Note: This article is completely my personal opinion and is a reflection of what I see on my college campus. I do not claim to be a psychologist (I'm not even a psych major) or assume that every personal situation is the same. I also love my friends and relish the time I spend hanging out with them.
Photo Credit: ELLE
Throughout my life, I've noticed humans have a tendency to label others based on their sociability. Tommy is an extrovert while Kara is an introvert. Leslie likes to watch movies alone, so she must be anti-social. And Karl always delays studying so he can hang out with his friends - a clear sign of FOMO (fear of missing out). These misconceptions and judgements are partly to blame for what I see as an epidemic among college students.
When I got to campus my freshman year, I was bombarded with groups and clubs telling me I should come to their meetings, as it was a quick and easy way to make friends. "An instant network," I was told. I love meeting new people and branching out of my comfort zone, but it seemed to me that most of the reason I was herded through the organization ring my first few weeks on campus was a fear of falling behind my peers. Not academically, but socially.
It became painfully obvious that eating alone was a no-no. Did I want to spend all of Friday night in my dorm room? Not particularly, but it seemed like it wasn't even an option if I wanted to avoid being looked at as weird or unsociable.
As I think about it now, I realize I'm definitely not alone - most people aren't nearly as social as others think they are. So, my argument is for students across campuses to embrace those solo moments and not be afraid to look "friendless."
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I realize some girls already do a beautiful job with this, and I admire those who are confident enough in themselves to not care about the opinions of others. But I would bet money that some of you are like me and subconsciously worry about being less social than peers or not having the right number of plans.
While it may seem shallow and prove that I need to re-prioritize my values, it's a true fear that I think is partly the result of a culture that values "extroverts" and sees them as happier, more productive people.
Extroverts and Introverts
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I really don't know how to feel about Myers-Briggs tests or any other indicator of personality type. They've only served to confuse me as I work through the muddled definitions that our society has changed to reflect common conventions.
For example, many people assume extroverts are loud and introverts are shy, but this is actually a common misconception. The definition of an extrovert is someone who feeds off the energy of other people, while an introvert can be stimulated while alone. A BBC study proposes that extroverts respond favorably to higher levels of dopamine, so they need higher levels of stimulation to be satisfied.
Regardless of the science, I believe I am a shy extrovert. This means I crave being around people and find myself mostly wanting human interaction, but am often afraid to seek out others or strike up a conversation. As a result, I feel a lot of anxiety over the fear that others will become friends without me and close the "bridge" to our friendship.
In reality, most people are always open to making new friends and welcoming others into their circle! This is all the more incentive to take the time to find things you truly care about and join clubs supporting these causes rather than join things simply because everyone else is.
Finding quality friends is much more important than the quantity of "friends," so don't get strung up on not knowing as many people as you think you should, or finding yourself without plans one weekend. Our expectations of what to expect from college friendships are sometimes exaggerated and lead to feelings of disappointment.
Loneliness is Self-Constructed
The reason why many people seek out others is because they're afraid of being lonely. This has happened to me on more than one occasion. I would love to stay in my room and do DIY projects all night, but think doing so will eventually make me unhappy and unfulfilled. Fortunately, your definition of fulfillment is all that matters, according to another BBC study.
While there are negative health effects as a result of loneliness, lonely is not synonymous with alone. Lonely means not feeling connected or cared for, but is separate from being physically alone. You determine your mental and emotional response to surroundings.
I want to do better at thinking about this in the long-run. Though I may feel like I am missing out on something or left out of a group I could join, am I happy anyway? If you are meeting your emotional and social needs from the friends and acquaintances you currently have there's no reason to stress about not being social enough.
I want everyone, including myself, to worry less about defining themselves in terms of how social they are and instead focus on crafting meaningful relationships.
Try It Out
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While you may disagree with my point completely, think that I am not in touch with reality by assuming people feel social stigmas related to friendship, or already be a master at doing things alone, I challenge college girls to be comfortable trying the following activities solo:
- Running. Exercise is a great thing to do alone and is actually more commonly done alone than in a group.
- Movies. Going to the cinema alone can be intimidating, but once the lights go out and you have that trusty bucket of popcorn, you'll be laughing or crying too hard to care.
- Shopping. Sometimes shopping alone allows you to try on things you never would have picked up in a group, and you don't have to worry about what your friends think of your tastes. (Although true friends will embrace your quirky style!)
- Coffee shops. Bring a book, your laptop, or simply sit and people watch. The drinks are usually meant to be savored, so you have an excuse to linger in silence.
- Spas. Pamper yourself and get lost in how beautiful you are, inside and out!
I want to reiterate that I am not advocating for these to be strictly solo activities, or denying the power of group activities. I would actually probably much prefer to do these things with my friends, but find that doing these things alone is a healthy exercise in feeling confident on my own.
Those were also just a few of my favorite things to do alone - the list is endless depending on your personal preferences. Whatever you choose to do, whether it be alone or in a group, remember that being social should be fun, not stressful!
What do you think?
Do you see the same problem on your campus? Do you have any suggestions for going about things alone? Get the discussion rolling in the comments!