Being Lonely in College

I can still remember orientation. A nightmarish weekend in July, stuck in a sweltering dorm intended to be a prison had the college failed, surrounded by kids I didn’t know and upon first impression, didn’t really like. The girl I shared a room with was amazing. Enthusiastic, charming, she didn’t even return to our room on the first night of orientation until 6:00 in the morning. I was in awe.

I meanwhile, sat on a miserable bunk bed and watched Netflix, cramming my earbuds farther into my ears to drown out the sound of kids having fun on the quad.

What they don’t tell you at any of the visits or their websites is that college is a friendship wasteland. Every single person has just been ripped from a group they’ve known for 12 years, like a baby taken from its mother, and we’re all desperate to find safety in numbers again. You’re looking for any person with even the smallest thing in common, something you can bond over or tolerate so you don’t have to eat alone in the dining hall.

And yeah, maybe I was pretty shitty at putting myself out there. But I was also in a bad place. I was depressed, semi-recently heartbroken, and anxious all the time. Basically every part of my personality that made people like and accept me was shut down. Closed for business.

So freshman year was a nightmare.

I turned to the internet, to communities of the things I liked to substitute for the friends I didn’t make in real life. I cried a lot. Because even my decent grades couldn’t stop me from feeling like a social failure. That was not who I was. I was an officer in multiple clubs, had important leadership roles. People respected me, I assume. Teachers liked me, friends trusted me and wanted to hang out with me. And then I was nothing.

The worst part of it all is this idea that college is one step away from adulthood. You aren’t living with your family. You are solely responsible for yourself and your success. Yet, you live in a small universe controlled by adults and students who are hired to act as adult as possible. You aren’t actually trusted to act on your own accord. It’s a purgatory of responsibility.

So there I was, stuck on a small campus, watching everyone around me make friends. I tried so many different methods of finding that one, glorious group. I’d talk to people I met at orientation, hoping one dinner together would change my social life forever. I obsessively texted a co-worker who was at college with me to try and hang (which ended very poorly, do not try this method). I went out and got drunk. I had a great relationship with my roommate. But none of these actions gave me what I coveted.

It broke my spirit to be alone so often. I spent more time with my parents than any single group of friends that first year. But I also came to realize that when you’re so desperate for any way to fit in, you come to resent those that don’t allow you into their circle. I would call my mom, crying, yelling “I have no friends!” I couldn’t live like that anymore.

The moment I started to actually make friends was the moment I stopped caring about whether I was perceived as lonely. I confidently ate in the dining hall alone. I started a club to pursue what I wanted to do. I hit on boys. I lived my fuckin’ life, regardless of any group’s acceptance.

Then, I transferred. I’m actually writing this sitting alone in my new school’s library. In case you were curious, I have friends. And I have friends from my old school too. I very much feel like that character from Magic School Bus, the one who always said “at my old school.” A quick search confirms her name was Phoebe. Also, turns out the Magic School Bus has its own wiki. Beautiful.

What came to me not in a moment, but slowly in the long span of time I spent friendless and sad, is that it doesn’t matter. In four years (or less), you move on. You make friends at your internship, in your city, with the people you recognize during your commute. And there’s nothing wrong with those friendships. Just like there’s nothing wrong with the group of friends you make as a scared barely-adult human. We’ll all evolve, hopefully, and if you’re lucky, you still want to be friends with the people you meet along the way.

Being lonely at college can often feel like an endless void of social failure. You are not a failure. And it’s okay to be on your own. Or, if you want, transfer schools and move to a city of millions like I did. And learn to love yourself along the way.