Insight: College is lonely, and that's OK

Loneliness is a very real and very constant part of growing up

The world hypes up our expectations about a lot of things: the big Cinderella moment at prom in every Disney Channel movie, the average brunette girl getting into Yale from an application about her love triangle with two equally average 26-year-old actors playing high school jocks, or the idea that teenage girls wear high heels to school every day. 

We're told that college will be the "best years of our lives." We walk in expecting to meet dozens of like-minded people who will remain our close friends for the rest of our lives. 

And while that may be true for some, most of us soon realize that loneliness is a real and constant part of growing up — and that's OK. 

When you're in grade school, your friends are your classmates. You meet people that you see at least every other day, and you spend your time in class building those friendships. 

In college, forging lasting friendships during a class is much more difficult because most people don't view class as a way to make friends anymore. It's just class. 

When I started at ASU's Tempe campus last year as a commuter student, that reality hit me like a ton of bricks. Most people make friends with the people in their dorm or sorority within the first few weeks, and then that's it. 

I ate my meals alone. I went to class alone. I spent my weekends alone. I was, well, alone. 

I read many articles and watched various YouTube videos that told me to "put myself out there" and make the first move, so I did. 

I spent a lot of time trying to make awkward small talk with strangers for a couple of semesters. I started to feel really annoying, and the excited, conversational part of me withered with every uncomfortable silence or one-word response. 

Feeling lonely hurts more when you feel annoying for trying not to be lonely. While the whole "putting myself out there" tactic worked a few times, the friendship would usually die down when the semester ended. 

I felt like I was putting in so much unnecessary effort into forcing people to spend time with me. I was exhausted from always being the one to initiate plans. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the middle of the second semester of my freshman year, the constant reminder of my loneliness died down because everybody was lonely. Nobody went to parties, and nobody posted enviable stories or photos of their big groups of friends — we were all alone. 

Over the past few months, I've learned that you can enjoy being lonely. We emphasize the people we surround ourselves with and how many people like us that we tend to forget about ourselves. 

Expecting life-long bonds in one year was not only unfair to me but unfair to the people around me. I spent so much time trying to get other people to pour energy into me when I hadn't understood myself yet. 

I finally started putting myself out there again. I reached out to the friendships I had let fizzle out from the previous semester, and the new ones that had just begun blossoming before COVID-19 isolation began. 

It was still exhausting sometimes and still a little scary, but I figured out which friendships had potential and which ones I just needed to let go of. I prioritized the people that were actually interested in connecting with me, and I let go of the ones that didn't. 

There's not a clear cut remedy to being lonely. However, learning to love being alone is the real takeaway from college, not a giant group of friends. However, it would be nice to have that, too.

And in the long run, everybody in college eats alone. It tastes the same whether someone is sitting next to you or not, so just enjoy the meal. 


Reach the reporter at vaishalini@asu.edu and follow @thevaishalini on Twitter.

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