University: everyone promised you they would be the best years of your life. You leave home with hopes of finding a group of friends as close as your friends at home. You aspire to come home at Christmas with tales of nights out, new drinking games to prove your heavyweight status and hilarious anecdotes about that time you were tied to a hot rugby boy during a social. But none of that happens. In reality you’ll have a couple of enjoyable nights out, but their enjoyment is tempered by the fact your new found friends seem to abandon you after 15 minutes of being in a club because they have found new friends. Inevitably you end up walking back alone and check your home friends’ snapchat stories of their nights. You begrudgingly like the candid instagrams of them in clubs and question why your university experience doesn’t seem as enjoyable. Everyone else seems to have more friends than you; everyone else seems to be having more fun.
Loneliness is an issue that has been widely written about, within this student publication and others. After a quick Google search for loneliness at university, a number of top university websites appear with the issue listed amongst depression and anxiety on their support pages. Loneliness is not just an emotion; it is a problem that can prevent you from truly enjoying your university experience. It makes you more susceptible to feelings of lack of self-worth and serves as a gateway to self-destructive behaviours and mental health issues. Loneliness is different from being alone: anyone can feel lonely, no matter how many friends someone has. This is why it is so sinister. It can leave you feeling as if you have no one and that you have been short-changed on your university experience.
Some university advice pages give out suggestions such as try to say hello to more people, become more sociable or join societies. These pages seem to suggest that if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained: but loneliness does not disappear based on whether you said hello to that guy dressed in a toga on lacrosse social or not. Of course, external factors like these can help, but the advice overlooks our internal tendency to compare ourselves to others, and this is where loneliness can stem from.
It is well known that social media is a contributor towards this issue. Your friends at other universities may regularly upload Instagram stories of themselves surrounded by people at pres or socials, or their new friends may tag them in extensive Facebook albums, causing you to question why you don’t have that. We inadvertently compare ourselves to others, it’s human nature, but just because someone publicises the amount of friends they have and their nights out on social media does not mean they are having a better time than you.
It is important to bear in mind that each university experience is different. It’s completely down to chance whether you will get on with your corridor. Your friend at Exeter may have found their new best friend in the room opposite them, but for most people, being randomly assigned a group of people to live with doesn’t work out so well, and it is important to take that into consideration. Similarly, if you are the only person you know going to a particular university, don’t compare yourself to your friend who went to Nottingham with a group of 10 mates from home. Everyone’s university experience is different.
Every university student is in the same boat. In reality, your friends who are uploading these instagrams and posting snapchat stories feel as left out as you do. It is completely normal, and even to be expected. It takes a while to find your feet and find friends. It is very much a ‘grass is greener on the other side’ situation: just because someone seems like they are having a better time doesn’t mean that they are finding it any less difficult than you.
The worst thing that you can do is dwell on this. By all means, if you do feel like you are missing out, follow the advice of these help pages. Go out and join that society or sit next to someone in a lecture, these are active measures you can employ to improve your situation. Locking yourself away in your room is not going to make you feel better.
However, don’t forget that the impression we are given on social media is misleading. Everything changes so fast at university. The group of people you spend time with will change, expand, broaden and become more interesting. Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling like you have as many friends as other people. Instead, appreciate it when you find people at university who you get on with. It will happen; just give it time.