I remember being excited to start college because I could be a different person. As a highschooler, I fell into the common traps that can snare anyone in their attempt to belong. My faith and convictions were strong, but that didn’t stop me from gossiping or being mean to someone.
Stepping onto campus that first weekend, I thought I was ready. After attending a cookout between dorms, I realized just how wrong I was.
I was wrong because I assumed I would start college, make friends, and be the shinier version of me. Now it wasn’t that I couldn’t be this person, only I didn’t know how to make friends.
Growing up it’s easy to lose sight of how easy everything is. For example, I graduated with 62 other kids. Even better, I’d been in classes with the vast majority of these people since KINDERGARTEN. Yes, for 13 years, I was essentially sequestered with the same group.
My core friends growing up were mostly girls who were in “Gifted” with me. Not only did we have our usual classes together, but we had bonus time half a day each week (the best week had two gifted days because of the schedule). Other friends I met playing summer softball or high school sports (yes, I was an athlete. I lettered in Marching Band).
Years of intense proximity forced us all to be friends. I didn’t have to think about being friends with people, it just happened. It was magical. Also, at this point I want to be clear that even though I didn’t really choose my friends, they were lovely, and I love seeing their life updates.
At 18, I was thrown into a world where nearly every class featured an entirely new group of people, where many may be older and already have established friend groups. To be fair, my college was relatively small, but to me that “small number” meant one class (freshman, sophomore, etc.) size equaled my entire high school.
It didn’t take long to feel overwhelmed. After my first week of classes, I went home. And I kept going home for most weekends my freshman year.
Randomly I’d hang out with girls on my floor, but it was all just quick interactions. It was probably this time when I got more into social media because I could engage with the community I knew instead of building something new.
Finally, in the spring, by God’s own divine providence and nothing else, I made a real friend. She became my third roommate and we lived together until the end (and then some more after that). Since we had the same major, we did our class schedules together. It was wonderful.
Except now that I had one friend, I didn’t really make other friends.
I felt community, so my desire to get in with other people started to wane. Yes, I would occasionally hang out with other people and there are people I would call friends, but outside of my roommate, there is only one person I’ve intentionally seen after I graduated.
Writing this is hard. I can’t even tell if I’m being cohesive because it’s a flood of emotions as I face it myself. I’m online friends with people I went to school with and I like their photos, but I’m not traveling to see them or posting reunion photos. I’m engaging as an outsider with a shared experience.
Even now, nearly 10 years since I graduated, my one friend and I aren’t close anymore.
The hardest part is knowing it’s all your fault. Relationships are hard and take sacrifice. As a kid, being with the people I’d known all my life, it didn’t feel like that. I loved playing Wii with them on a school night or having another sleepover for the third weekend in a row. I loved my family, but I couldn’t be with my friends enough.
As an adult, I wake up, go to work, and come home. On Wednesdays I have dinner with my sister and her family. Every other Thursday(ish) I have my life group. Like once a month I go out and have dinner with one of my friends.
Living alone, it’s easy to ignore the loneliness. I mean, all my life I wanted to live alone at some point. I’m a nester by nature, so I love building the spaces I inhabit to make me feel safe and warm. My own place allowed me to make an island designed only to please me. You get used to the quiet and solitude, and as a mostly-introvert, I prefer it.
But lately the weight of everything is catching up. After I got back from vacation with my mom and sister, I stepped into my apartment alone, and started crying. I realized this is my reaction after any extended period of time with other people. Once it’s just me, I cry. The difference was this time, I heard the voice I’d been ignoring telling me how lonely I am.
Now I can’t stop hearing it, but I don’t know how to fix it. I literally googled how to meet people in your 30s because that’s my life. My church is wonderful, and I have a great community there, but there’s still a hole. I have a great family and I’m so close with them, but there’s still a hole.
I have friends, people I randomly text and send birthday cards to. I attend weddings and showers and potlucks. They’re great, too, but it’s not the same.
I was so ready to leave my hometown and start a new life that I took for granted the gifts I had there. A world where I was known and loved and a part of something. I imagined my life would be the same as everything you see on TV, a world where you keep your high school friends forever and pepper in new friends as you meet them.
I am here, and it’s my fault. I want to get better. I want to have meaningful relationships. Heck, I’m mostly sure I’d like to get married someday. But right now I just feel like I’ll never have any of it.
This is a post written out of emotion, and I can’t wrap it nicely with hope. My brain knows it could all happen for me, but I don’t feel the optimism. Not in this moment.