The stereotypical perception of college life dictates that we are expected to surround ourselves with friends and peers all day. Eating alone in the dining halls or staying in for a night is thought of as shameful because no one wants to be perceived as lonely or friendless.
When I first arrived at UC Berkeley, my desire to be social trumped everything else. I’m an introvert at heart, yet I pushed myself to my limits and beyond. It was humiliating to sit alone in the dining halls, to see old high school classmates already with a group of friends as we exchanged obligatory greetings. I often hid in the corners of the dining hall, feeling as if I stood out like a sore thumb.
As the months passed, and I settled into life on campus and in the city, this fear faded. After all, my life was consumed with grades, quizzes, assignments, group projects and extracurriculars. We, as college students, became busy with our lives. I quickly came to realize that if I barely noticed if someone was sitting alone in the dining halls, why would anyone notice that I was?
Social expectations are exhausting to keep up with. At the end of a long day, I don’t want to go out with a large group of friends. I want to stay in, binge-watch a couple of movies and open up a bag of chips. Just because I was alone didn’t mean I was lonely. This was the fundamental truth that changed my view.
I’m good at keeping myself company. I enjoy my solitude, the quietness. I enjoy eating alone. I see absolutely no issue with the opposite, but I found myself caring less and less about these standards. If I didn’t have time to judge anyone else’s social life, they probably wouldn’t have time to judge mine, so I let myself relax a bit.
I stopped trying to obsessively worry over if I had anyone to sit next to during class. I continued to push myself, challenge myself, break out of my comfort zone, but the stress I endured trying to accumulate as many friends as possible was greater than the stress of academics altogether. I let myself simply be. If I shared a common interest with a peer, I struck up a conversation. I asked for a few phone numbers. I understood that we may grow apart, or we may not.
I, for one, cannot keep up with the social expectations that weigh on all college students. Because of my introverted nature, I always found myself compensating by pretending to be the college student that movies portrayed. But pretending is exhausting.
I’m not lonely when I’m alone. I felt as if I should be, as if I should constantly crave the need to be surrounded by people. In fact, I felt more lonely in crowds than I did inside my dorm room.
We all have moments where we’re lonely. I certainly have. But being alone should not always be associated with loneliness. It was freeing to allow myself to go at my own pace. I tried new things and applied to clubs. I let myself explore. I also let myself let go of the shame and embarrassment I felt when I was alone.
The lesson I learned doesn’t only apply to college life. At some point, we all need to familiarize ourselves with our own company. As we venture further and further into adulthood, the time we spend alone is likely to exponentially increase. I’ve never liked the saying “you should be your own best friend.” However, I’ve learned that before you do anything else, the first friendship you should focus on is the relationship you have with yourself.
Contact Winnie Wang at [email protected].