There’s a particularly silencing narrative that I keep hearing in person and reading online in Facebook comment sections. It’s repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum. It says that the voices of students who belong to established groups on campus are irrelevant to the conversations on Social Clubs and Neighborhoods. According to this narrative, it’s inconceivable that football players or Marsh Haus residents are battling loneliness too. Their viewpoints on the matter are deemed invalid almost automatically. According to adherents of this narrative, acapella singers are having a blast in their social lives while everyone else is suffering. There is the assumption that these students are already equipped with enough durable shields to protect against loneliness. The thing is, I know I’m not the only member of a sports team, writer for a publication, resident of a theme house, tour guide for the Office of Admissions, or whatever, that is battling loneliness. I’m still lonely. But if in addressing The Loneliness Problem* we only want to ease the sadness of those students who are not already SHEs or members of Mr. Gads, then fine, the rest of this article is moot. But if we’re trying to ease the sadness of everyone on campus, including that writer for The Indicator, we need to focus on a different narrative.
Unfortunately, this narrative has already very heavily influenced how we’ve gone about addressing The Loneliness Problem. It is obvious that the answers that are being proposed largely and undeniably mimic these already established groups, especially athletics and former Greek life. The proposed answers only create more of what we already have. In doing so, we’re failing to realize that the root of loneliness runs deeper than one’s relationship to a group. We’re failing to realize that these groups are imperfect because the members of them are still lonely. Until we accept that, we’re going to continue addressing the issue of being alone and not necessarily the issue of feeling lonely. There’s a very fundamental difference between the two. Being alone is being surrounded by no one. Feeling lonely is being surrounded by people but still feeling alone. We cannot offer a solution to loneliness until we understand how and why loneliness wedges itself into our lives. The following is one theory for its cause.
When insincerity dominates our lives, loneliness grabs us, sticks its teeth into our wrists and begins to drain the blood out of us. Our relationship with loneliness starts with an admiration, by loneliness, of us, from afar. Loneliness is attracted and seduced by all of our disingenuous “I’m good. How are you?”s. Soon afterwards, loneliness decides that it wants a closer look. Upon proximity, it notices that those euphoric smiles we consistently whip out, when passing acquaintances in Keefe or Val, are actually fake. Because loneliness is a perceptive little devil, it quickly puts two and two together and becomes aware that below the surface, we’re actually dealing with overwhelming feelings of emptiness and confusion. It gets closer and looks around from our vantage point and sees that we’ve successfully convinced our peers into thinking that we’re well and healthy. It is now that loneliness decides to make the first overt, and somewhat instigative move. It whispers into our ear compliments of how wonderful it is that we’ve put our peers under this sweet deceitful spell that all is well. Loneliness gets into our heads and convinces us that we need to maintain that image of wellness in order to be loved because at the end of the day, no one loves a mess of a human. Not a single person. So we find ourselves doing any, and every, insincere thing to keep that spell in tact. At the end of the day, we’re left with no one with whom to be truly genuine. Loneliness prevails; it always does over the insincere. It’s no doubt that on the weekends, we find ourselves drinking ourselves into oblivion or crying ourselves into deep sleeps.
In order to break up with loneliness, respect for ourselves has to emerge. We need to realize that respect means being honest in speech and behavior. It means realizing that everyone is imperfectly delicate. Removing the insincerity means saying no to new activities, in order to have time to spend alone, and be honest with ourselves. It can also mean inviting people that strike us as interesting to frozen yogurt or Memorial Hill to talk and just vent, honestly. It is obvious that in this period of growth in college, we want to be loved and accepted. But groups can’t offer that to us. We first have to offer it to ourselves.
* “76% of students reported that they had felt ‘very lonely’ within the past year, compared to 56% of college students nationally” (2014 National College Health Assessment).