So, you’re a college student. You go to a campus of nearly 50,000 people. You talk to people throughout your day, you go to parties, you get invited places. Everything should be great, right? But what if it’s not? What if during these parties, you find yourself zoning out, wondering if any of these people actually notice you’re there? What if your weekly events begin to feel like just another way for you to be drowned in the chaos of a campus full of so many people? What if you thought you fit in one place, only to realize that you didn’t and now you’re thrown to the side, struggling to remember how to make friends and wondering if anything else will come along, or if you’re alone in this crowd for the rest of your days as a student?
If any of these resonate with you, you aren’t alone. You’re part of a growing trend seen on college campuses known as “The Loneliness Epidemic”. That’s right, it has a name and it affects college students all around the world, including me.
I’ve never been good at making friends. I’m a shy and reserved person and I take a long time to open up to people. If high school was a daunting feat for me, then college was a whole new beast waiting to be tackled.
I knew it was going to be tough, but going into college I felt pretty solid in my confidence to be able to reach out and meet new people. I had a solid best friend my senior year of high school, and through that friendship I was able to rebuild a lot of the hurt I’d carried from past friendships that hadn’t worked out. Using this confidence, I got a job in my dorm, hoping it would connect me with a bunch of new people who would be my friends, and boy oh boy, did it work. In the blink of an eye I was friends with a core group of people who hung out almost constantly, were always down for a fun time and who seemed to be pretty great and supportive of each other. I was set… or so I thought.
The funny thing is, as the saying goes, “People make plans, and God laughs” and he had a real funny way of showing me that I was not on the path he wanted me to be on. Through a long and harrowing journey, full of hurt and stress, clouded by moments of bliss and laughter to mask that chaos, He led me away from my group and into complete newness–and not in traditional “Christian transformation” you hear of in all the testimonies.
In what felt like an overnight change, I became the lonely college student who once had everything she thought she needed. And I’m scared.
People are scared to use the word lonely, and in the day and age of social media, to a lot of us, maybe it doesn’t make sense. How can a generation so easily accessible and connected to each other feel so lonely? How can a college student, on a huge campus with so many people around her feel lonely?
I don’t have the answers. I’m still being led through this season, and it is not easy.
I’m a people pleaser. I’ve always dreamed of having a ton of friends, being popular and having people around me to be my friend, so where do we turn when this illusion that having a large group of people around you will fix it all? That “if I could just get some friends, I wouldn’t feel so alone?” and the even bigger question, “How can I feel alone when I know God is always there?” I followed God away from my past, did a full 180, and now, I don’t know where to turn next.
I’m writing this after getting back from a white elephant gift exchange with my small group where there were over 20 people, and in the moment I was having a great time, and then boom I get back to my apartment and all I can think about is how lonely I feel.
There are things I know: I know I have friends. I know people care about me, and I know I fully intend to continue in my small group; but when so much changes so fast, things you thought would never change, it gets hard to remind yourself that this is all a part of His Plan and that you are not alone in your feelings. I think the hard part comes in when you realize that even though so many people are privately feeling lonely, in our public lives, we won’t dare admit it.
We post on social media pictures of us with our friends or our families when we’re out and about having a great time. We post Snapchats of us with our bible studies and our coffee outings with friends, and people see them, assuming we must have it all. Especially as Christians, it seems like the concept of loneliness is something foreign. Fellowship, after all, is strongly associated with Christianity. But Christianity does not make you immune to loneliness. No one is, yet we all pretend we are, which in turn only makes us more lonely because to everyone else it seems like no one is lonely, when this is just not the reality.
People who have nothing can be lonely, just like people in a group of so many friends can be lonely. A Christian can be lonely, even while pronouncing that “God will never leave us”. I’ve have been and currently am, all of the people above.
It’s hard to not feel like I’ve taken a million steps backward, reverting back to my 8th grade self, but this time there are a few things different about this round of loneliness.
I did this to myself. Previously, I’ve dealt with people disappearing from my life, but this time around I distanced myself from the people in my life, and I did it for my benefit. I don’t regret it, but I’d hoped by now I would have more answers than I feel I do. I thought that by joining a small group, getting back into my relationship with Jesus, I would be flush with a renewal and revival of people, and while I’ve met so many great people there are things I’m still scared about.
I’m scared it was a mistake, I’m scared that it’s a pattern, and I’m scared that if the people who I used to talk to in the past saw me now, they’d think I was fake.
I don’t want this to be a vomit filled complain post, I just feel the need to share my thoughts and experiences so that those who are also feeling lonely may realize that they aren’t the only ones.
There were two other times in my life where it felt like everything familiar had been stripped away from me, and out of those two times I met my best friends. Last year, I went through one of the hardest things I had ever had to face. I thought I wouldn’t make it past it, but looking back now, I realize that without the events of last year occurring, I never would have turned back to Jesus. In Isaiah 66:9 it reads, “In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord,”
While I’ve experienced so much loss, I’ve also seen so much growth within me. I’m not sure if this post is helpful in any way, but I’ll leave you with this: if you’re lonely, I hope you find the reason for this season in your life, and, if we’re all lonely, why not be lonely together? 🙂 Embrace the talk of the “L” word and maybe this world won’t feel so big to us.
2 thoughts on “The “L Word” of College”
I think the addiction to social media has created a dependence on and a craving for a constant connection to someone, anyone, just to fill the void, to fill that emptiness when it is only you and self. And it is good that you recognize you are not alone in feeling alone. This is a real problem. You and yourself must at times be enough. Friends are very important, crucial, but the constant communication with someone, anyone, on social media is a distraction from your own thoughts. “Loneliness” is the hunger created when you lose that distraction. We (old people) watch you (young people) standing next to one another in a group or sitting next to one another at a table and most of you are on your phones, not really talking to the group you are with. You now not only need your crowd but also someone on your phone at the same time. I hope you find your way out of this cycle of constant communication, you and all those your age who are experiencing loneliness. This is beautifully written, Dellie. If you never felt alone you would never experience what you must in order to write about emotions like this. Put down your phone and spend more time expressing your thoughts on paper.
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I agree wholeheartedly with all of the points you made in your comment! I’m happy that I’m able to say that my lonely season and feelings have improved since writing this post, and I hope by others reading the post they realize that this feeling isn’t just me or just them. Social media is such a huge cause of this pervasive feeling of loneliness in our teens and young adults because social media culture feeds into the idea that everyone should always be doing something and if we aren’t, we feel less than others. Social media throws in our faces all day everyday, what everyone else is constantly doing, even when it is not the reality. I think it’s a challenge that faces this generation and is probably only going to get worse for future generations unless we can show them that social media isn’t reality, it is simply a “highlight reel” of other peoples lives and thus does not need to effect our perception of ourselves or what we are doing. It isn’t easy, but it helps to know that other people are feeling the same things