Payal Rana

coffee date #37 with payal rana

my ‘4 subway sandwiches tall bestie,’ an older sister of 2, owner of a closet full of elite frat party tops, adventure-seeking buddy, a marlboro resident (red flag? 🚩), that-person-who-has-cousins-in-every-university-in-every-state (#theranaclan)

me: cappuccino viennese | payal: neve fondente
location: illy coffee at earth’s end princeton

It is astonishing how the people you meet in college often feel like people you’ve known your entire life. This is how I feel about Payal – it feels like I’ve known her for decades, but we literally only met last year and actually began speaking to each other a semester ago.

I met Payal through coffee date #35 (#thebestroomies). We were all on Saathiya and Payal & Sukti were freshmen and I was a sophomore. Unlike my initial awkward interaction with coffee date #35, Payal and I simply never (or rarely) spoke to each other during the fall semester. Payal and I exchanged actual conversations once our team began to travel for competitions over the spring semester.

Fun fact: at one of our competitions, I met coffee date #18 because she was competing on behalf of her university. As I was speaking to her, Payal recognized Asmi and I was shook. Then the three of us realized that Payal’s dad and Asmi’s dad are really good friends. Thus, months into our relationship, we discovered that Payal and I are also family friends. The world is truly so small.

I remember our first ever conversation was when we were at Purdue University’s NASHA competition in January 2022. I had come down to the cafe and ordered approximately 15 Starbucks drinks for everyone on our dance team. Payal came down to meet me to help bring up all of those drinks to the team. As we were waiting for the drinks to be made, we began talking. I don’t remember about what, but I do remember that it was natural, easy, and fun. I even documented a picture of it (see below)!

Ever since then, we’ve just connected. Every time we meet at frat parties or go clubbing together, we always have massive amounts of fun because Payal just lets loose, enjoys being in the presence of wholesome people, and actually bops/lipsyncs to sexy old Bollywood music when played.

Also, coffee date #35 and Payal are my go-to adventure-seeking buddies. In fact, they were the first people I texted when I wanted to go to NY for Halloweekend to just experience the NY party life. It was a spontaneous trip that somehow came together, and we all had a massive amount of fun, which I do not think would have been possible with anyone else.

Aside from just exuding awesome vibes, Payal is so much more than that. I think it’s her genuinity and ability to give every single person a chance. She doesn’t judge people right off the bat, but instead gets to know them before making an assumption. This is something I admire about her because I tend to (or used to) jump to assumptions very quickly, but through Payal and many other amazing individuals I’ve met at college, I learned that everyone has a story and everyone deserves for their stories to be heard.

Along with her authenticity, I feel like we connected on a deeper level because of how similar we are in terms of how our emotions work – we don’t really express many of our emotions, but we do feel massive amounts of them. One of the things that I cherish the most about our relationship is the amount of safe & comfortable space we have given each other to talk about our emotional and mental wellbeing. When we’re alone, we tend to ask each other “so how are you doing emotionally and mentally?” and that enables us to just speak our truth and feel our truth in that particular moment. This part of our relationship is so comforting (and new) for me because I was never one to be vulnerable and share things from my life with friends. However, me being vulnerable with Payal and her being vulnerable with me has been healing in the most incredible ways because it shows me that ‘human-ing’ our way through life is a collective process and no one can endure this journey alone.

In essence, I love this queen with all my heart (+ maybe even a little more) and am in awe of many of her abilities and characteristics. Diving into the world of Payal Rana…..


  • the art of being single [and loving it].

Pop culture tends to glorify romantic relationships A LOT. I remember when I was a One Tree Hill fan, I went into high school thinking I was going to find my own ‘Lucas.’ Then, I walked into college thinking that this is where I am going to find that ‘forever kind of love.’ What these TV shows and pop culture never emphasize is the art of being single and the importance of being single.

“The longer I’ve been single, I’ve learned more about myself. I need to know myself as best as I can before I start knowing someone else. For me that means going through highs and lows with myself.” – Payal Rana, 2022

No relationship can last if you don’t know yourself first. Understanding how you function, what you like, what you don’t like, how you process feelings, what you need from the other person, how you react to emotional pain, etc. is crucial. Similar to Payal, I too strongly believe that it is unfair to both yourself and the other person if you let them in without knowing who you are first. Because this will naturally just inhibit your ability to be your most authentic self in that relationship since you never discovered who you truly are before you let someone else enter it.

  • New York City.

New York City. the city of dreams or the city that promotes toxic productivity and hustle culture? is there even a right answer? who knows. Just a little brain dump to help me understand people’s viewpoints on this glorified, ‘magical’ city.

  • what do you see when you look in the mirror? – hunter prosper

I resonate with Hunter Prosper’s work because, in a way, I’m on a similar mission with my fifty coffees – I want to get to know people on a deeper level to understand that we all collectively are undergoing the human experience together.

I landed on this video a few weeks and felt that I could relate to Katie, the stranger who is no longer a stranger, to some extent. I love that way she put into the words the idea and feeling of losing yourself and figuring out how to find your way back to yourself.

Because I loved the question and Katie’s answer so much, I wanted to ask Payal the same question to see what she sees when she looks at herself in the mirror. It’s important to note that this question goes beyond the physical characteristics. I didn’t ask her to describe to me what she sees physically – I wanted her to share what or who she sees on an emotional, deeper level.

“I see myself as someone who is struggling to always be there for everyone – trying to be the best daughter, the best friend, the older sister for other people.” – Payal Rana, 2022

I, like many others, can relate to this 250%! It’s difficult to fulfil our many roles in life because each role comes with its own set of expectations and pressure (even if all of that pressure comes from within or from the external world).

The one that resonated with me the most was the anxietities that arise with the older-sister role. Like Payal, I too am an older sister and the feeling of not fulfilling our duties as an older sister and actually setting a good example for our younger siblings is probably the worst feeling ever. It makes us wonder if there’s any meaning to what we’re doing in life if we’re unable to be there for our siblings.

The one thing I told Payal about the older sister responsibility, in particular, is to understand that what we are doing is enough and our younger siblings know that it is enough too. In fact, last semester, I had some severe episodes of ‘holy shit, i’m a terrible older sister,’ which is quite literally my worst nightmare because my brother is the single most important human being in my life. In those ‘world-ending’ type of moments, I used to text Arya, starting with an ‘i love you‘ and then asked him if there was anything that I can be doing better as his older sister.

He replied with something along the lines of “are you stupid? of course you’re always there for me.” He definitely said it in a much more blunt way because the kid is such a horrible texter. But, in essence, hearing him tell me that I am doing enough calmed me down greatly. It showed me that all the pressure I was putting on myself to fulfil my role of an older sister was solely internal. And this may be the case for a lot of our social roles.

  • the freshman 15 vs starvation.

*blood boils*

Going into college, the #1 thing that many are petrified of is gaining The Freshman 15. There are so many things wrong with that phrase, but I’ll send you to go read this – a short, public diary rant about how fed up I was with this phrase last year (around the same time).

The other side to this idea and obsession of weight in college is starvation. We rarely hear people talking about this end of the spectrum because our world is so hell bent on ensuring that people are continuously shrinking themselves.

Because of COVID, I never had a freshman year, which means I was never required to live on campus in a dorm. I’ve always lived in an off-campus apartment, where I eat my mom’s home-made food or go downstairs to grab something from a plethora of restaurants. Thus, having nothing to eat was never a problem for me. However, for those living on campus, having no food options is a dire and significant problem.

Firstly, I’ve rarely heard of any university actually providing quality dining services for students. No student has ever said that they enjoy eating food in their cafeterias. The food is often tasteless and isn’t even served in adequate portion sizes. Secondly, meal plans can also be an issue. Since you can’t eat the food at your dining area, you try to go to other places on campus that accept your meal points. There are two problems with having meal points at a small university like TCNJ:

(1) You’re bound to run out if you have the lower point plan. If you run out before a semester ends……well, you’re screwed. Now, you can’t eat at those other places nor can you eat the food at your dining area.

(2) The ‘other places’ on campus only involve three other areas (the student center, a Starbucks, and tdubs) for those at TCNJ. After months of eating at these place, it’s easy to get sick of the same food over and over again. It’s never really a win-win.

Remember, dorms don’t even have kitchens, so you really are forced to eat whatever little edible food options you’re presented with OR you eat the practically inedible dining area food OR you starve. In essence, universities need to figure out a way to use the millions of dollars they have to invest in foods/meals that can actually nourish students living on-campus.

  • feeling feelings is actually forward progress.

“I’m not going backwards and I am proud of that. Vulnerability is something that I am not comfortable with, but that is something that I am trying to work on.” – Payal Rana, 2022

A big thing that Payal and I have been working on is allowing ourselves to feel our feelings to their utmost capacity. Initially, a lot of us may think that suppression of emotions is strength and that being ‘sensitive’ will get us nowhere. However, as Glennon Doyle puts it:

‘The opposite of sensitive is not brave. It’s not brave to refuse to pay attention, to refuse to notice, to refuse to feel and know and imagine. The opposite of sensitive is insensitive, and that’s no badge of honor.”

As Payal explained how her journey with herself has been evolving, she said that, despite some bumpy roads, she never went backwards. In other words, she understood that sitting down with ourselves and giving ourselves the space to just be is in-and-of-itself progress!!!

  • YOLO.

Recently, I’ve learned to let loose and not be afraid to steer away from this linear path that I created for myself a long time ago. And I am actually loving life a bit more as I embrace spontaneity (courtesy of coffee date #25) and walk through life with somewhat more of a curious and adventurous mindset.

Payal also talked about something similar during our date. She explained that before college she used to be stressed about numerous things. However, she’s slowly begun to adopt the idea that life is so short, yet so grand. Thus, wasting our precious time about things that won’t matter in the next few years or even in the next moment is pointless.

Her talking about the concept of YOLO-ing our way through life reminded me of the concept of a drop and the ocean. Many of us, myself included, worry incessantly about the most minute moments. These temporary and fleeting moments are equivalent to those tiny drops in the ocean. When a drop hits the ocean water, it creates a little ripple effect. However, seconds later everything is back to normal – and the ocean is still an ocean. Our human experience is equivalent to the ocean. We are so much more than the tiny drops that seem to wreak havoc in our lives in that particular moment. ❤

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