I’ve never been good at being friendly. At the beginning of every school year since 6th grade I’ve promised myself I’d talk to more people and make more friends, and every year I broke that promise. College life, with its more nebulous social scene, has relieved a lot of that pressure for me, but it also has paused my metamorphosis into a social butterfly. I’ve spent a lot of my time on campus on my own, especially during this past week. I stayed on campus for senior week, a post-finals, pre-Commencement limbo that left me with a few hours on the job and a lot more hours to kill, which I often spent alone.
Don’t get me wrong, I do know how to be social, and I do have friends. For all the hours I spent by myself this week, I spent quite a few in their company. But for now, I’m choosing to focus on those hours where I was alone.
There’s a distinct difference between alone time you choose, like an evening curled up with a hot chocolate and a Netflix marathon, and alone time you don’t choose, like a lunch hour sitting in a tucked-away booth in the dining hall after all of your friends text you “Sorry, I made plans already :(.” I like the first type of aloneness quite a bit (perhaps more than most people), and the second type I can normally take in stride up to a point. For most of my life, the amount of alone time I faced this week would have been more than I could comfortably handle, but something changed that made it palatable to me.
Now, this is not a story about how I spontaneously got over all of my social hang-ups, made a slew of new friends, and had plans every hour of every day for the entirety of senior week (and I’m booked next week, too). No, this is a story about how I learned to handle being alone in a different way.
Recently, I’ve taken to walking in the glens around my campus, and to going on long runs in the farmland outside it. Normally, I find these things very pleasant, and great opportunities to take nature pictures for my Instagram to boot (@rachelalatalo, if I’ve piqued your interest). This past week, I’ve managed to get more out of my journeys than a few drama-and-homework-free moments or killer shot of the creek. I’ve started to feel something… perhaps transcendental, perhaps Heideggerian, perhaps too pretentious to subject my readers to. I’ve managed to focus my attention outside for myself (and the nagging feeling that I need to use other people as a determining factor of my self-worth) and point it outward, toward the trees, clouds, hills, forget-me-nots, squirrels, cows, etc. around me. More than once, I’ve stopped in the middle of a run or walk to look around, breathe, and generally feel alive and connected to people in a manner different than friendship—I guess I would describe it (and here I’ll sound like a real snob, or at least an uppity yoga instructor) as a connection with humanity, rather than everyone individually. At those moments, I just stand there thinking about how so much exists in the world and I get to exist with it. It’s a blessing that the glens and the country roads are usually empty, because I probably look like an idiot.
Both pretentions and self-effacement aside, these transitory moments have been wonderful. They fill me with a kind of happiness and goodwill that I normally would scoff at or roll my eyes at the mention of if someone else were to describe them to me.
I’ve been lonely at times this semester, and doubtless will feel that way in the future. But thanks to this strange, almost epiphanic situation I’ve stumbled upon, I’ve started to feel it less than I would have otherwise. On occasion, in loneliness’ place I’ve found a profound, inexplicable, and deepl comforting sense of belonging.