Moving somewhere completely new where no one knows your name can be an exciting or thoroughly terrifying experience depending on your circumstances. For a prospective college student, it’s probably a bit of both. For some others, maybe more terrifying than anything else.
…However, since I only have personal experiences to draw from, I’m gonna focus on the voluntarily-moving-to-college angle here.
I’ve had two “fresh starts” since high school. The first was my freshman year at Mizzou in 2013. Despite being only a few hours away from my hometown of Kansas City, nobody I knew enrolled there and I was in fact granted the clean slate I wanted. I fantasized that upon arrival I would be reborn anew, grow a mustache, start referring to myself in the third person as “B.B. Mush” and take the social scene by storm from there. Only one of those things later actually happened, and I instead spent the first ten weeks in staggering isolation unsuccessfully trying to orient myself to my new surroundings. It took me my entire first semester to realize there were people coping with the exact same problems living less than ten feet away.
Although I eventually made some great friends that year, the time I spent alone forced me to evaluate what I wanted from college and I decided to transfer to MTSU as a sophomore to enroll in the Recording Industry program. And once again, my slate was wiped clean.
Unfortunately, the second time around, living off-campus while attending a commuter school slowed my acclimation substantially. The first year, I spent a sickening amount of time closed off in my room writing angsty songs about dying alone and, whenever I left the house, desperately trying to find a social niche. For this post, I briefly considered advising on what to do when feeling isolated in an unfamiliar place, but, given my experience, I feel I’m probably a stronger authority on what not to do. First off,
1. Trying to hide it.
By this I don’t mean go advertising your social ineptitude on social media or unloading on every person you meet. Leading with “I have no friends!” before even learning a person’s name can make people uncomfortable for obvious reasons.
However, you may or may not be surprised to find how many others around you are dealing with a similar struggle. Even people you perceive as well-adjusted very well may be emotionally crippled jelly bags with robust poker faces just like you. We’re talking about a universal human emotion–everyone has experienced it to some degree. On top of that, pretending to be a social butterfly is silly and the facade usually makes you look like a deuce. Most people can see through it, and among the ones that can’t, zero of them give a @!%& about your blossoming social life. This has a lot to do with my second point:
2. Pretending to be someone you’re not.
“Being yourself” isn’t a novel idea, and you’ve heard it before, but it’s really worth taking to heart at times when under emotional duress. In the midst of complete social desolation, it’s easy to get caught up trying to figure out what you’re doing “wrong” and start trying to accommodate your personality to whoever you’re around. I’ve found myself doing this consciously and subconsciously in the past–trying to be the type of person I think someone wants me to be, working their ego by agreeing with everything they say, feigning interest in things I feel differently about or acting a certain way to fit in with a group of people who should have nothing to do with me. And if you feel the need to do these things constantly around friends, can you really call them that?
Of course, there are formal situations that call for this kind of etiquette, but you’ve gotta know how to turn it off. Unless you’re Frank Abagnale, being disingenuous all the time isn’t going to get you anywhere if you’re doing it for social validation. Inevitably it will make you feel even more alone.
3. Using long-distance relationships as a crutch.
This includes all kinds of relationships, romantic or otherwise. Talking to family or friends from out of town can be a great resource when your chips are down, but relying on it too much can seriously stunt you from making inroads towards improving your situation mentally and literally. And if you’re maintaining a long-distance romantic relationship, be particularly wary that you’re not compromising your own growth as a fledgling human for it. Speaking from personal experience, you may not even realize you’re doing it.
With the ubiquity of Skype and smartphones it’s easier than ever to fall into this safety net time and time again. If video-chatting with memaw is always your first line of defense against the creeping loneliness, it might be best to cut yourself off. I’m sure she’ll understand. And if she doesn’t, screw her. She blew your inheritance on a villa in Cabo.
4. Dwelling on the past.
Nostalgia is a natural psychological response to loneliness, but many of us tend to get stuck reminiscing instead of making progress. Constantly fixating on how much better things used to be is 100% counter-productive and most likely not even true. Writing for the New York Times, Historian Stephanie Coontz warns that “nostalgia can distort our understanding of the world in dangerous ways, making us needlessly negative about our current situation.”
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the good things in our past. But memories, like witnesses, do not always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need to cross-examine them, recognizing and accepting the inconsistencies and gaps in those that make us proud and happy as well as those that cause us pain. – Stephanie Coontz
It’s important to place your memories in context, the good and the bad. Learn from them or let them inspire you to create new ones. You just can’t let them bog you down.
5. Lurking on social media.
I saved this one for last because I honestly believe it’s the worst thing I do. I used to spend a clinically insane amount of time following the goings-on of everyone I know/used to know/don’t know on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and such in a sort of daily masochistic ritual. I knew whatever I would find would make me feel bad, angry, annoyed or insecure, and yet, I continued to do it over and over again. It’s addictive. Why? When we need a mental break, our brains crave social interaction.
Amid hours of scrolling through newsfeeds, perusing snapchat stories and photo albums, I spent about 1% of my time actually keeping up with friends and the other 99% trolling for something to put me in a bad mood. It’s a vicious cycle and it took a while for me to realize how truly poisonous I had let it become. My iPhone became a metaphorical ton of bricks for me to lug around day after day.
Realize that many people (perhaps yourself included) use Facebook and other social media platforms as tools for self-aggrandizement. We commonly use these mediums to tailor false images of ourselves, cherry-picking sparse shareable moments or boasting achievements and uploading pictures out of context in a way that compliments how we want to be perceived. For example, a night out drinking and partying may look like a legendary rohypnol-induced Vegas debacle in ten-second increments, but behind the veil it’s just a sausage party of five playing beer pong in a guy-named-Topher’s stepdad’s dank basement.
It’s a phenomenon that looks a lot like this.
The verdict? We’re all a bunch of liars behind the keyboard. Comparing yourself to your friends online is a slippery slope. I haven’t completely cut myself off from social media, but frequent reality checks are in order if I’m to use it without succumbing to it.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll leave you with this one last piece of advice for combating loneliness: look inwards for validation, rather than to others for their approval. If you can learn to live without getting the OK from friends and family, not only will you grow tremendously as a person, but you may even begin to enjoy time spent alone.