Ask Anna: Crushing loneliness
The Eagle's advice columnist answers your most burning questions
Editor’s Note: Some submissions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Hi Anna, I am a freshman at AU and although I love it here I feel very isolated because I don’t have that many friends. I know that it is pretty early to say that, but seeing other students with big friend groups makes me wonder what I am doing wrong. Any advice on making friends and finding where I belong?
How am I supposed to not be lonely in the first semester?
I am going to answer these two questions together since they both touch on the same issue. This is a problem that hits close to home because it is something I went through too. The great thing is, you guys have an advantage: there is so much time left to change things!
I felt this way during the fall of my sophomore year, which was my first in-person semester. My freshman year was completely online, and I felt very isolated from the University and the people. Unfortunately, sophomore year being my first year in person made this more difficult because we didn’t have freshmen year to make friends. It didn’t help that I also didn’t have the traditional residence hall experience. I was in one of the worst setups for a student’s first year on campus.
Here’s the point of me telling you all of this: it got better. I’m not saying that it was instantaneous, in fact, it took me almost the whole year to get to a place that made my junior year amazing, but it did get better.
So, how did I do this? I just did things. I joined a couple of different clubs that had meetings and activities as a way to socialize. This isn’t a foolproof method, but trying clubs within your interests can help you meet people. Sometimes, those people will just end up as acquaintances that you see on campus but sometimes they can become close friends. Either way, you are putting yourself out there and meeting new people, which increases your opportunities to make friends. It also helps to pick one club you are dedicated to and apply for an executive board position when you can. Being in a formal position can help you get close with the people you’re working with, and can help you find people you connect with who care about the same things that you do.
I previously gave advice where I said to just say yes to things. Even if the thing is something you’re not completely interested in, or it’s an awkward campus event, you never know who you will meet. Sometimes you just have to say yes because it puts you in a setting where you are interacting with people you never would have met if you stayed in the dorms.
Additionally, I want to stress the importance of not comparing your situation to others. Yes, there are people who attach themselves to big groups at the beginning of the year, and yes, it is disheartening to see those groups and want to be a part of something like that. However, it is so important to remember that you are not missing out because you are not in a big group. You can find fulfilling friendships in just a few individual people. You are not doing something wrong by not being in a group, and you can still find great people even if it's going slowly in your first semester.
How do I talk to my class crush without sounding like a complete idiot?!
The most important advice I can give to this is to not worry about sounding like an idiot, because, unfortunately, with or without worry, you’ll probably still end up sounding like an idiot — and that’s okay. Sounding off is typical when talking to a crush because you’re nervous. I could tell you to not be nervous, but you are inevitably going to be nervous. They’re probably nervous too. So instead, try to think of those nerves as excitement. It is exciting to have a crush, and you’re excited to talk to them because you like them. That will translate.
After you channel those nerves into excitement, try to talk to them about their interests and what they’re doing. That sounds obvious, but the best way to be more comfortable with the person is to get to know them, and you have to start somewhere. Try to play off of something you guys have in common, something you do together, a class you have, what they did over the weekend or even the food they’re sick of at school and the food they can’t wait to have when they go home.
I’m throwing out some starter conversations because it could lead you to a better conversation than I can offer at the moment. Trying so hard to not sound dense can be what leads you to sound that way, so my best recommendation is to try not to overthink it. Think of it as a regular conversation with someone you enjoy talking to and see if you guys click.
An older, male staff member is pursuing me on dating apps.
First, I want to thank you for your bravery in reaching out about this issue. It is important to me that you know you are not alone in this and that there are resources you can access. If you feel comfortable, absolutely disengage with this staff member. Block him, delete your account, do whatever you need to do to cut off contact.
Non-confidential resources within American University are the Title IX Office and the Dean of Students Office. These, and most University staff — including student staff — are mandatory reporters, meaning they are required to report any misconduct they deem worthy to campus officials. Confidential resources, meaning they will not file a report, include Victim Advocacy Services, counselors at the Well-Being Center and ordained clergy at the Kay Spiritual Life Center. If you wish to file a report yourself, you can do so here.
If you would like to learn more about Title IX, I recommend Know Your IX and the American Civil Liberties Union. Some more confidential, non-AU resources include the RAINN hotline and the Crisis Text Line (a free mental health texting service).
Please make sure to use at least one of these resources to aid in your situation. I hope you get the advocacy you deserve. Remember that you are not alone.
Anna Gephart is a Senior in the School of Public Affairs and is a columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.