“God, I’d find it so lonely.”
It’s a response I’ve become used to this year (and have pretty much grown immune to). You see, as a junior in college, I live by myself. As the song goes, all by myself -- no housemates, no communal areas -- just me in my boxlike studio. And you know what? I love it. What I don’t love, though, is how most other students perceive it when I tell them -- and how the word "lonely" always seems to find its way into the conversation. The subtle assumption is that I must be friendless, a total hermit with only Netflix for company, when in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
OK, so in the spirit of honesty, I admit that my room is home to the occasional binge-watch session of Pretty Little Liars or Making a Murderer. But only occasionally -- and a hell of a lot less than during freshman year. Even though then I was living in a dorm with five others, the overriding memory of my first term (and achievement) is sitting through a good five seasons of The Good Wife.
For me, living with others was lonely -- but the kind of justifiable loneliness. There’s not a word for it; not one that I could find, anyway. Kind of where you don’t necessarily crave the need to go out and socialize because, hey, you always see your roommates every day, right? How can you be lonely when you’re surrounded, when you live with people 24/7?
Truth is, you can be. It’s a loneliness that just is, like that niggling feeling underneath the surface that something isn’t quite right.
People perceive loneliness as being visions of crying alone in your room, and I guess that’s what I assumed it would be too. Except now, living by myself, I can honestly say I’ve never felt the kind of loneliness I felt in freshman year. It’s not to say I didn’t expect to be lonely; more that when I moved into my own place, I found the loneliness stayed in that first-year dorm, with its large kitchen littered with empty pizza boxes, television and leather sofas sticky from spilled drinks at too many late-night parties.
Loneliness, psychologist Robert Weiss wrote in his 1973 book of the same name, is a subject that has received little professional attention, something as true now as it was then. Perhaps most crucially, Weiss noted how loneliness is not caused by being alone. In other words, you can be like me, living by yourself but not lonely, or surrounded by people 24/7, as we so often are at college, and yet feel totally and utterly alone.
It doesn’t stop that all-too-familiar question, “So, where are you living this year?” from perpetuating these fears. It's a seemingly harmless question I’ve come to dread all too often because it was (and still is) shortly followed by a confused face and followed by these assumptions of loneliness.
“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness," graduating Yale student Marina Keegan wrote in 2012. (Taylor Trudon mentioned this very quote in her intro to MTV Voices!) “But if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life … it’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling there are people … who are in this together.”
Keegan noticed a problem unique to college life -- something that most experience but can’t explain. She was right; there is no word for the opposite of loneliness. Loneliness seems like an absolute state; its opposite seemingly implied, yet in its description there lacks the halfway point, the justifiable loneliness, that I and so many others describe as feeling at one point or another in their college career. I say loneliness, then, not because it is such, but because this kind of phenomenon, if one can call it that, doesn’t have a name.
Society dictates that we should be surrounded by others constantly, and college takes this to extremes. Close-knit communities are fabulous, of course, and I love, love, love spending time with my friends as much as the next gal, but when you’re greeted with a news feed full of people, or a scroll through Instagram turns into an hourlong stalking session, it’s pretty easy to feel lonely for what you think you should have -- including a house full of housemates, regardless of whether you actually get on with them or not.
What I've begun to gradually realize, though, is that what Weiss wrote is true. Being alone doesn't mean being lonely. If anything, living by myself has transformed me into a college junior with a pretty packed social life. Instead of just hanging around with roommates, I make so much more of an effort to meet up with others and to widen my social circle. I'm slowly becoming a "Yes" girl rather than a "Maybe tomorrow" girl.
Come on, it says something when my twin sister, who spent her freshman year at a different party every night, says her New Year's resolution is to socialize more, while mine is to remember to focus on those philosophy essays as opposed to social dates.
The truth is, you can surround yourself with a hundred other people, but if you can't be content and at peace when alone, have you really gained anything? Everyone will feel lonely at some point in their college career, and that can be for a multitude of different reasons, not just your living arrangements.
I know my experience won't be for everyone; the cost is a pretty major downside. I'm able to afford my studio because I work as a resident assistant for my college, so I get a sweet $60 off my weekly rent with all bills included, but such jobs are few and far between. If you're lucky enough to have the opportunity, though, and you feel it's right for you, then I wouldn't hesitate -- and definitely not because you're worried how other people will perceive you.
God knows, I'm not lonely now.
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