Why Are We So Afraid to Accept Loneliness?

A week before I moved into college, while I was on vacation,  I got a text that instantly sent me to tears.

My best friend, who was supposed to be my suitemate, would not be returning for the upcoming school year. It was impossible to be mad at her- she prioritized her mental health and happiness, and I was entirely in support of her decision, as I hoped my friends would be if I made that choice.

That didn’t make it one of the worst texts I’d ever received. In my freshman year, I spent every waking moment with her. When my other friends went home for the weekend? She was always there. She was always up for getting food with me, and we both had the same philosophy on going out on the weekends, so we never ran into any issues if one of us wanted to go out and not the other. And now, I was expected to go through the rest of my college experience without her, and I didn’t think it could get any worse.

Believe me- it did.

I had gotten together and was feeling better. I still had very good friends at school, which would still be okay. And then, less than 24 hours before moving in, sitting in a hotel with my parents, I got a text from my direct roommate. She had a single freshman year, so she was automatically placed on a waitlist for a single for this upcoming year. She hadn’t told me because Reslife told her the chances of her getting a single again were slim to none. But lo and behold, I got a text saying she got an email about her new housing assignment. She didn’t even have the option to respond to the email. It was an automated email saying her new room. Yet again, another text that sent me to tears.

And again, it gets worse.

My final roommate texted me no more than 10 minutes later. Deep down, I was expecting this. Since our first roommate told us she wouldn’t be returning, my final roommate was also hesitant about returning. I think my friend taking the single was the final push for her, and she said she wouldn’t be returning either. 

And after that, I’ve been alone. I couldn’t contact housing regarding where I lived, so I moved into a completely empty suite, where I’ve been staying ever since. It’s been a…weird situation, to say the least. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy by fully immersing myself in work, writing, and whatnot while trying to reach out to new people.

It’s worked pretty well so far. I mean, I always have something I have to be doing. My classes didn’t give us a sympathy week; they just went straight into hundreds of pages of reading and essays, which is fair. It’s college, after all. Writing for the newspaper has kept me busy, too, and I am trying to finish my second novel and look into internships. Genuinely, what I thought would be the end of my college experience hasn’t really killed me yet. I made new friends on my floor, and I’ve gotten much closer to some girls I met last year. 

What I’ve thought about a lot recently, though, is loneliness. How we process it, how we deal with it, respond to it, and handle it emotionally. While I’ve been able to deal with the shock of all of my friends leaving by not feeling sorry for myself, I still found myself on Sunday, trapped in my room in utter silence, feeling completely alone. But technically, I’m not alone. I still have people on campus I could text and hang out with, but that moment made me feel so trapped and suddenly aware that I, socially, was starting over. 

Considering how quickly everything went down, I realized I didn’t get the chance to process it all. I was so quick to want to hide the feeling that I did everything I could not to feel. It probably didn’t help that the first words I heard while I was in hysterics in the hotel room were that I would have to toughen up and meet new people. No, “I’m sorry.” No, “This is a shitty situation.” I got a lot of those a few days later, but at the moment, I needed to accept it.

If you look up how to deal with loneliness on any website, the first thing they say is to accept it. But why are we so afraid to accept it? I didn’t want to admit that I needed to start over. I didn’t want to think about how I might not see some of my closest friends for a very long time. I didn’t want to think about how, at the end of the day, even if I went to get dinner with people or I went into town with people, I would still be going back to a dorm only half full. 

I don’t think I wanted to pity myself, either. When I first saw some people after moving in, the first words I heard were, “I would be sobbing in here if this happened to me. You’re handling it so well.” There have been people that I would barely consider myself friends with. We just lived on the same floor, who have come up to me and said, “I heard about what happened…if you ever want to get dinner together, you’re more than welcome to!” It’s so strange to hear all of this. I mean, it’s excellent, and it does help me feel less alone, but it also feels like someone could have died with how people react to it. Knowing the response people are giving me makes me want to show them that I’m not lonely and that I was able to come through all of this. 

That begs the question of why is loneliness something we are so scared to feel? We let ourselves feel sad when we fail a test, we let ourselves feel anxious, and we let ourselves feel frustrated, but why is loneliness not okay? My theory is that loneliness is associated with having no friends, which is then associated with a social failure of sorts.

But loneliness isn’t just having no friends or losing all of your friends. There have been many times in high school and college where I have had friends I could quickly hang out with, but I still felt alone. Loneliness isn’t a social failure. It’s an emotional state that we don’t let ourselves accept and feel enough to have a good understanding of. 

I think it helps that I’ve been able to embrace the alone time that I’ve been having. I used to love walking to the Starbucks downtown to work, but I didn’t go often because none of my friends wanted to go. Now, I just go. And I go for as long as I like, and it’s become one of the little things I really appreciate. It’s the same with having an entire room to myself.

At first, the idea of being alone in a suite was eerie, but I have so much space now. I don’t have to worry about my alarm waking up a roommate or having someone in the shower when I’m trying to take one. I’m pretty sure Reslife will put someone random with me, so I’ve been enjoying the space I can for the time being. I think it’s important to embrace the challenging situations we’ve been placed in to move on from them. 

Sometimes, to accept that you will be alone is to be lonely, which is the transition I am going through right now. I think that if this had happened to me last year, I would have lost my mind, genuinely. But, even before this situation, I’ve been thinking about how to process being alone for a very long time. It’s something I always struggled with.

When my friends didn’t come to school that day, or they all went home for the weekend, I would think it was the end of the world. And that wasn’t healthy at all. So I’ve spent some time, and this sounds cheesy, listening to podcasts where people talk about being in their 20s and not having any friends really or feeling like they don’t have any real connections with people and how they deal with it. Learning from others really helped me process everything, and I think it’s a valuable tool to accept loneliness.

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