Growing up, the most prevalent image of college students I saw in TV shows and movies were one-dimensional and over-the-top. Frat parties, football games, and all-night cram sessions were the most pervasive representations presented to me as an impressionable teen. I expected to arrive at college fully prepared to immerse myself in this hyper-social biosphere. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how overwhelming being around people 24/7 can truly be.
In high school, I could always expect to escape to my bedroom at the end of a long day for some peaceful alone time. But living in a dorm, I was literally within 10 feet of others at all times. Prior to the pandemic, there were always people to see and things to do across UW’s campus. Even in the digital space of the COVID-19 pandemic, my life is still chock full of catching up with friends on FaceTime and Zoom webinars galore. But all of this stimulus can get overwhelming at times, making me want to retreat to my bed for eternity. Yet, saying no to these events or turning down plans with friends to watch Netflix alone almost makes me feel guilty. As if I’m not living up to be one of the energetic, lively, and social college students the media expects me to be.
Saying “no” can be one of the hardest things to do. As women in particular, many of us have been raised to put the needs of others before our own, even if that means going out when we would rather stay in, or surrounding ourselves with people when we need to be alone. However, it’s impossible to satisfy the needs of others if you aren’t taking care of your own first. This always reminds me of what flight attendants say about oxygen masks during safety briefings before flights: you have to put your own on first before assisting anyone else.
It isn’t your responsibility to make yourself accessible to others 24/7, that’s simply not realistic. No human being has enough energy to have their social mode on for that long. Spending time alone can be necessary at times to recharge your batteries before interacting with others. I used to always feel like I was required to answer the phone when someone called me, especially if I was just chilling in my room, not doing much. But it’s perfectly okay and necessary to set boundaries with others when you want that time with yourself, even if it’s just time spent watching YouTube videos or playing Animal Crossing in your bed.
Not everyone can expect themselves to be the life of every party, the champion of every football student section, or the friend that’s always down to do something all the time. Don’t take shame in your need to retreat. Especially after a year that’s been marked by emotional and political turmoil, it makes sense if some of us want to spend a little more time alone than usual to reflect and heal. Be honest with yourself and communicate your boundaries openly to your loved ones. They will understand, because the only person that’s expected to be at the top of your priority list at all times is you.