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Looking Up: Escape Ticket For One—It’s Easy

Sometimes, what I crave more than anything else in the world is to be in it—by myself. I have serious moments where suddenly, the only company I want is my own, and my definition of freedom becomes one of not being found. I think I’ve learned how to be alone.

Actually, I’ve always been like this, just not so securely. Back in high school, my need for societal separation seemed completely freakish. “I don’t really feel like hanging out tonight for some reason,” I’d respond to a friend inviting me over to hang out with a ton of people I may or may not have wanted to socialize with. But mine would be a hesitantly drawn-out statement because, of course, most of my friends wouldn’t see any logic there. Apparently, being surrounded by people was just the natural, taken-for-granted, preferred option when compared to being on your own.

Why, though? Maybe it’s a fundamental attitude or priority difference. For me, spending meaningless time with people didn’t automatically outweigh doing something alone. I loved my friends and walking in crowds and huge gatherings and stomach-killing bounce-off-each-other laughter, and I definitely still do. I also love, though, being completely on my own, in sole charge of my time and state of mind. And, when I really think about it, my life’s most surreal moments of total contentedness usually happened when I was by myself. (For example, I was once driving home in my then-new car, blasting and singing to my music like crazy…when I was struck by the lightning thought of how lucky I was to be driving independently in this unbelievably happy 16-year-old life. I started tearing/crying, and it was a seriously dangerous emotional hit-and-run. And it confirmed my self-aware emotionality. And then I wrote about it in the Stanford application.)

This realization has only solidified in a place where being alone is necessarily self-enforced: College is inescapable society. It’s interesting, isn’t it—how in college, solitariness is an unnatural state we have to purposefully create, generally in the name of studying? But when else is it “ok” to be willingly alone? Why does it seem so socially unacceptable? It brings to mind the classic ice-breaker: Are you an extrovert or an introvert? For sure, most of us have learned the positive extrovert definition and the negative introvert one. Extrovert: happy, popular, chatty, social butterfly. Introvert: antisocial, reflective, diary-writing, analytical, the color blue, moody. I’d say that’s the general set of connotations for the two personality types, and I’m amused by how ridiculous they are. I was a victim of that extrovert-hype, so I used to openly consider myself one. Now, I’m on the fence, but I’m so much more conscious of my introverted side. I know without a doubt that most of my recharge sessions come from…me. I have my family and some fabulous best friends that I occasionally turn to for a kind of perspective rejuvenation. In general, though, I rely on knowing how to be on my own, and I’m grateful for that. Otherwise, I’d be living a life where I constantly avoided myself, and I can’t think of many more sad identity crises than that.

A lot of my friends and people I know are dealing with something else at Stanford, too. And it’s interesting because even though they are my good friends, they still feel it—loneliness. They feel lonely while living in huge dormitories, eating at people-filled huge round tables, sleeping in six-person suites, going to packed lecture classes and biking in the traffic of hundreds of others. Clearly, then, loneliness has nothing to do with how many people are next to us. It’s not solved by how many people we talk to or how many people we hook up with or how many people we see every day. Otherwise, loneliness would be solved. I suspect it has something to do with definitions again.

College sets us up to be alone. We’re, you know, mostly on our own here. No large population number changes the fact that most of us gained some degree of independence entering Stanford—“alone.” And I think the loneliness starts when we assume that that word means the same as “lonely.” But how many other physical states exist that are equated instantly with an emotional one? Isn’t it a bit restrictive? I just can’t imagine living a life where my own presence makes me feel like I know no one. Ultimately, getting to appreciate my own company helped me get over the loneliness thing. Now isn’t life just the most ironic thing?

She said she enjoys being alone, but that definitely doesn’t mean she’s dropping the communication. Connect with Nina at ninamc@stanford.edu.

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