting to believe.

The problem with these friendships was that they started on the basis of sarcasm or cynicism. By the end, I was just sick of being mean in the name of a joke to a person I thought of as a friend. I didn’t enjoy being in certain friend groups where we were all essentially bullying one another and calling it funny.  It took a while to come to terms with the fact that these people weren’t friends, and that I in turn wasn’t being a good friend by following these patterns. My mom has always told me that sarcasm is an ugly habit, and it took me 21 years to figure out that she was completely right.

This consciousness came while I was abroad. Coming off a rough first semester friend-wise, I was excited to be away from BC. But it could be extremely lonely at times—something that they don’t tell you in the information sessions. There was a lot of time for fun, and a lot of time for introspection. There was also the realization that my sarcastic sense of humor didn’t translate cross-culturally. If I was going to not offend my new friends, I would have to have actual conversations with them. I found this to be not only enjoyable, but superior to many of my interactions back at BC.

Cynicism doesn’t melt away overnight. I came back to BC determined to give more people a chance—to make new friends and to try to delve deeper with old friends, past the point of flippancy. I was determined to be less of a cynic and try to be genuine for my last year in college.

A good first step seemed to be signing up to lead 48hours—a retreat I had shamelessly mocked since my own half-hearted attempt at participating on the weekend freshman year. Coming to terms with the fact that I was not “too cool” for anything in the vein of 48hours was another curveball. A lot of my friends, even the ones I actually liked, mocked that decision. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my senior year, and has resulted in some great friendships based on conversation, rather than poorly concealed insults.

A friend I made on the retreat sent me an article two weeks ago. It contained one of the most painfully true sentences I’ve encountered in a blog to-date:

“No one wants to live in a pointless, chaotic cosmos, but that is the one that science has given us. We may yearn for the divine, but hipster neo-Dadaism is the best we can do. Everything’s ironic. Everything’s a joke. But inside, it can feel awful. The things you want a God for — an afterlife, a comfort, a commander — seem unavailable.”

The answer for the author proved to be meditation. In a way, I think my answer is conscious action. While the sarcastic comments, the distancing, are in my nature, I’ve found that I don’t like it when everything’s ironic and a joke. I like real conversation and real relationships with real people that I respect because I’ve taken the time to get to know them. Actively seeking out these friendships has helped to make senior year my favorite year at Boston College.

I still don’t know if I buy “happily ever after,” because frankly it sounds boring. But my happiness at BC has come this year from both new and old friends. Cynicism and sarcasm will most likely always be a part of my mentality, and I certainly won’t go seeking out heartbreak. But let me know if you want to grab coffee or even need a church buddy some time. I’m not too cool for that any more.