Are you lonesome tonight?

Students contemplate solitude vs. isolation


REVERIE by Camile Corot, Ca. 1860-1865. Metropolitan Museum Open Access.

Taylor Romans

For American high school seniors, the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go has become a standard graduation gift. The book mentions many things about what the future can hold for us, but there’s one quote I think is often overlooked:

“All alone!

Whether you like it or not,

Alone will be something

you’ll be quite a lot.”  

I think we skip over these lines because the idea harshens the mood and because being alone scares people. How far do college students go to avoid being alone? 

When we are 18, we decide if we want to pursue a college education. We think about what it will be like to be free from our parents and finally getting to be in control of our own lives. We think of  all the new friends we will make of whom our parents wouldn’t approve, and we wind up loving those friends even more because of it. We arrive at our new lives and a lot of us feel a slight tinge of loneliness that we spend the next three years trying to avoid. 

Some influencers on  social media have begun to romanticize being alone. The influencers now call being alone “protecting your peace.” That doesn’t sound nearly as “being alone.” Likewise “being your own best friend” — that makes being alone sound like a choice.

And being alone is a choice. It’s feeling alone that scares us.

At Birmingham-Southern College (BSC), first-year students are required to share a room. Often this causes freshman women to cling to their first-year roommates, even if they don’t particularly enjoy them. New arrivals crave the comfort of having a person to look for in the caf or between classes, or someone with whom to go through sorority recruitment.

Junior chemistry major Ryane Williams is in the class of 2024; she started during the COVID era, when all first-year students had private rooms. I asked her if she wished she had the shared-room experience that other BSC students had during their first year. 

“I do feel like I missed out on the true freshman experience,” Williams said. “Not only was I an out-of0state student but I only had friends that were on the basketball team. When I quit basketball I really had no one.” 

The following year, Williams moved into her sorority house and shared a room with her best friend, Elaine Russell. Williams believes that this made up for her lost time, but she still had times of loneliness. 

When discussing the differences between the loneliness she felt then and the loneliness she occasionally feels now Williams said, “I still felt lonely sometimes but they weren’t the same feelings I felt freshman year because they were not consecutive.” 

I also interviewed sophomores Manasa Chintala and Nicole Villavicencio-Garduño. As first-year students, these two young women were roommates in Cullen Daniel. Unlike some freshman-year roommates, Chintala and Villavicecio-Garduño are still very close and miss sharing a room. 

Chintala is a global comparative studies major. Now that she no longer has a roommate, she chooses to romanticize her alone time by taking herself on coffee dates or visiting record stores. I asked her when being alone starts to feel lonely.

 “I feel alone when I am bored and want to do nothing, but I want to do nothing with someone else,” she replied.

I understood where Chintala was coming from. For me, being alone starts to feel lonely when I have something I want to share with someone and there is no one around. Sometimes being alone is useful to recharge your battery. However, sometimes it feels like one second, you’re alone, and the next you’re lonely. 

Villavicencio-Garduño is a sophomore computer science major who did not always like to be alone. I asked her what changed her perspective. 

“I stopped experiencing fear of missing out when I realized the events are never as fun as people portray them on social media,” Villavicencio-Garduño said.

Social media has a lot of drawbacks, but I think there is a lot of good that it shares with us, like different perspectives. We as a generation have embraced being alone. I also believe the pandemic has cured a lot of people’s fear of missing out (FOMO).  During the pandemic no one could do anything but be alone and some people realized how much fun they are. Maybe being your own best friend isn’t the worst thing you can be.