Finding Social Footing at College Takes Time, Effort

Amber Scherer, Contributing Writer

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how fragile my friendships at Oberlin are. After a fairly solitary first semester, I was excited to develop a group of friends this spring. It was reassuring to have people I could geek out with over music or politics or just hang out with on weekends. That’s all I’ve ever wanted from friends: casual, easygoing relationships. In high school, at least, that’s all friends were for me. My real support came from my family, so I never sought it out at school. But now, away from my home and family, I’m realizing how much time it takes for people to get to know each other well enough to become the family we all need.

I feel unsettled away from home. I’ve been looking for friends to act as a support system, but I’ve just been attaching myself to people who make me feel happy momentarily. And a lot of the time, I just see what I want to see in people.

There’s this hole in my chest, sometimes in my stomach, that aches constantly. I can distract myself from it when I socialize, when I’m practicing piano or running. I live for ways to distract myself from it. But the more I turn to temporary solutions, the more I ache when I am forced to acknowledge my loneliness.

I asked a friend of mine about this. “How do you get through a feeling like that?” She just grimaced, “One day at a time.” Is that going to change? I feel like it has to, and we’re all gradually getting to know each other. I hope so.

There are a few people I’m starting to genuinely love at Oberlin, but only a few, the very few who seem to return it. I’ve known all of them since Orientation week, and for each, it took an awkward, semester-long relationship to figure out that we genuinely liked each other. Each relationship was a gamble, and my friendships that haven’t worked out far outnumber the ones that have.

I might be a hypocrite in saying that I don’t feel connected to many people, because I myself prefer to hide my thoughts. I like seeming happy — it makes things easier. I started doing it in high school; it helps me get along with people superficially. I’m not saying I would prefer to express my dark feelings all the time, but I do wish I felt safe enough to be more “real.” I don’t trust a lot of my friends, because I know they don’t actually know me. Many of them seem to think they do. They look at me, at my practice schedule, at my penchant for laughter, and they see a happy, diligent child. That’s always been how other people see me. But now that we’re all in this game of pretending to know each other so well — what else can we do? — I’m finding more and more that I resent it. I don’t think I fit into a character trope. I don’t think I’m even a clearly defined person yet.

Looking for familiarity in a place where everyone is a stranger is a much harder and longer struggle than I imagined, and it doesn’t seem like people talk about this much. But I want to, because I’m hoping that it’ll help. If it’s something we share, then at least that makes us that much less isolated.