Volpicello ’18: It’s okay to be alone

Op-ed Contributor
Friday, February 5, 2016

Before coming to Brown, odds are somebody probably told you that college would be the best four years of your life — that you would be making friendships that last a lifetime and the person you end up marrying could be sitting next to you at orientation.

This isn’t everyone’s story. Not even most people’s, nor should it be.

Students at Brown feel this overwhelming burden to live up to the social expectations of the “ideal” collegian. For some, the idea of partying it up in blurred tipsiness with friends (or strangers) sounds like a blissful respite from the Ivy League pressure cooker. For many, a date with a jar of Nutella in the glow of the Netflix menu is far more preferable. But for these hazelnut-spread-and-chill folk, every moment spent alone feels like a moment that could be spent networking or socializing. There is this constant social anxiety caused from feeling left out, and yet another from being too immersed: a relentless war for balance between self-preservation and self-exposure, with one side’s gain becoming another’s loss. It’s easy to feel like a cocoon amongst a university of social butterflies.

When you walk into a crowded, sweaty, drunken dorm room, it is perfectly fine to feel like you’re drowning inside those dumb speakers that blast water in sync with the baseline and decide that you’d much rather go back to your own room. It’s okay to not go out to dinner with all your dorm neighbors even though it seems like everybody else is. It’s okay to feel emotionally and mentally exhausted. It’s okay to take some time to recharge. It’s okay to have one good friend rather than an entire friend group. It’s okay to just prefer your own company. It’s okay to be alone.

Being alone does not have to be lonely. Being alone simply means being able to be there for yourself where and when others cannot. Being alone means learning to care, love and know yourself — as others learn to do the same for you. It’s difficult to expose yourself to the world and how uncomfortable or misshapen it may be to you, but every moment spent alone isn’t wasted: It’s invested. Though you may never agree with party culture, and your romantic life may not unfold quite as quickly as your academic one, you can at least begin to search for the livelihood within you. With it, you can beckon and culminate true contentment in yourself and begin to look for it in the world around you. Far too many people find forced relationships, groups and resume-builders that they’re not actually passionate about to fill a void — a void for a happiness that they don’t yet know or understand, all in the hope that they might figure it all out one day. They think of college as a four-year ice cream social, for making dinner groups feel less socially awkward at the Ratty and career connections that will get them where they might want to end up. In reality, college should be devoted to you: first and foremost.

College doesn’t just have to be a time to chase strobe lights and internships; it can be a time where you truly develop yourself as a human being. Too many college narratives focus on how we, as Brown students, are the future movers and shakers of our generation, capable of real change. But what about individual change?

I truly believe that before we invest ourselves in bar exams or barhopping, we need to evaluate what we want to get out of college in the first place. If you want to set your sights on having the most fun you possibly can in four years, then go for it. But if your goals are just to learn to be comfortable — in your own skin, in your workload or with what’s going on in your head — that’s just fine, too. Whether you’re the type of person who goes out with friends or stays in to watch 10 seasons of “Friends,” in whatever you choose to do tonight: You’re right. If you feel alone most nights, or even just once in a while, just know you don’t need others to feel and be whole.

Alex Volpicello ’18 is double concentrating in political science and history and can be contacted at alexander_volpicello@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds can be sent to opinions@browndailyherald.com.