I follow my university’s “confessions” page and I’ve noticed a common recurrent theme in these confessions. There is an overwhelming amount of students struggling to make friends at university and in life in general. They are lonely, shy, afraid of rejection, tired of trying, depressed, and suffering from low self esteem.
They are, in other words, my kindred souls.
The number of posts and comments suggest that loneliness is an epidemic, but that’s good for us, isn’t it? It means that there are plenty of other people out there who have NOT established friend groups yet and are looking for human connection.
For what do we mean when we say “friends”?
We don’t mean the girl you wave to when you pass each other in the hall or the boy you’re paired up with for a group assignment. I hate small talk and although I know that I’m further isolating myself and causing my own loneliness, sometimes I’m too tired by small talk so I just don’t bother. And it’s not only that I’m tired and anxious. I don’t see the point. I don’t enjoy it and who’s to say it will lead to anything more? And maybe it’s because I try to make small talk with people and go nowhere, while I see a girl who spends one week with the people I have known for a year already become integrated into the group in a way I know I never will.
But, as evidence seems to show, again, I am not alone. Yet, if there are so many of us pining for friendships, why are we not able to find each other and make these connections?
Obviously, it’s not as easy as it sounds. From personal experience, I can vouch for anxiety being a huge huge factor in isolation. Everyone will tell you to join clubs and to talk to the person sitting beside you in the lecture. They don’t seem to understand how much courage it takes to merely show up at one of those club meetings and to merely NOT leave a seat in between you and the next person. We’re not even talking about going up and introducing yourself. Just to put yourself in a position where that could happen is terrifying. But say it does happen. You do end up in a club meeting. You find that half the people already have friends and are laughing and chatting at a high decibel. The other half are already in engaged conversation with the person they met 15 minutes ago. You sit in silence hoping someone will come up to you and make the first move. If someone does, you talk for two minutes about both of your majors and they give a fake laugh at your lame joke, then they announce their friend has arrived and leave.
But here’s the rub. If by some miracle of nature and humankind, you manage to put yourself in a social situation and start talking to another person, that doesn’t mean you are going to become friends. I’m not sure what percentage the likelihood of friendship developing is but I know it is not high.
I’m beginning to think I might understand something of why so many of us are struggling with this thing they call friendship. Friendship is connection. But how are connections formed? Maybe connection is formed through shared experiences and conversations – through a growing mutual understanding of each other and spending enough time together to grow comfortable and able to open up and perhaps most importantly, it means becoming attached to another person so that you care for each other and form an interest in each other’s lives.
Time forms bonds.
But before I’m comfortable with someone, it’s so hard to keep conversations going (small talk) and they don’t care about my life yet because they don’t know me and it’s so hard to have the strength and courage to start that conversation in the first place. And yet that could be the foundation of forming a friendship.
So I am stuck in a depressing circle.
And then there are people who can be immediately comfortable with strangers and OF COURSE they are going to be chosen as a friend over someone who is awkward and nervous and not quite herself yet.
The only area of connection with which I’ve seemed to have had fairly consistent success is when sex is involved. This makes me wonder if the prospect of sex encourages a person to participate in an emotional and psychological exchange and this in turn causes connection. I can’t say the idea doesn’t depress me. Do I need sex to convince people to give me a chance?
I guess some evidence goes against this theory. Some people do seem to make friends very rapidly. Then I fall into a rabbit hole of wondering if I am simply an excruciatingly boring person; hence, why I end up alone. The flip side is that the conversations I have managed to sustain haven’t succeeded in bringing me friendships. So why expend time and effort for something that is so unlikely to bear fruit?
Maybe it is a self fulfilling prophecy. I always return to this and wonder if I am the enemy of my own life. If I believed that everyone wanted to be friends with me, would this turn into reality?
Seems like a fantasy.
At the end of the day, I know it is not a question that I am my own enemy. I’m the one who is anxious, too tired to make an effort, too quiet, too intimidated by everyone talking over me to pitch in a word and unable to make myself heard when I try.
I’m still longing for connection and I’m not ready to give up trying just yet. But I’m well aware that what I call “trying” falls short of everything I could be doing and I’ve been trying and trying to change my personality and neuroses enough to make real “trying” possible.
But it never happens.