College gets a lot of marketing. Besides the shiny brochures you’re probably all getting in the mail, there are media stereotypes about college life, reputations of college organizations in the news, and so many more sources portraying “what college life is like.”
If you have a family member who’s attended college, maybe they’ve talked to you about their college friends and social life. College has a reputation for being full of lively social excitement, and Pomona has a reputation for being very happy. We frolic in the California sunshine, laughing photogenically on our way to our super interesting seminars. In the time that I’ve been here, there’s been some campus dialogue about the “happiness” reputation and the ways in which it can isolate people. Are Pomona students happy? I’d say yes, on average. (Maybe finals is a bad time to ask!) But at some point over the course of college, each one of us will feel lonely at some point, and that’s normal and okay.
Especially after your first year, it can be more difficult to make new friends. Your sponsor group scatters into different dorms, your workload is likely getting harder, and the first-year gregariousness of “Hey! What’s your name?” has worn off. With a couple of social-butterfly exceptions, most of the people I know at Pomona have a lot of friendly acquaintances, but only a handful of close friends they’d probably go to with an emotional crisis — and guess what? When you’re going through four incredibly life-changing years, you’re bound to have some of those. Sometimes, being a Pomona student means running late to an exam, going through a messy long-distance breakup with a high school S.O., making the difficult decision of whether this problem set is worth sacrificing needed sleep, or sitting by yourself staring at the wall on a Friday night. At these moments, college will feel like anything but that fun, bubbly, social haven advertised to high schoolers.
As my junior year comes to an end, I wanted to take some time to reflect on the times I’ve been lonely at Pomona so far and how it’s ended up being okay. Loneliness does not define your quality as a student, friend, or person. I’m hoping that sharing some of my own stories will mean that sometime two years from now when you’re staring at your laptop on a Saturday at 11 p.m. dejectedly refreshing your Facebook newsfeed, you’ll realize that you’re not the only person on campus doing this. Sometimes it’s less a choice between laughing or crying as the irony of both at once…
I can’t very well write a blog post without a list, so here are six of Eron’s Favorite Lonely Pomona Moments!
- First-year spring break: I spent more than half of it by myself watching romantic comedies, ordering pizza under fake names, and giggling when the pizza was delivered to me under that fake name.
- Also first year: The guy I’d been crushing on got into a new relationship. I took a series of over 50 selfies being romantic with a pineapple (yes) and posted them to Facebook. Actually, I’m not sure if this was a low point or a high point.
- Fall of sophomore year: All of my friends were sponsors. I was not. I ate almost every meal by myself and did a lot of sulking until I got up the courage to get to know some of my friends’ sponsees (who eventually “spadopted” me — hi Feather!).
- Sophomore spring break: Went to Zion National Park with friends. After a terrifying 8-mile hike on the side of a cliff having shaken me the day before, I spent the next day by myself doing nothing at the campsite and feeling terrible about myself.
Halona with the Pomona College Orchestra: Spent almost the entire time doing mountains of homework while people played games around me, then lay awake upstairs stressed while listening to everyone else talking and laughing. (It’s worth noting that I love the orchestra! This was more an effect of the workload that particular weekend than of the people in the ensemble.)
- A couple of weeks ago, Saturday night: My suitemate went to her S.O.’s room. My S.O. went to a party with a friend of his from a 5C club. I texted two different friends, both of whom were busy. I cried and then fell asleep on the couch.
I’m pleased to say that these were all pretty anomalous. So why am I revealing these embarrassing and sad moments to the internet? Partially because the internet is usually one of the most deceptive places with regard to loneliness. Often, when I find myself alone, I turn first to my phone or my laptop, but these places are full of false connection. I don’t know about you, but my Facebook newsfeed is always full of happy, smiling people at events with their friends. That’s hardly helpful. So what do we do?
For starters, pay attention to your college friends as soon as you find some. Ask if they’re okay. College is hard! Make sure you’re holding up your end of the deal. It’s easy to feel less lonely when you know people can rely on you, and it’s easy to justify reaching out to your friends when you make a point to be there for them, too. This brings me to the second point: don’t be afraid to admit that you are lonely and reach out. If it’s a “tonight” loneliness, text three friends and ask what’s up. Go for a walk. Go to sleep. If it’s a “this semester” loneliness, set goals for yourself to get meals with a certain number of friends. Join a new club or organization (a couple of my friends have blossomed quite a bit socially by doing this). Go to dinner with one friend and their mutual friends. Study with people from class and get to know them better. Obviously, not all the same things work for everyone, and there’s the third point: Know yourself socially and the degree to which you need human company. If you thrive on being by yourself, there’s no shame in that! Either way, part of college is getting to know your own needs and how to accommodate them as an adult.
In my time at Pomona so far, I’ve gotten much better both at being alone and at coping with my lonely moments. Junior year has been the toughest academically as well as socially (not a coincidence), and it can be easy to forget that your mental health is at least as important as whether or not you finish this chapter of reading in the next fifteen minutes. If you need to take a picture with a pineapple, cry to a friend, or stress-bake cookies, go for it. Yes, we are Pomona students; yes, we are lonely sometimes; and yes, we belong here.