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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The value of your own company

I’ll have my cake and eat it alone, too. 

I’m writing this column while sitting alone in the dining hall. There are groups of friends conversing to my left and individuals quietly eating to my right. I’m sitting at the crossroads of these two experiences.

On one hand, I’m feeling self-conscious about my loneliness. Are people looking at me? Am I being judged for sitting here alone, taking up the head of a wide table meant for large groups? 

On the other hand, I am at peace with my situation. If I had friends with me, I would’ve procrastinated instead of doing my homework and writing this column. I would be idly chatting about day-to-day life in Davis. And I’d be content with that, too. 

We all crash-landed in Davis with the idea that we would become truly independent individuals (aside from many of our parents funding a majority of our livelihoods). On weekends, we’re tasked with grocery shopping and cleaning out the fridge, and on weekdays, we don’t have a parent checking to see if we’re up in time for class. It’s a freedom that is both frightening and exciting.

With all of the independence that comes with college, there’s also an overblown emphasis on the importance of friends and possessions. Yes, you should be 100% okay with being alone, but you should also have an expansive group of friends. Oh, and don’t forget to post all of them on social media — you don’t even really have friends if they aren’t on your Instagram stories day-in and day-out.

The whole idea boils down to the spotlight effect, a psychological phenomenon which correlates almost directly with the feeling that I’m having right now: Everyone is watching me, and I am the most important person in the room. 

Egocentrism is the root of this effect, according to Psychology Today. It’s completely unavoidable. There’s no way to think that you aren’t better than most people when your mind is just an echo chamber of your own experiences and opinions. Going into college with the looming spotlight effect hanging over our heads just shields us from the independence that we were promised all those months ago. 

But I’ll save the unwarranted and exhausted metacognition lecture for the guy in your philosophy lecture. 

I feel like we’re all getting mixed signals here: Is the universe telling us that we should be studying alone by putting up dividers at Shields Library, or is it telling us that we should make study groups per our RAs suggestions?

I just can’t tell if any of us have actually become independent, or if we’ve just become slaves to social interactions. Our world is strife with social anxieties and “hashtag squad goals.” How are we going to be okay with being alone?

It’s important to outline the benefits of being in your own company. For starters, there is no pressure to be funny, interesting or talkative when you’re alone. You can absorb the world around you with an uncorrupted lens, free of any other opinions. 

In class, there’s no pressure to be aloof about your lecture and your class. Sitting with friends in class comes with the idea that we should be joshing around the whole time. Being alone means you can sit there and type your disgustingly thorough notes to your heart’s content. Dining alone? Eat everything you want and talk to no one. It’s a gluttonous dream that we can all make a reality. 

Loneliness is so feared because — God forbid — we have to be alone with our own thoughts. And gosh, the mere idea of being perceived in any way besides perfect and popular is just so daunting. 

I’m not saying we all have to go full Eleanor Rigby, but I think the art of being alone is often overshadowed by the idea that we should all be making oodles of friends in college. It’s practically unavoidable – many of us live in one room with two other people. 

Fraternities and sororities are so attractive in part because they are friendship insurance. Socials and mixers are held throughout the year at residence halls to make sure that everyone is tightly intertwined. 

To some extent, these are noble causes. We do flourish with friends and organizations. But our expectation that our future roommates, spouses, maids of honors and best men could be hidden among all of these people we’re meeting keeps us so wrapped up in everyone else. 

It’s important to make connections with everyone else but to force yourself into social situations ignores the value of alone time. It also places unnecessary pressure on social scenarios — making friends should be stress-free and natural. 

The best friends and soulmates will reveal themselves to you without much effort. The rest of the time should be spent on getting to know yourself. 

Written by: Isabella Chuecos –– ifchuecos@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie

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