September 3, 2018

LIEBERMAN | Embracing Loneliness

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I left a time capsule in the closet of my first home, a shoe box filled with things that I loved as a six-year-old and notes of encouragement for the person I would become years, and years, and years down the line.

I watched Bo Burnham’s new movie Eighth Grade last night, which hesitates around the idea of time capsules — but, even more specifically, around the idea that there is some better, cooler you, waiting around the bend of a few years. The idea that we are just a few years away from shedding this crippling loneliness, or crippling social anxiety, or crippling anxiety — whatever it might be; this pain is temporary.

My brother started his freshman year of college a few days ago. He’s doing great, he really is. He goes to the social events, he does his homework, he uses Piazza — he’s a natural. However, I’ve been thinking a lot about the start of my own freshman year, and how not great I was doing. I didn’t go to any events. I cried over homework. I had no friends. I had my roommate, and I sort of had her friends. But really, I had no friends.

I sat alone in the dining hall, for weeks. I was there, in Robert Purcell Community Center, sitting at the end of a long table, alone, dribbling tears into my pancakes.

I thought that this would be it. This would be my life at Cornell. I was the kid who sat alone at lunch. I knew all the best places to cry on campus. I called my mom three times a day. We had to get a better phone plan. I sat alone in my dark Donlon room and just waited until my roommate would come home from class, so I could wring out a day’s worth of social interaction from her. She was so wonderful, I really should thank her more often. I thought this would be my life at Cornell.

This didn’t end up being true. When you’re in the moment, it feels so real — so painful — that you believe that another happier version of yourself can’t be any closer than years and years away. If I had made a time capsule my freshman year, it would be filled with crumpled up tissues and notes I took while in office hours. It would address the future me, the me after college, and it would thank myself for waiting out all this pain in order to become someone better — someone successful with clear skin.

Okay, here’s the big idea: first-years, there is no better, happier you, waiting on the other side of time. Things don’t really radically change. Life doesn’t just decide to cut you a break. Your life becomes so much better, but it’s not just the time that passes — you can’t just try to stay inside to wait out the storm. You will be happier in the future, you will have more friends, or different friends, you will get better at asking professors for help, you will live only with the people you want to, you will understand Piazza.

But you will also be sad in the future, maybe even sadder than you are right now. You will be lonely again. The loneliness doesn’t just disappear. School will still be hard; it might even get harder. There is no better, happier you, waiting on the other side of time.

But you will be able to handle it. You will have done this before. You will have felt this before. You will know where on campus to go to cry. You will know how important it is to reach out, to call your mom, to go to CAPS, to use Piazza. You will have a steadier foundation, more confidence in your stride; you are still you — with the same skin, and the same feelings and the same desire for things to just get better. But it’s not about things just getting better, it’s about getting better at handling them. So, freshmen, or anyone, welcome this loneliness. Yes, do everything people are telling you to do to cure it — join clubs, chat with people on your floor, put yourself out there. But also, just look at the loneliness, acknowledge that it’s there and in all likelihood will come back, sometime in college or beyond, but you, right now, at this moment are already that better version of yourself that you picture on the other side of time. You are learning how to be happier here, but you are also learning how to be sad. Even if it feels like you are floundering, or failing, or completely alone, you should be so proud of yourself because you are still here, and you are just learning how to be sad. Your future you will thank you, and you will be so proud of you.


Sarah Lieberman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Blueberries for Sal runs every other Tuesday this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].