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Jackson: Social media adds to college loneliness phenomenon

Cassidy Jackson, Columnist

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On Nov. 4, 2017, a month and a half into my freshman year at Northwestern, I made a fatal mistake. I created a Facebook photo album, and titled it “GO U! GO NU!” — which I mistakenly thought were the lyrics to our school’s fight song. Along with the tragic title, I added a sappy blurb about my college experience and posted around 30 pictures from my experience on campus thus far.

I was sitting in Mudd Library procrastinating homework and scrolling through Facebook when I saw something in my feed. I saw three girls update their NU-themed photo album with over 50 pictures. You know those people who add hundreds of photos every week, while you sit there wondering, “How the heck did they go downtown on a Tuesday, hit up Old Orchard on Wednesday and somehow manage to go to the Bulls game on Thursday?” — that was them. Every time I would see their posts, I would immediately question myself and the significance of my own friendships. Checking social media would push me into a lonely spiral.

Right after I clicked “post,” I immediately regretted it — and I mean really regretted it. For one, my blurb on campus life was utterly cringeworthy and cliché. I described college as a rollercoaster marked by highs and lows and almost included some sort of alliteration about how being a Wildcat is a “wild ride.” Thankfully, I didn’t.

But I did say that my college highs outweighed the lows “a million to one.” And upon reflection, that wasn’t fully true.

Through the message I posted, I was giving my Facebook friends a peek into my reality by saying college wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. On the other hand, I was desperately trying to convince both them and myself that I was thriving nonetheless. I understated my lows, because at that point, I was not thriving.

My anxiety had returned at an extreme level. I missed my family like crazy. Most importantly, I was struggling to adjust to NU’s social scene. I constantly grappled with foreign feelings of loneliness. I was a mess, but managed to hide the reality of how I felt by making myself as busy as possible.

Yet when I made that photo album, I was forced to confront reality. The whole reason I made that album in the first place was because I felt the need to compare the state of my college friendships to what I saw on Facebook.

That’s the thing about social media: It’s rarely ever empowering, because comparison is social media’s devil, and he looms constantly. Sitting in Mudd Library, I felt so down in the dumps. So many negative thoughts were triggered: How do these people have so many friends? Is there something wrong me? Why were high school friendships so much easier?

I usually don’t feel great after doing my daily social media intake, and that day wasn’t any different. I felt rejected and less than. So I decided to do something. I wanted to project what I wished my life actually was in that moment. I posted a sappy message and a collection of photos all with a grinning Cassidy in the center. It was a defense mechanism to the pain I was feeling.

On campus, the transition period from high school to college can be deemphasized, while partying and finding friends quickly become normalized. I couldn’t help but wonder where these relationships came from. It’s hard, almost impossible, to not internalize what you see on social media as the norm and anything outside of that as being abnormal. I can’t even count the number of nights I wished my number of close friends magically jumped from five to 20. That was the majority of Fall Quarter for me.

Then I realized that it’s all subjective.

Those three girls’ squads seemed to represent best friend goals. But at the same time, the next girl could be looking at me, thinking I have the coolest friends. The girl I’m Facebook stalking could also be wishing she had better relationships than she does now.

Recently, I considered hiding that album from my timeline or deleting it completely, because it’s a nasty reminder of a not-so-great point in my life. I don’t because it was a point in my life nonetheless. Now, whenever I get in those fits of friendship comparison and feel myself wallowing, I try to put it into perspective and remember that everyone is experiencing this transition just like me. Then I turn off the screen.

Cassidy Jackson is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at cassidyjackson2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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