Column: Being alone vs. feeling lonely


College is a time when you are constantly surrounded by other people. When you are living with someone else, taking classes with other students and eating meals in crowded dining halls, it can feel like you are never alone. 

Yet so many college students feel lonely. 

In the age of social media and technology, when it is easier than ever to connect with others, shouldn’t we feel less lonely?

To answer this question, I want to differentiate “being alone” and “feeling lonely.” 

You can be alone while still feeling content with yourself. In this situation, feelings of loneliness are not an issue. It is important for college students to master the art of being alone and navigate newfound independence. 

But “being alone” often can be intertwined with feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness can stem from a perceived lack of support, feeling like you don’t fit in, developing a new routine that feels foreign or being away from home. 

Personally, I struggled with all of these things last year, and I sometimes still have difficulties with feeling lonely today.

Last year I had a fear of being alone. I believed that being alone would automatically send me into a spiral of loneliness. I became someone I did not recognize, all because I was running away from the idea of being alone. 

I didn’t know that being alone and taking time for myself would kickstart my personal growth journey. 

At first, I did feel lonely. I stopped going out and took time to reflect on my emotions. But I took care of myself, and I did things for me. This is when I realized that I loved being alone. I also realized that being alone and feeling lonely are two completely different concepts.

One can have dozens of friends or thousands of social media followers, yet still feel lonely. On the other hand, a different individual can have a few supportive individuals in their close circle and feel genuinely content. 

It is important to understand yourself and stay in touch with your emotions when combating loneliness. If you are not listening to yourself, you are bound to remain in a cycle of emptiness. 

According to Psychcentral, “being able to draw happiness from solitude is an important life skill and can improve mental health and overall well-being.” 

This hits the nail right on the head. If you aren’t able to be happy with being alone, you will always be lonely. 

Thinking back to my previous question about social media usage and its correlation with feelings of loneliness, HelpGuide notes “it’s important to remember that social media can never be a replacement for real-world human connection.”

In terms of social media use, less is more. If we consume so much of what other people are doing, who they are seeing and where they are going, we are bound to long for those connections as well. After all, humans are social creatures. We crave meaningful relationships.

However, before we are able to create these meaningful connections, we have to learn how to be alone and content. If you are constantly running away from that scary feeling of loneliness, the connections you attempt to make will not be authentic. 

Next time you have some free time, take yourself on a date. Go to a coffee shop and read the book that has been sitting on your nightstand, or take a walk around campus and listen to your favorite music. Enjoy time to yourself, and you will begin to enjoy the art of being alone without those feelings of loneliness.

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