Being Alone During the "Best Four Years of Your Life"

My earliest memories of trying to socialize with my peers involve my first-grade self playing alone, noticing a group of girls, wanting to approach them, but being too scared to ask to play because “they’re too busy.” In middle school, I did end up finding a group of friends, but we were few, and it took me a while. This shyness has remained a cornerstone of my personality, even at twenty years old. While my levels of introvertnedness and extrovertedness have fluctuated, my socially-anxious tendencies and fear of social judgment have consistently served as a roadblock. My low self-esteem has always been tied to my inability to initiate and maintain friendships. For my entire life, I have been plagued with the questions, “why don’t people like me?” and “why do I have so few friends?” I have still yet to find the answers.

For high school, I transferred school systems and came in knowing nobody. And, I graduated high school knowing nobody. On my first day of English class freshman year, I met a group of girls who seemed nice, and rushed home, squealing, “Mom, I made friends!” But I spoke too soon. These girls only talked to me in class, never incorporated me into their larger friend group, never added me to their group chat, and never invited me to anything unless I happened to be in their presence while they were discussing pre-arranged plans. While they were nice to me and never made me feel particularly unwelcome, I felt uncomfortable approaching them or initiating. I felt like I was an intruder, infringing upon the friendships that these girls had fostered with each other since they were little kids.

After my senior boat cruise where I spent the entire night sitting alone, and after my high school graduation where I took pictures with maybe four people that weren’t my family, I was determined to make my college experience different. I was set on surrounding myself with my own #girlgang for some semblance of a normal social life.

Well, spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. I entered college, and orientation went by too quickly that I didn’t get the chance to really socialize with anyone. Throughout the first half of first semester freshman year, I floated among friend groups, but none really stuck. I have only maintained one meaningful that has lasted throughout freshman and sophomore year, but even that relationship has been characterized by my doubt in our level of closeness and difficulty in managing expectations of support.

Spring semester freshman year, I came back to school having started dating someone I met over December break. Our nightly video chats and weekend visits became my primary source of social interaction. While this may have impeded upon my motivation to reach out to people on campus, I would contend that, boyfriend or not, I would have been too shy to initiate anyway.

However, I've managed to not get my loneliness in the way of having a fulfilling college experience. I’m not going to tell you how to cure your loneliness or make new friends, because I don’t yet have the answer, but more importantly, because I don’t think that having a large gaggle of friends has to be contingent on one’s ability to thrive in college, and in life. While missing out on friends denies one from having a crucial social buffer, the lack of friend drama and feelings of obligation toward maintaining friendships can allow you to more clearly focus on personal and academic growth. Being a 'lone wolf' has empowered me to develop my independence, but there are definitely drawbacks. Not having people to relate to makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong in my life, in terms of academics and extracurriculars in addition to social life. Not having many friends has also made me question my achievement and work ethic, perhaps because I feel as though I always could be doing more, and not discussing classes or doing schoolwork with friends has made it difficult to determine where I stand. Ironically, my lack of a peer group as motivators and as points of reference has both impeded upon and enhanced my sense of self.

Some people are lonely by choice, and some by circumstance. I’d say I’m a mix; while I lean more introverted and would prefer to have few close friends than a large pool of acquaintances, I still have not achieved the relatively minimal social stimulation that I desire. Here are my tips to add structure and engaging experiences to my life in college, with or without friends:

 

1. Get off campus

Not only is it enjoyable, but popping the college bubble makes your world feel bigger and puts things into perspective. Shopping is a fun solo activity; I enjoy going to the mall or my favorite stores alone. While going out for a meal by your lonesome might be strange, going to a coffee shop, trying a fun drink, and sitting down to do work or watch TV for a while can be relaxing and enjoyable. For a more structured excursion, visit the Community Partnerships office and get placed to volunteer at a local organization. Being able to volunteer in the community has been extremely fulfilling and fun!

2. Throw yourself into extracurriculars

This has been especially key for me. Extracurriculars have been a great way to incorporate fun activity into my days and break up the monotony of schoolwork without any friend-related pressures. Some people have managed to build friendships through clubs; even if this is not the case for you, having these acquaintances still makes the campus feel a bit more welcoming. I would also recommend running for leadership positions. For me, being assigned specific responsibilities has made club participation feel less like a social obligation, which can be stressful for someone as shy as me. Having a sense of purpose gives me a great excuse to actually participate.

3. Go to events… maybe

Some events at college, like dances, Midnight Breakfast, or other social events, are incredibly awkward and boring if you show up by yourself. However, sit-down performances don’t require socialization for enjoyment. Going to an improv show, a capella concert, or dance performance still makes me feel integrated within the college community, even without socializing. But if you do end up binge-watching TV shows alone on a Friday night, there's no need to feel guilty. Don't underestimate the power of a relaxing night in!

 

There’s a lot of stigma about not having a lot of friends; loners are perceived to be untrustworthy, weird, or lacking in leadership skills. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still don’t have a friend group at college and that I eat practically every meal alone. So, I’m writing this unnecessarily angsty article because this is my reality and I want to be able to talk about it. And if you’re also feeling alone, I hope you feel empowered to talk about it too. If you’re reading this article and can relate even a little bit, feel free reach out to me. Let’s be alone together, because I honestly would love to be your friend.