I’d always had difficulty making friends as a child. Though I didn’t know it then, I had mild social anxiety, which I often thought of as me just being shy. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to my peers no matter how much I wanted to. I could only sit and watch as they talked to each other and not to me. Some of my classmates were already friends with each other coming into school and immediately had a group of friendly faces to fall back on in case their new friendship conquests didn’t work out.
I noticed similar patterns as I worked through elementary, middle and high school. In elementary school especially, I would try to push past my comfort zone and initiate conversations with groups of girls in my class. I’d often get ignored, or the conversation would fizzle out after a short time. Once, while my first-grade class was waiting at the door to be dismissed to lunch, I tried to join in on a conversation about a movie that I had seen that three girls were talking about. “I’ve seen the second one, too!” I chimed in, “But I haven’t seen the first or third one.” One of the girls snapped at me, “We weren’t talking to you.” I felt like a fool for putting myself out there. I don’t think I ever talked to any of those three girls again.
In fifth grade, I was able to establish a small group of friends that I could rely on to eat lunch with and hang out with during recess. I never felt super close to them at that time. It seemed to me that they were closer to each other than they were to me. I still don’t know if that sentiment was true or whether it was simply my mind telling me this. I cried about it sometimes. I never considered myself to be anyone’s “best friend,” because I thought all my friends had better options and closer connections than me. I later found myself alienated from them during the start of seventh grade. I made some new friends during that time however, and some of them stuck. Others didn’t.
I never seemed to truly click with many people my age. At the same time, I was desperate to find friends. If I tried to talk to someone and it didn’t quite work out, I’d push myself away from them for fear of being embarrassed. During high school, I viewed being alone in a social place, such as the cafeteria, as absolutely unacceptable. It seemed that everyone always had a friend at their side. I did have a friend who was by my side during that time, but it was only the two of us, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly out of place. If she wasn’t there, I’d have to sit alone. I’d put in my music to try to drown out the outside world. I eventually found a group in my sophomore year that I grew close to and another in my junior year. These are the friends I still have today, though they are back home and not here.
Then I moved to Berkeley.
On the very first day itself, I panicked. All I could think about was the fact that I’d have to start over making friends. Berkeley had a bad reputation for the student body being cold and cliquey — like high school all over again. I tried my best to ignore this. I hoped I could make friends in my orientation group, and I did make some but not as many as I would have liked to make. As classes started, I’d see so many people in groups, laughing and having fun, and I wanted that too. But I’d also see so many people alone, doing their own thing and living their best lives. I’d see guys with their headphones on, singing along to their music, alone. I’d see girls sitting on benches and steps, enjoying sunny afternoons, alone. I’d see students taking walks around campus, typing on laptops and just chilling, alone.
It was then that I started doing the things I needed to do alone as well. I’d eat lunch alone, walk to class alone, go to info sessions alone and spend time in between classes alone. It was a big deal to me because I’d always felt like an outcast while doing things alone, but here, it was normal. After a week here, I began to realize that you can’t always have someone glued to your side. It’s OK to be alone more times than not.
It has been less than a month, and I’ve made one close friend and a few more distant. I spend time with her when I can — but when I can’t, it’s not a big deal anymore. I’m completely comfortable with being by myself.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.