I knew coming into Princeton that self-confidence would be essential to my survival and my sanity. Having confidence would allow me to start taking risks and not be afraid of failure, to develop courage and resilience, to learn how to adjust. The new college environment, in which there is so little structure, would require an understanding of my both my limits and capabilities. In order to feel fulfilled socially and academically, I could no longer sit back and let life take its course: I had to challenge, orient, and sustain myself. This meant that once at Princeton, I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone and accept both the good and bad consequences of taking risks, or I else would face being left behind, stagnant instead of thriving.
Now, almost a semester done, while my academic situation could improve, it is not the most pressing or shocking issue. What took me by surprise was my difficulty adjusting socially: I lacked the courage and confidence to put myself out there, and in turn, was left feeling inept and lacking a sense of connection with others on campus. The social and the academic are much more fluid here: I live where I work. There is no retreating to my home at the end of a school day and hiding out. I have to face my classmates all the time; an adjustment as I did not go to a boarding school. I am not misanthropic but I certainly do not do well with copious amounts of people all the time. So I found ways to retreat, especially during frosh week, which was essentially a five-day meet-people festival— something I, an awkward and socially un-suave girl, could not handle all that well. Because I had formed a very solid group of close friends in high school and had a familial bond with them, it was difficult being essentially friendless. Around those friends, I was able to be completely myself and therefore grew comfortable with the quirky, socially awkward, slightly outrageous person that I am. Yet here at Princeton that group was lacking: I had to start all over again, and I was being cowardly about opening up, offering parts of me, and feeling vulnerable to others’ judgment.
So what happened to me, too afraid to put effort into meeting people and sharing myself, was that I turned into a bit of a recluse those first few weeks. Which was silly: of course I’d feel lonely and isolated if I separated myself from the rest of the humans. My insecurities about not making friends, connecting to people, or being seen as really weird were only heightened in all that alone time I spent focusing on the negative.
When I did decide to stop self-pitying and go and meet people, I was frustrated because though I met people, everything seemed superficial to me. I felt as if no one really wanted to get to know me beyond the general, impersonal small talk and chit-chat you have with everyone. Even when I made efforts to develop deeper relationships with people, I definitely felt awkward doing so, as if I were breaching some line and was too eager to be friends with people. Instead of realizing that the key was time and that, yes, I had to take risks and be rejected by folks, I retreated once more and developed a ridiculous me versus them complex in which I felt like the problem was with everyone else and not me (not true, my dear Princetonians!)
A large factor into my feeling that the campus culture was causing my problems is that I do not go out that much. This isn’t because of some deep-seated moral objection—I am all for the rest of the world going out, but I personally am not a fan of large crowds, unless I am with people I really trust and care for (and so far I am lacking in that department) to make it feel more intimate. I did not have any of those people here, so I did not bother going out (plus, I had enough sense to realize that my super awkward freshman self would exponentially up my super awkward freshman qualities if I got dolled up and went to the Street alone). Since I perceived the Street as an essential part of the social scene here, I certainly felt as though I was not integrated into the social scene at all. Isolation was calling my name once again. Yet, upon talking to the few freshmen acquaintances I had made who did go out and drink, a theme started to occur: people drank to loosen up, to have fun, to feel less self-conscious. They said they felt too awkward without some alchy in their systems. Which is understandable, because, of course, no one likes being awkward (except for maybe me). But I think this is because there is a giant stigma against awkwardness. And if people felt too awkward to socialize without alcohol, did this mean that who they were—their personalities—were just awkward? Were they avoiding being their awkward selves because they felt our campus culture would be unaccepting of it or because they simply disliked that aspect of themselves? I’m not sure of the answers and it’s hard for me to figure them out because I know I’m (wonderfully) awkward and have come to terms with it. Yet, despite my own acceptance of my awkwardness and imperfections, I still feel that there is no social culture on campus in which students of all types interact and really get to learn from each other. In this sense, the Orange Bubble becomes a bit stifling, limiting opportunities for people to explore the uniqueness in their peers and instead placing a high emphasis on our commonalities rather than differences. I seek a social environment that is culturally engaging while still fun, one that allows me to learn about and appreciate others’ differences but also to dig deeper and see, that despite however dissimilar our backgrounds may be, underneath it all we are really the same, struggling with developing our identity and surviving in a culture that pushes for perfection and conformity.
I feel alone because I feel like the person who I am, the person who I identify with the most, has not found her counterparts here yet. So when I take the risk of letting go of as much of my self-consciousness as I can and start being myself, I’m happy but I still feel lonely; I still feel unconnected to the campus at large. I am a pretty open person and am willing to share how I feel with others. I am not too ashamed of my feelings and like to discuss them with others, to see if I am on par with them or if I have an issue I need to tackle with myself. Yet I have yet to find people who are comfortable doing the same with me, so in the mean time, I feel alone and strange.
Earlier in the year, I was resentful because of that me versus them complex. But after being judgmental and frustrated for a few months, I’ve come to realize that with time I will come into myself and I’ll be entirely happy. I will find the people that care about me (relationships take time to develop; I forgot that as I’ve had the comfort of being close friends with people for several years) and that accept me for exactly who I am, for the person that I love and want to share. Patience is the key word, and it’s something I have with adorable small children, but oddly enough not with people of my own age. I still need time to grow—I may think I’m mature, but a lack of patience is a sign of immaturity—by myself and along with my peers here. So I will continue to reflect on how my social life is evolving—how I fit into this Orange Bubble—and hope that people begin to find themselves, piece by piece. One by one everything will fall together and connections will be made and solidified. It’s no fun to wait, but as I reflect and grow I realize that no one is really that superficial—it just takes time to admit our ‘weaknesses’, our loneliness, our frustration, and thus, it takes time to connect. It is okay to be upset, unsatisfied, and emotional. I believe that is what makes us human, that is what makes our lives so intricate and complex and exciting to live. I acknowledge that I have a raw aspect to myself, an irrational side that needs expressing. If we all admit that there is something about us that is imperfect, whether it be that we are awkward, or lonely, or disappointed in ourselves, it becomes less of a “problem” and more of a regular aspect of life. It’ll bring us together and make the Orange Bubble feel a little less surreal. While I wait for this to happen, I take joy in the times when I do have a conversation that brings me closer to someone; that makes me realize how much in common we all have. I smile and feel at peace, knowing that more and more of these connections will be made and soon I will feel whole.