Column | Dec. 8

Jagged little pill

I have a friend whom I consider to be very popular on campus. People are always coming to visit him while he’s working, and he tends to be “in the know” about upcoming social events at a level that I cannot even begin to approach. One day, I noticed that he was a little bit quieter than usual. Because I saw papers scattered all around him, I initially assumed that he was working hard and had no time for distractions. But then, he stopped working, looked up at me, and said in a soft and unassuming voice, “I don’t know why I feel so lonely. It’s like no matter how much I do, I still feel like I’m not close to anyone really.” I consider myself to be able to comfort friends when they are upset, but I was speechless. I just looked at him with pity because I have been there before. I just never thought loneliness was a battle that he was struggling to overcome. Now I’m starting to observe people differently.

How is it that a person can be heavily involved in a wide range of activities and be a constant fixture on the social scene, yet still feel lonely? I thought that if a person has connections in many different circles within the Princeton community, then he or she could always get in touch with someone at any time of the day. The probability for being able to meet up with people is much higher. But I tend not to think this way anymore. Friends who live in the same hall can go a week or even more without seeing each other. Dinner dates booked weeks in advance can suddenly be canceled an hour before the scheduled time. Inside the Orange Bubble, we all live in our own individual bubbles. We navigate our day-to-day lives based on meetings, classes, studying, eating and, for some of us, sleeping. Just because a person is well-known on campus through extracurricular activities does not mean that this person has a deeper connection to people that extends beyond planning conferences or study breaks or writing sponsorship proposals. At a basic level, we all just want someone to care about us. Someone who gets in contact with us for the sole purpose of asking how we are doing. At times this need is overlooked. But I’ll be the devil’s advocate and say that it’s not like the other person is making a conscientious effort not to ask about your mood; sometimes things are time-sensitive. People need to move quickly and sometimes this pace comes at the expense of others.

The hookup culture has been one of the most controversial topics in recent years. I do not intend to take a position on it because everyone is entitled to either partake or refrain from this part of Princeton’s social scene. However, I have had several friends who actually despise themselves, not because they hooked up with other people and hated it, but because they could not be like everyone else and just enjoy it. Some people just don’t do well with transient interactions even when they force themselves to engage in them. Some people yearn for intimacy on a continual basis.

I think that it is extremely difficult to confess to anyone — even yourself — that you are lonely. Often, the more you try to hide from it, the more jaded you become. You are conscious of your time and other people’s time, and that might influence you from ever reaching out to anyone on a more personal level. I will never know why my friend chose to share his feelings with me specifically, but I’m glad that he did. It made me wonder if there are others like him who feel the same way. I wonder if others sit down and spend exorbitant amounts of time trying to rationalize their feelings until they feel better about themselves. For instance, a person might ask, “Why do I feel lonely when there are countless events every day going on where I can meet people?” They can spend so much time trying to find the answer to “why” rather than trying to understand “how” he or she came to feel this way. Whatever it is, I know that my friend, as well as others, will make it through. But even so, the fact that the sentiment is there makes navigating this portion of life a jagged little pill to swallow.

Morgan Jerkins is a comparative literature major from Williamston, N.J. She can be reached at mjerkins@princeton.edu.

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