Qu: Alone in a Crowded Room

Maintaining meaningful relationships requires effort.

by Dorothy Qu | 10/20/16 12:30am

I don’t feel lonely at 2 a.m. when I hole myself up in King Arthur Flour with the musical compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich secretly blasting through my earphones. Many of my fellow crammers are unfamiliar with orchestral music’s power to soothe angst, so no, I don’t feel lonely then. Nor do I feel lonely when I embark across the long, cold walk back to my dorm in the Lodge (thank you, housing system) across a deathly silent campus. To be honest, my days are quite busy, and I get very little time to actually be alone. I welcome the peace and quiet as I walk home.

You may be irritated at this point. Do I even know what loneliness is? Or am I just writing this introduction purely for theatrical effect?

I want to say yes on both counts. I believe that loneliness is what you feel when you’ve established a less-than-favorable threshold of communication with others: simply smiling at each other at the Class of 1953 Commons in passing, quick quips across the Green, snaps “for the streak,” life updates shouted over a fraternity basement’s playlist of choice. It’s so difficult to cross over this line of empty salutations and into true friendship once it’s been made.

I was a trip leader this fall, and I have seen my trippees, now matriculated and fully engaged in Dartmouth events, plenty of times from across campus as I was running late to some rehearsal or shift. But I haven’t yet seen them around a rapidly cooling pizza from EBAs as we exchange week one stories. We have collectively attributed our lack of reunions to our diverse, incompatible schedules. My trippees and co-leader, I have proudly concluded, are simply too talented and involved. But this scenario is not limited to us: most active college students, and especially Dartmouth ones, are overbooked.

While being active and hardworking is clearly not enough to fend off loneliness, being in a social group is not enough either. That might sound contradictory to common sense: surrounding yourself with work doesn’t sound like a very effective way of tackling loneliness, but surrounding yourself with people does. I was recently speaking to a friend who is spending his off-term working, and he divulged how he envied my ability to immerse myself within the Dartmouth social bubble whenever I wanted to. It is true that I can easily step outside my dorm and pretend that finals and formal are the only pressing issues I have to face, and it’s a luxury that I love indulging in. But it does not negate loneliness.

It is also easy to think that joining a sorority, as I recently have, is a cure to loneliness. Neither of those assumptions are true; for a long time, I hadn’t felt as lonely as I do now when I stand in the basement of my new house, full of girls who are already teammates and best friends. I think to myself: they’re my sisters now, too; shouldn’t that automatically negate the uncertainty? But it doesn’t.

For those who know me, I hope I do not sound like a dead horse flogging itself when I say that the best possible way to overcome loneliness is rejection. Only then are you forced to grow by yourself. It’s tough when you realize that, after a day of class, work, rehearsals, practices and socials, the things and the people who made you who you were before obligations got in the way are also busy. And although that may be a good thing academically, it is a hard change to accept, personally and socially.

But I return to my previous definition of loneliness: failure to cross the line of mere formalities that you have drawn between yourself and a friend. I’ve hypothesized a sad theory of a self-established, invisible wall between potential, past and even current connection — but I also believe that it’s never too strong to knock down. Stop just promising to grab dinner. Start your laundry sooner, catch up on schoolwork and schedule a date to actually grab a meal. And even if you can’t find the time to get dinner, don’t underestimate the power of having in-depth discussions with someone during the few moments we are allowed to be at peace.