“You’ve got to learn to walk to class by yourself.”
That’s the first, dumbest and best advice I got about college.
“I’m pretty sure I can handle walking to class.” I had just graduated high school earlier that day, and they had just finished up their first year at UNC a few weeks ago. The floodgates of first-year advice were opened. “It’s not just that. Sometimes you have to eat lunch by yourself. And dinner. And you sit in class by yourself sometimes too.”
As a senior who clings to the quiet of solitary walks between class and work, it’s hard to remember the isolating treks from South Campus. I’d bring flashcards or call my mom or count the stolen bricks underfoot to stave off what would inevitably be 20 minutes of existentialism. Am I smart enough to be at UNC? Was Chris Daughtry robbed of the title of American Idol? Did Hinton James get shin splints? Do I have shin splints? Do I know enough about fracking? Why does everyone else here seem to have read “A Tale of Two Cities” and not just the Illustrated Classics abridged version?
You’ve got these huge swaths of time to fill as you trudge across campus or as you eat a meal by yourself on campus for the first time or as you’re left sitting by yourself after you tell the first-years around you in COMP 110 that you’ve already cried to Taylor Swift before FDOC and they move seats.
But it’s something you have to learn how to do, to walk to class by yourself and eat meals by yourself and sit in class by yourself. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone to suddenly be left with only yourself to hang out with. Every time my suitemates left for a night my freshman year, I’d fall into a slight spiral and watch “Full Metal Jacket” on a loop, crochet each of us a scarf and anxiously await their return.
You don’t spend college wanting to be only completely surrounded or only in a total vacuum, and you don’t have to pick one. It, like walking on a tightrope or keeping a fish alive in a dorm room or making OK grades while also sleeping once in awhile, is a delicate balancing act. I bounce between clinging to every class friend one semester and reaching my emotional capacity for friendly interaction by FDOC the next.
There’s feeling alone in a crowded lecture and feeling pleasantly quiet in a nearly empty dining hall. There’s spending every night giggling with your roommates and spending every morning making a playlist of songs to existentialize to. There’s screaming across the Pit when you see a class friend from five semesters ago and not calling out to your roommate when she bikes right in front of you because you’re afraid you’ll startle her and she’ll fall and it’ll be a whole thing and you’re already a little late for class anyways.
Have I trod out too many “there’s a time for some things and also a time for other things” paradigm examples? Good. I thought about it on my walk home from class.