Lonesome behind the face

Maude Lustig, Humor Editor

I felt lonely senior year.

I didn’t expect it. I thought it was supposed to be the best year, which is why it took me so long to connect my feelings with the word that described them. By senior year, surely, I should have things figured out, and if I didn’t I was probably doing something wrong.

I’d felt lonely before at Whitman, but this was different. Different from the desperate loneliness of first-year, of feeling that if I was alone I was vulnerable (and I was often alone). Different from sophomore year where I watched things happening to all of my friends and nothing was happening to me.

Senior year was an ache in my hip. A dull sort of pain that you get used to. It was fine most of the time. I did my work and came home. I had my few good friends who I loved, and who were also very busy. Even if I felt like something was missing, I thought it was probably too late for me to get it at Whitman. I already had one foot out the door. 

Illustration by Maude Lustig

But it was fine. Until I’d move the wrong way and feel a twinge. Looked too long at a group of friends laughing in the sun, almost too beautiful, and the distance stretched out between us. It made me feel cold in comparison. I remember one night walking around campus feeling lonely down to my cells, knowing that there were people all around me. They were in the dorms, the library, the houses. But I just didn’t know how to get to them, like there was an invisible wall between us.

College is such an intensely social place. All it took was looking out the nearest window to see someone who seemed to be having more fun. Even knowing logically that people’s inner life didn’t match the outside, that plenty of people were probably feeling the same way didn’t make a difference. Comparisons are too easy, and they hurt. 

I’ve always known that even though loneliness seems like an external problem, it stems from within. To overcome it, I would either need to reach out to people and put myself out there, or become more content with myself. This is easier said than done. It’s empowering to feel like you are in control of your surroundings and have the ability to change at any time. But that knowledge can also be frustrating and exhausting.

It’s exhausting to try and overcome the thought patterns that tell you, “no one wants to be around you.” Loneliness warps your brain and leads back to itself. It whispers, “if only you were a little bit better.” It says, “you are alone because you deserve to be.” The evidence seems incontrovertible.

We expect college to be too much. It’s pitched to us as the time of our lives; it sometimes feels more like summer camp than school. But when I look at the landscape of my years there I see moments of connection and fulfillment swathed in long stretches of disconnection. For others it might be the time of their life, but for me it will just be four years. And that’s okay because it means, hopefully, the best is yet to come. 

If I’ve learned anything about loneliness in college, it’s that it comes and goes. Even when I think it feels overpowering, the fog starts to lift just a little. Loneliness isn’t unique to college. I think it will follow me my entire life. There will be times where absolutely nothing is happening to me, where I feel stagnant and stale and isolated. And there will be times when the air is fresh, when the earth cracks open and new things come crawling out. Sometimes all you can do is plant your feet and wait.