the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
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April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
Lying to my friends wasn’t as difficult as I had expected.
“My cousin just called and said she needs me to watch her baby while she goes to take care of her neighbor’s sick dog. Her neighbor has to be at the office until really early in the morning.”
Until I sat in the first training session on a snowy Tuesday night in Milbank Hall, I’m not sure if I understood the gravity of Nightline’s secrecy. The training coordinators sprinkled some physics equations across the board, announcing that if any passersby accidentally happened into the classroom, we should appear to be engaged in rigorous scientific debate. Shit had gotten real, and not just because I knew I’d falter at faking physics facts. “For the sake of our callers and ourselves, we keep our identities secret,” they told us.
After the first info session, I began to assemble my apprehension and anticipation into a conga line of excuses I could trot out at a moment’s notice. I imagined it would be like line dancing, where all it takes to deliver a convincing performance is momentary disregard for socially accepted behavior and an animated smile. Adding some circuitous frills doesn’t hurt your chances of pulling off a convincing act either.
“I joined Model UN, and we have to Skype with the team from China, but because of the time difference it has to be really late at night, since they can only use computers during their school hours.”
“I missed the midnight bike ride for Jackson’s History of New York class, so I have to make it up on my own tonight.”
I was eager to toss out one of these prepared responses to the question, “Where are you going?” whenever friends saw me leaving home at 10 p.m. decked out in glasses, sweatpants, and a backpack. I was basically Jekyll turning into Hyde or Miley becoming Hannah, minus tearing people to shreds or tearing up the dance floor.
By day we are your friends and classmates, sorority sisters and sports team members. But by the stroke of 10 every night, call 212-854- 7777, and you can be certain that one of us will answer the phone with, “Hello, Nightline, Columbia/ Barnard peer counseling.”
Despite our semester-long training, if you ask Nightline counselors (just kidding, you can’t) to describe that singular reaction to the bleep-bleep-bleep of the ringtone, they’ll vacillate between expressing alertness, excitement, and uncertainty, unable to settle on just one adjective that can adequately illustrate the whirlpool of emotions that accompany a call. We are nonjudgmental, and we are certified to be “on the lines” as such, but we’re also human. The unpredictability of what we will hear as we raise the receiver is as draining as it is energizing.
When we sign a contract to shroud our involvement in secrecy, we also restrict ourselves from the support of our campus confidants. As much fun as it is to join an honesty- seeking cult that encourages deceit, there are times when the lying and training feel more grueling than thrilling. But we are lucky in that we can turn to our peers within the organization for support after a call that leaves us wondering what more we could have done. We feel strongly that the liberating nature of Nightline lies in the mutual anonymity it affords both its callers and its counselors. Our motto, “We are here to listen,” is intentionally vague, leaving the question of who “we” are as open-ended as whatever it is we are prepared to hear.
Counselors agree not to divulge this time and energy-consuming extracurricular to their Columbia-affiliated peers for the benefit of those same unsuspecting friends. The purpose of this measure is to prevent callers from letting the fear of recognition inhibit their desire to seek help. I have no idea if my good friends have ever used Nightline, and that in itself is a triumph for the organization. I believe that students who knew their friends were Nightline counselors would be certain to worry that private information would reach those friends. We encourage honesty from our callers. Our helpfulness is dependent on their willingness to voice their problems in this environment. If such service to our callers prohibits cluing in our friends to our nocturnal commitment, then so be it.
Therein lies another tenet of our operative doctrine: nonjudgmental listening. There are times—when we’re dress- or class-shopping, for instance—that we ask our friends for opinionated help. They are useless to us if they don’t admit that the clothing doesn’t flatter our shape or that Professor Gulati commissions Satan to grade his exams. But in those stomach-churning moments when we are embarrassed to confront even our own feelings about what we’ve done or seen or ignored or worse, it is only by conversing with an impartial outsider that we can allow ourselves to explore the unbridled emotions within. In those cases, confiding in a close friend might not provide the perspective we need the most: our own.
We aren’t professionals, and we can’t prescribe any panacea. We are trained and natural empathizers. We hope that when you hang up the phone, the load feels lighter than when you dialed. We’re there from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. every night, and as we sneak out of our dorms and fib in response to the “Whatcha doing tonight” texts, we hope that we are not acting shady in vain.
Since my certification as a Nightline counselor, I’ve shifted my focus from constructing elaborate lies to honing my listening skills. As a result, my alibis have lost their luster, but my friends haven’t noticed.
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