The Colors of Loneliness

by Mary Liza Hartong | 11/5/15 6:58pm

11.6.15.mirror.maryliza_Eliza.McDonough
by Eliza McDonough / Eliza McDonough

Color 1: The Post-Trip Lonely

Close your eyes and take a moment to remember how you felt right after Trips ended. You were on top of the world, weren’t you? Stepping off the bus, gathering your belongings, hugging your Trip leaders and Trippees goodbye for now, you believed Dartmouth would be everything it had promised to be — and more. You were totally happy, buoyed by the music of the Lodge still echoing in your head like an inside joke shared between 1,500 people. Dr. Seuss had never been more right about all those places you’d go and people you’d meet, because you had just met your best friends for the next four years, hadn’t you? You felt like calling your mom and telling her you were going to be okay.

Remember this moment.

Then, remember how you began the trek to the River, the Choates or East Wheelock. Remember the emptiness of that white room, the thump of your frame-pack on the greyish brown carpet. You drank a big sip from your Nalgene, took a deep breath and thought, “Now what?” As the minutes passed, that “now what?” grew louder and louder, reverberating off the walls of your room like a menacing siren. You didn’t know who you could call or who you could spend time with or even who you could eat with. You didn’t want to “bother” anybody. Not your Trippees, who were probably tired or had practice for the sports teams they had already joined, and not your Trip leaders who were off seeing their friends or driving home. You couldn’t call your parents because you were pretty sure you’d cry on the phone and they’d ask if you’d made the right decision. You kicked yourself for feeling this way because you just had such a fun time and why were you ruining it with thoughts like these. You asked yourself, with considerable fear, “Is this what college is going to be like?”

Color 2: The Night Out Lonely

This can happen at virtually any point in your Dartmouth career because it has nothing to do with age, number of friends, alcohol consumption or confidence. The scene is always the same — your friends decided it was a perfect night to “go out.” It doesn’t matter where they wanted to go — Barhop, Molly’s, the frats, a house party, someone’s room, West Leb, what have you — because you’re going with them regardless. In preparation, maybe you got dressed up or you drank a little bit. Maybe you grabbed some Late Night Collis or listened to some “pump up” music. Maybe you even texted someone you liked, casually writing, “Maybe we’ll run into each other tonight” like you hadn’t proofread the words and checked them with your friends a hundred times before pressing send. In any case, with a host of expectations for the night — maybe I’ll meet someone, I’ll have so much fun dancing, I’ll never forget this moment — you set out. Your first indication that the night might not go as planned was the fact that it was too cold outside. You shivered, but pushed away your discomfort. You were going to have fun tonight, dammit. You made yowur way inside. It was probably way too loud for your taste, but again, you tried not to care. Forty-five minutes went by, or an hour or three hours. You were either wedged between two people making eyes at each other or you were texting in the corner. You were waiting in line for the bathroom. You were asking if anybody wanted to leave and nobody did. Even with throngs of people around, you felt more alone than ever because you felt that your thoughts and feelings were totally out of line with everyone else’s, everyone else is having fun, falling in love, YOLO-ing to perfection.

Color 3: The Everyone’s Busy Lonely

Everyone you know had more work than they could handle and bragged about it relentlessly. “I pulled an all-nighter to finish this paper,” one of your friends boasted. Another countered with, “Yeah, well I pulled three all-nighters this week.” You observed this warfare of out-busying others with a certain degree of disbelief — in high school you bragged about getting work done, not having too much to deal with — and probably engaged in it every now and then yourself. Your alone time with your friends turned into group masochism, logging impossibly long hours on First Floor Berry like long distance runners. Your medals were baggy eyes and cups of coffee.

Then, something bad happened to you. A close relative died, a relationship ended, the doctor handed you a diagnosis, you didn’t get the job, you were assaulted, you lost your scholarship, you missed a deadline, your dog got sick or everything just became too much to handle. So you ran to your cluster of friends, who at this point were just a cluster of heads bent in concentration, and you asked one of them, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” Your friend did not look up, only said, “I’m really swamped right now. Can we talk later?” You replied, “Sure.” Your problem did not go away, did not mute itself until a later date, but instead probably grew a little bit. Not yet discouraged, you found another friend. This person, though sorry, was equally busy and had no choice but to reject your request at this time. Another, and another, and the additional sting of people only casually asking, “How are you?” to which you are practically forced to reply, “I’m good.” You were reminded of Barbra Streisand’s song in “Funny Girl,” the words “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” and you cursed Barbra Streisand because you did not feel like the luckiest person in the world, but instead the loneliest.

Dartmouth, I’m not trying to say that everyone here is lonely all the time. What I am saying is loneliness is a lot like Voldemort. Nobody in the wizarding world wants to say the word “Voldemort,” but as Hermione points out, fear of the name only increases fear of the thing itself. Allowing yourself to say the word “lonely,” as opposed to the more “He who must not be named” alternatives like “I’m just tired” or “I’m fine” is the first step to eliminating loneliness. Knock on someone’s door, text someone, answer someone honestly when they ask, “How are you?” and say, simply, “I’m lonely.” You might end up taking an hour to get coffee with that person who just asked how you are. You might call your parents and be honest with them, too. You might just find that you feel a little less lonely after finally admitting it. And if you’re not, that’s okay, too. You do you, Dartmouth student. You do you.