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College Loneliness 101

ffhreaffhrea Registered User Posts: 253 Junior Member
edited January 2013 in College Life
1. As some have said in other threads, some degree of loneliness away at college is inevitable. In fact, it's natural and probably even healthy. Your parents probably experienced it. Your grandparents probably experienced it. It's a serious challenge to everyone who experiences it, from a health perspective if nothing else. Nobody takes it lightly, as they shouldn't. It's a challenge that has been around since the dawn of time, and it's been discussed in song, literature, and philosophy throughout the ages.

2. Some people don't even realize they're experiencing it. Others embrace it. Some are defeated by it and pack up and return home. A tiny percentage tragically take their own lives. But most everyone eventually learns from it and changes because of it, almost always for the better. Most of the immature pretensions, attitudes, and expectations of youth are usually quickly stripped away by this process of dealing with loneliness. This is kind of like the human race giving a young person an enema. It forces them to re-examine and re-learn who they are, what they want, what they need from others, what others mean to them, and basically how to interact and fit in with the rest of the human race.

3. It's one of the most important life skills that anyone can learn, because it allows you to choose where you want to be, and who you want to be with...which are some of the most important factors determining your life. It allows you to grow outside of the sphere of the influence of your immediate family. In some traditional cultures, young people never stray too far outside the influence of their immediate family, especially women. And all of these cultures struggle economically in the modern world. They pay a very big price for the comfort and emotional security provided by never straying too far from the nest.

4. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to offer for advice in dealing with loneliness when away from home at college. When people try to offer advice, it always sounds kind of vague, like "join clubs", "get involved", or even "eat right" or "exercise". But as anyone knows, these don't solve the problem overnight. You can be surrounded by other people 24 hours a day and still feel lonely, empty, unloved, unnoticed, and unappreciated inside. Lyrics from old songs say it best: "surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends", "when your friends treat you like a guest", etc. The more people try to offer advice, the more it sounds like stuff from a religious sermon or a self-help book. It's because you've just crossed out of the city limits of things you can do with your hands and feet, and into the realm of your heart and mind. And there is no roadmap there. The real issue is what we could describe as "trusting in unconditional love from your fellow humans"...and that sounds as vague as anything.

But here are 7 of the best bits of advice that I don't see commonly mentioned:

1. One the best pieces of advice I can give is to "triangulate" or connect your college relationships with your family relationships. Some students will have a friend at a college for a year, never really truly feel connected to them, until in one afternoon...that friend meets the other's parents. And a lifelong friend is suddenly born. Or the opposite can occur. I recommend having your parents come visit you at college, ideally spend the night, and meeting some of your friends. I recommend your old high school friends coming to visit you at college and meet your new friends. I recommend you invite some of your college friends to come home for a weekend with you. The more the dots try to get connected, the more relationships start to make or break, and the process of settling in accelerates.

2. Another good piece of advice I can give is to get a pet in your dorm or apartment at college. This is another seemingly mundane move that can have life-changing effects. Some students never really feel at home when they're at college until they suddenly get a cat or dog in their apartment, or their roommate gets a cat or dog. They're something about the unconditional love that many people have with pets that changes them.

3. Another good piece of advice I can give is to engage in opportunities to work together with others in any capacity or any form: not just a part-time job, or a study group, or a sports team, but even just studying together with someone for a test, planning a party in your dorm room with your roommate, even planning a day trip with your friends. It's the planning and the working together themselves that are the truly valuable parts. Even if there are few end-products of your efforts. There's something about the process of working together with others that naturally builds real trust and respect among the people involved. And those are the fundamental blocks of any real relationship: trust and respect.

4. Another good piece of advice, and an obvious one, is to "break bread" with others. Most every freshman dorm in America has a mass exodus of students to the nearest cafeteria at dinnertime; it's a tradition in our society to eat the main meal of the day in the company of others. But you'd be surprised how many college students are eating alone, not just 1 or 2 but sometimes 3 meals a day. Many college students structure their schedule so that they eat alone, because it's quicker or easier. But there's something about eating together that connects people. It's not just the process of cycling through energy depletion to energy rejuvenation and back again. There is an inherently social dynamic to the eating process, that probably started millions of years ago when packs of animals fed their family members and fended off scavengers together. Nobody really understands why it connects people, but it does.

5. Another good piece of advice is to continually re-shape the living environment around you. Every kid decorates his dorm room when he first arrives, some more than others, women usually more than men. Everyone sweeps the floors once a week and slaps up a new poster on the wall once a semester. But there's something about the process of continually manipuating one's living environment that makes one feel more settled, comfortable, and connected. Some dorms or apartments allow the students to paint the walls or do other minor home improvement jobs. Many students never really feel settled at college until they've put a lot of "sweat equity" into wherever they're living.

6. Another good piece of advice is to continually learn more and more about the history, traditions, attractions, geology, climate, or sports teams of your college and its town/city/region. A lot of students may learn about their college when they're first choosing to apply to it, or right after they're accepted, or right before they move in. It sounds corny or pointless. Many aspects may seem boring or undistinguished on the surface. But the more and more you learn about its uniqueness, the more it means something to you, and the more connected and settled you feel about where you are.

7. Another good piece of advice I can give is to pray. I'm not necessarily talking about attending a religious service, converting to a religion, or joining a religious group, all of which tend to come with heavy baggage and ramifications, family and otherwise. I'm talking about praying, which is free, and can be done anywhere, at any time, for any member of any religious creed. Many people have never prayed and don't know how. Others just simply don't want to or wouldn't feel comfortable. Even many people who have been raised in families with religious affiliations and who attend services periodically have little experience praying on their own. Even though praying has existed in every society since the dawn of man, nobody has ever clearly understood why or how it seems to make such a difference in people's lives. But it does. Maybe praying builds trust, a key component in relationships. Maybe it builds humility. Maybe compassion. Maybe all of the above. Like the old stories and evangelists will all tell you, praying alone usually changes people's lives.
Post edited by ffhrea on
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Replies to: College Loneliness 101

  • sigkapaccountantsigkapaccountant Registered User Posts: 89 Junior Member
    Uhh...are there actually schools that let you have a pet in your dorm?
  • ffhreaffhrea Registered User Posts: 253 Junior Member
    Yeah, it's typically the apartments, rental houses, and Greek houses where you see the pooches and the kitties. But many dorms will allow small caged animals like birds or reptiles. The old wisecrack used to be: "if you're lonely, get a puppy". But research shows that pets reduce heart rates, and are effective in reducing stress for patients in therapy settings. Some kids spend their entire childhoods with pets, and when they go away to college, they're expected to go for years with any sort of feline or canine contact. It's different in some other cultures around the world, but in most places in America, pets are "part of the family".
  • DMOCDMOC Registered User Posts: 1,442 Senior Member
    2. Another good piece of advice I can give is to get a pet in your dorm or apartment at college. This is another seemingly mundane move that can have life-changing effects. Some students never really feel at home when they're at college until they suddenly get a cat or dog in their apartment, or their roommate gets a cat or dog. They're something about the unconditional love that many people have with pets that changes them.

    If you're going to do this, make sure you check with your roomate about this. I myself am allergic to cats, for instance, so that wouldn't be a great thing. However, I agree with the general idea of having pets. They make us envy them since they don't have worries such as financial difficulties.
    4. Another good piece of advice, and an obvious one, is to "break bread" with others. Most every freshman dorm in America has a mass exodus of students to the nearest cafeteria at dinnertime; it's a tradition in our society to eat the main meal of the day in the company of others. But you'd be surprised how many college students are eating alone, not just 1 or 2 but sometimes 3 meals a day. Many college students structure their schedule so that they eat alone, because it's quicker or easier. But there's something about eating together that connects people. It's not just the process of cycling through energy depletion to energy rejuvenation and back again. There is an inherently social dynamic to the eating process, that probably started millions of years ago when packs of animals fed their family members and fended off scavengers together. Nobody really understands why it connects people, but it does.

    Many of these people might feel shy in the company of others.

    Are you advocating inviting those people to join the mass exodus, or advocating us to join those people at meals?
    5. Another good piece of advice is to continually re-shape the living environment around you. Every kid decorates his dorm room when he first arrives, some more than others, women usually more than men. Everyone sweeps the floors once a week and slaps up a new poster on the wall once a semester. But there's something about the process of continually manipuating one's living environment that makes one feel more settled, comfortable, and connected. Some dorms or apartments allow the students to paint the walls or do other minor home improvement jobs. Many students never really feel settled at college until they've put a lot of "sweat equity" into wherever they're living.

    I suggest decorating your room with your favorite sports teams designs, such as a Derek Jeter Yankee poster.
    6. Another good piece of advice is to continually learn more and more about the history, traditions, attractions, geology, climate, or sports teams of your college and its town/city/region. A lot of students may learn about their college when they're first choosing to apply to it, or right after they're accepted, or right before they move in. It sounds corny or pointless. Many aspects may seem boring or undistinguished on the surface. But the more and more you learn about its uniqueness, the more it means something to you, and the more connected and settled you feel about where you are.

    I'm just curious, but do colleges generally have their own mini-museums where people can tour and learn the history of that particular college/university? That would be a good start. I know that the colleges I've visited don't have much of that on campus.
  • HonorsCentaurHonorsCentaur Registered User Posts: 1,666 Senior Member
    Solid post. I really liked your advice. Number 6 was interesting. I'm going to try this stuff next year, thanks! :)
  • B0okshelfB0okshelf Registered User Posts: 115 Junior Member
    Is making friends this difficult?
  • GiffordGifford - Posts: 146 Junior Member
    Do NOT get a pet during your college years unless you are prepared for a 15 year committment. Pets get left alone, sent to shelters or let out on a strange highway in the country when something in the student's life changes. This is a transitional period of growth, exploration & change in a student's life so unless you are ready at such a young age to committ to a lifelong (the pet's life) committment & sacrifice personal freedom for parenthood, please do not get a pet until you are settled.
    P.S. I disagree with almost everything in post #1` above. If you are suffering lonliness during the most social period of a typical life, then consider visiting a counselor's office for therapy.
  • christian612christian612 Registered User Posts: 360 Member
    Loneliness by John F. ****
  • WCFWCF Registered User Posts: 530 Member
    Your first four points are brilliant. I can't vouch for any of the advice you've given (except for #6; it's a good one), but you've definitely hit on something here. Way to offer something that differs from the cliche here.
  • WCFWCF Registered User Posts: 530 Member
    P.S. I disagree with almost everything in post #1` above. If you are suffering lonliness during the most social period of a typical life, then consider visiting a counselor's office for therapy.

    What a terrible thing to say. Everyone is different and ought to be able to live their lives however they want. Peer pressure like this only worsens the situation for those who are suffering; just because you seemed to have achieved something, doesn't mean you ought to demean others for not doing the same. That's just dripping with snobbery.

    Perhaps it is the term that confuses people. "Being alone" is completely natural. "Suffering from loneliness" is another issue completely and is one that ought to be fixed, either with outside help or personal change. Too often, though, is the first term mixed with the second one. It messes with peoples heads and their expectations become very distorted.
  • iInsomniaiInsomnia Registered User Posts: 185 Junior Member
    I have a feeling that this thread maybe one of CC's hot topics. If the thread's direction goes in the right path. Nonetheless, great advices.
  • ffhreaffhrea Registered User Posts: 253 Junior Member
    - Regarding the long term commitment of having a pet, while it's a concern that should be taken seriously, there are plenty of college students who successfully enjoy pets. Remember it's much easier to do when you only need 1 pet for every 5 to 10 humans. For example, many Greek houses have pets who live in the house from year to year as the students come and go. And for example, if 4 students share an apartment together, only 1 of them needs to get a pet, and hopefully that pet can be handed off to one of the other 3 students should the first be unable to take it with them to their next place.

    - Regarding when and how to "break bread" with others, either in large groups or with particular individuals, it doesn't matter, as long you're using that opportunity to have a little conversation and make a little eye contact with some fellow students. If you're eating alone with your nose in a book for 3 meals a day, you're missing a big opportunity to connect.

    - Regarding therapy, I left out therapy because, similar to organized religion, therapy is an entire profession/industry of its own, and it has its strong proponents and strong detractors. If you're suffering from a condition that has potentially serious health risks, you of course should seek the help of a health care professional. If not, many colleges and churches have organized groups designed for people struggling with and recovering from specific issues. I would recommend checking these out as a start...if you feel comfortable with the process, and feel like there is one suited for your situation.

    - Regarding museums on campus for college history, your town/city is more likely to have a historical society. For college history, there may be books in the campus bookstore or libraries, probably something on the Internet, etc. And there are always the campus newspapers. You may have do a lot of exploring to find more.

    Also, thanks to all the folks for the kind words. I wish I had more advice to offer.
  • GiffordGifford - Posts: 146 Junior Member
    Post #10:
    What a terrible post. Your only point seems to be to make a personal attack. Your post is dripping with acrimony.
    Post #12:
    One pet for every 10 to 12 humans may work with a cat, but is not appropriate for dogs.
    Once again, if a student is suffering from lonliness at what is typically the most social time of one's life, then counseling is an option to consider.
  • giftedgothicgiftedgothic Registered User Posts: 504 Member
    I don't think counseling should be the first option unless time and time again the student is feeling lonely. For those of us who have attended a summer program/camp, we are all familiar of that first night feeling of excitement and loneliness as we look forward to the upcoming days but pray that we make a close friend. I think college will be like that, too.
  • GiffordGifford - Posts: 146 Junior Member
    Nor do I think that counseling should be a first step. But if you are not making friends at college, eating alone, have feelings of lonliness in an environment full of peers with common interests, then something isn't right. I just don't like the meloncholy melodramatic advice proffered above. I disagree. And it is fine to disagree with my opinion as this is an opinion type thread. And I am not concerned with the first few weeks in a new environment as each person has their own style of assimilating & making friends.
  • gotakungotakun Registered User Posts: 550 Member
    Gifford wrote:
    P.S. I disagree with almost everything in post #1` above.
    I feel the same. There are only a couple sentences I agree with, and a lot of the post was just confusing.. For instance:
    (taken out of context for emphasis)
    It's because you've just crossed out of the city limits of things you can do with your hands and feet, and into the realm of your heart and mind. And there is no roadmap there. The real issue is what we could describe as "trusting in unconditional love from your fellow humans"...and that sounds as vague as anything.

    I appreciate OP's intentions, and if that advice helps someone then I'm not going to stop it, but I personally think he/she is way off.
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