Alone or Lonely?

 

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By Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman

It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m sitting on the steps across from Milbank. It’s sunny but chilly outside, and I’m sipping a hot coffee. There are students around me; some of them are talking in groups, some in pairs. Another girl, alone, like me, is sitting on the step above me, eating an orange and looking at her phone.

Before I entered college, people told me that I was going to have some of the best years of my life here. An important part of that experience, they said, was the lifelong connections and friendships that I would make, the late nights, the wine parties.

I kept this in mind all throughout last year, especially during NSOP, when new students were scrambling to make as many friends and meet as many people as possible. People went from being best friends during NSOP to acquaintances when classes began. I think about several people who I’d become “best friends” with within the first couple days of orientation, and how quickly they fizzled out and amounted to, at most, a smile when passing each other on the way to class.

Last year, socialization was important to me. I hated being alone, so I filled my schedule with lunch dates, outings, movies, etc. I made plans like crazy. But I felt on a deeper level that these social interactions, at least in the first month of college, were superficial. But I was happy, because at least I wasn’t ever alone.

Because all the freshmen lived in close-quarters and had similar eagerness to “get involved” in the social scene, clubs, organizations, etc., being constantly social was easy, and it was something that I got used to.

I’m a sophomore now, living in Plimpton. No more communal bathrooms or kitchens, no more walking out into halls of people heading to the shower in a bathrobe. Often, I’m in my room. I don’t like going out as much; things are too far away. Introducing myself to new people is harder now, since I’m not new to the school anymore, and I don’t technically have an incentive to branch out. Yet, at the same time, I am a bit lonely; looking at what everyone is doing on social media is disheartening. It’s easy for me to feel isolated, or to feel as if I’m not doing anything, as if I’m wasting my college experience, and I’m feeling more and more these days like a loner. For a while, this was very difficult for me– at times, it still is– but I’ve learned that being alone isn’t always a bad thing.

When I was hyper-social last year, I felt good about having a full schedule, a rich social life, a group text, etc. However, I often felt compelled to keep up relationships and people that didn’t make me feel good. I felt anxious all the time, desperate to be liked, wondering why someone didn’t answer a text that I’d sent a day ago. The worry that came with all of these things was exhausting. While I still experience these feelings, I’ve found that taking time for myself has been helpful. Being alone on my own volition took mountains of social pressure off – I’m beginning to enjoy walking by myself, studying by myself, having dinner by myself, without worrying about what I’m supposed to be doing, such as having dinner with five friends every night. This semester, I’ve learned the value of having just a few really great individual friendships; I’ve learned the relief of not having to belong to a group, and most importantly, I’ve learned to love alone time.
That’s not to say that I still don’t sometimes experience episodes of loneliness on campus, FOMO, sneaking suspicions that that one friend doesn’t actually like me that much, the feeling that I’d made someone mad, etc. I still experience these things, which I think, I hope, is part of the larger experience of existing as a social being, but something that I ultimately learned this semester is finding value, enjoyment, and serenity in being alone, and that being alone shouldn’t and doesn’t necessarily equate to being unhappy.

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