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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Li: Me, Myself and I: learning to be alone in college

I’m convinced I opened too many fortune cookies growing up; I think that’s why I’m obsessed with predicting the future. Freshman year was no exception. When I was packing for my first year of college, I envisioned and mentally prepared for every outcome: failing my classes, falling out of friendships, fiending for my mom’s home cooked meals. I even dared to imagine meeting my future husband: we would accidentally reach for the same MOD pizza and happily walk into the sunset together.

But I wasn’t prepared to be so alone.

Despite being surrounded by 8,000 young adults, this was the first time in my life where I sometimes had no one to talk to. In high school, I was used to spending classes chattering with my classmates, and after school, bugging my parents. I had no idea that as the buzz of Wildcat Welcome died down and midterms began to loom, my greatest enemy would be coming home to a silent dorm room. When I went to grab dinner at Allison Dining Hall, it felt like everyone was sitting with their close-knit friend group — except me. When I scrolled through Instagram on a Friday night, it seemed like I was the only one not at a party.

I felt like I was doing something wrong, like I was back in third grade and the only kid without a partner for a class project. If my social calendar wasn’t filled to the brim, I thought I was falling behind. So I started treating friendships like a scarce commodity, like gallons of water I needed to make it through a social desert. I would ask different people to have dinner with me every day of the week so I would never eat alone. I would stay at parties where I wasn’t having fun just so I could say and feel like I was doing something.

This did help me make new friends, and I had new experiences, but I really wish I could tell my freshman year self to relax. I would tell myself to stop treating my loneliness like a bleeding gaping wound that I needed to stitch up. I should let myself bleed a little, so I could form a scab, and the skin underneath would be tougher than it ever was before.

Loneliness is normal. Now, I’m not saying this is definitely going to happen to you, but if you find yourself on a weekend night with absolutely nothing to do, don’t judge yourself, don’t rush to “fix it.” Accept it, and maybe even find a way to enjoy it. Or, if you’re invited to a party but just want to stay home and binge watch Bama Rush TikToks, do it! I promise the friends that really matter won’t stop talking to you just because you all spent one weekend apart.

You will make amazing connections and memories during freshman year (maybe not the best memories of your entire college career, but good vibes nonetheless). However, if you find yourself paralyzed with anxiety that no one likes you and you have nothing to do, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, realize it’s not true and have a blast on your own!

I’m an extrovert, and being lonely definitely sucked sometimes, but it taught me so much. I found new hobbies, like painting my nails with a thumbtack (don’t knock it until you try it), reading and late-night ramen. And maybe most importantly, I’ve learned to enjoy my own company a little more.

There’s nothing wrong with craving the constant company of people. I will always prefer engaging conversation over watching YouTube videos by myself. But learning to be able to spend time alone and not hate it is pretty awesome. I didn’t expect this, but by surviving and thriving in my alone time, I learned to love myself unconditionally.

All of my deepest friendships formed serendipitously, not through desperation. But most importantly, don’t forget to become best friends with yourself.  

Anita Li is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lifeisfab02

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