Friendship and Loneliness at University
Before coming to university, and in my first few months here, I remember being concerned about making friends. And with good reason: I find making and maintaining friendships quite challenging! I like to spend a lot of time on my own, and I take a while to get to know someone well enough to fully ‘be myself’ around them. Before university, the friendship in my life came from my family, my boyfriend and one or two school friends. Being physically separated from this small, familiar network when moving to uni was kind of terrifying. I did struggle to make friends, and felt lonely.
With the public perception of students being what it is (party animals, best years of your life etc., etc.) it’s easy to feel like I was an outlier. But in the UK, the numbers of students reporting frequent loneliness and having ‘no real friends’ at uni is a large minority (based on an extremely thorough bit of Google research). Instead of the usual ‘top tips for how to make friends!’, I thought it might be useful to share my actual experience.
I was pretty lucky in my first year. My flatmates were all very lovely, and we got along well. I joined several societies; I knew this is how you made friends.
I dropped out of my first year, after two terms. When I dropped out, I think I had depression. A few different factors piled up (stress of keeping up with uni work, degree not right for me, shock of moving, etc.) but I remember an overwhelming sense of loneliness, feeling disconnected from the people around me. And I was kind of correct! There were wonderful people – staff, fellow students, my flatmates – but these were people I’d known for a few weeks, or a couple of months. I did not feel close enough to these people to cry in front of them, or start discussing thoughts and feelings I was having which I knew were irrational, unreasonable, cruel or just a bit pathetic. I was here as a proper grown-up, after all.
Fortunately, I was able to move back home, recover, and work out what had gone wrong. I realised a lot of my troubles came from having unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of myself and of university life, including the social side. When I started again, on a new course, I had a much better mindset.
First of all, I realised it was *absolutely* okay to stay close with my family (and friends, where possible) back home. During term, I now go home almost every weekend and call home most nights. I came to terms with the fact I am just not someone who has a big group of friends I do everything with, and that’s okay. I was lucky enough to find a new course (Integrated Natural Sciences!) which has a small cohort and lots of face-to-face time, so basically comes with ready-made friends. This has been fab.
Advice I take with a pinch of salt, and better advice
‘You’ll make friends for life at university’ – This may well be true, but in my experience you don’t know you’re making friends for life when you make them. I’ve met lots of new people at uni, some of whom I may well stay in contact with, and others I’ll never see again. I find it better to keep expectations low when you start out. Moving to uni has actually helped me appreciate the friends I already have back home, too – they could already be my friends for life!
‘Go along to a society, you’ll find people like you!’ – This is broadly good advice. At the start of the year, I look through all the societies, sports societies and volunteering opportunities and choose some to have a go at. It’s a great way to meet people with shared interests. However, the trouble for someone as socially inept as me is that this is not a miracle friendship-maker. I tend to go along, talk to people, learn some names and faces, etc. but haven’t yet made any friendships that continue outside the society meetings.
‘You’re all in the same boat’ – again, of course there’s truth here. Almost everyone arriving at university will be friendless, living away from home for the first time and keen to meet new people. However, to torture the metaphor slightly, some people’s oars seem a lot bigger than others – they’re more outgoing or confident, or might even already know people at Warwick. In my first year I remember a persisting feeling of being a bit behind everyone else, from not having been on the big freshers’ group chat, to being several weeks into term and still feeling like no one quite knew who I was. Instead, it’s worth remembering that you are definitely not alone in feeling like you don’t have a single friend.
Basically, if you’re like me then you might find making friends at uni challenging, and that can suck, and that’s okay. You probably aren’t going to become a radically different person (socially or otherwise) at university, so try to have some confidence in who you already are. And if you already have great friends or family at home, GOOD! You can keep those! They count!
If you have any questions or want to chat, feel free to message me on OurWarwick.