Navigating a big school as an introvert: Can you be happy without friends?

As human beings, we are innately social creatures. From joining clubs to talking to people in class to hanging out with floor-mates, college seems like an ideal place to socialize.

However, socializing is different at such a large school like the University of Massachusetts Amherst. We might see a new face one day, then never see them again. Many professors, especially in large lectures, will never know the name of every student they teach (sadly, we are often just a number in these classes). We’re just part of a mass of students.

In this regard, the student experience here is pretty anonymous. If you’re not proactive and you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t meet people and you could miss out on the wide range of campus resources, like academic advisers or career services. No one will hold your hand here. It takes a lot of self-motivation to graduate and thrive at a large school like UMass.

College is not like high school. You don’t walk down a hallway and recognize nearly everyone in sight. Here you trudge to class, maybe through the snow or rain, sometimes engulfed by a giant herd of other students and maybe, just maybe, bump into a familiar face.

As an introvert here, I need some alone or “me time” to recharge after hanging out with large groups of people. As a peer mentor, I’m ecstatic to have a single room. My single provides privacy and comfort. I don’t have to worry about bothering anyone when I stay up late typing, listening to music or working out. There is a certain type of freedom in being alone.

When you are alone, no one will interrupt you. No one will drown out your thoughts. It’s a good time for introspection, daydreaming, reflecting and goal setting. This solitude is my comfort zone. In my single, I am at ease, completely relaxed and cozy. Though this space is beautiful to me, I know nothing ever grows in a comfort zone. I know I cannot make progress if I don’t make a change.

My job requires me to make my residents feel comfortable and welcome. To do this, I need to be comfortable with myself first. Although it can be intimidating to knock on a new person’s door or approach a large group of students, it gets easier with time. And once the ice is broken, not only do I feel more comfortable with myself and know my residents better, but my residents are more confident I will be there for them. If I never visited their rooms or said “hi” to my residents, they likely wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching me.

In general, it’s hard to think of a job that doesn’t require putting yourself out there to impress or serve those you work with. And though it’s not always easy to be bold and confident, it’s often necessary for success. These are often healthy qualities we should strive for.

How would new inventions be created if people never broke social norms, thought outside of the box and presented their ideas to others? How would singers become successful if they’re never heard by an audience? How would actors get cast in a play if they never put themselves in a place as vulnerable as the audition room?

Happiness can be achieved without friends. However, it is good to have a supportive friend or a social experience. We all need a little love. With billions of people in the world, there is ample opportunity to find someone we are compatible with. We just need to find them.

So, if you run into someone new and want to make a friend, take the time to say “hi” first. Don’t miss an opportunity for a new relationship. Why not be the one to ask a potential friend to hang out first? They may not reciprocate interest, or you may not even be compatible. But, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

You can be happy without friends. But you might be happier with them. If your friendly advances do happen to be rejected, don’t take it personally. According to UMass social psychology professor John Bickford, we tend to highly overestimate how much others judge us. This is a psychological term known as “the spotlight effect,” meaning we think people focus on us and zoom in on our flaws much more than they actually do. In reality, people are too worried about themselves 99 percent of the time to notice what you do.  

If all else fails, be friendly to yourself. Treat yourself. Give yourself a break from time to time. Take care of you, and do what you need to do to be happy. In the end, you are the person you’ll be stuck with for the rest of your life. Why not go for a swim alone, take yourself out on a date, or treat yourself  to a manicure? Despite what most might think, you can be happy without friends. And sometimes, self-love and self-care is the key.

Email Chanel at [email protected].

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