In the fall, U of T will welcome hoards of eager frosh waiting for the university experience to turn their lives upside down. This summer series of personal essays delves into the minds of seasoned upper-year students, and everything they never expected to learn.Social networks are strange. I joined them to feel more connected to people around me, but more often than not, I ended up feeling completely alone. This was especially true when I went to university. As I saw people bantering on Twitter, I discovered that I had no one with whom I felt close enough to do that. As I saw new people tagging my old friends on Facebook, I realized that I was not making new friends as I had expected I would in university. As I tapped through Snapchat stories, it hit me that I had not updated my own story in months. As I scrolled down Instagram and saw the fun things people were doing, I felt insufficient because I had not left my room all weekend.I spent my entire first year of university living vicariously through people on my social networks and sulking on the inside because I had made a total of only two friends, one of whom only talked to me during class.During my last year of high school, all of my friends had applied to business or science programs at schools away from home, so they could experience the ‘independence’ that had been so lacking in high school. I had chosen writing-based programs at a school only eight minutes away from home.
I had dealt with both the good and the bad, the happy days and the hard days. And I had done it on my own.
I consoled myself with the promise that I would make new friends. After all, change, I told myself, was the pinnacle of the university experience.However, I forgot how shy and reserved I become when I meet new people. When September hit, I approached no one, and no one approached me. A month passed. Two months passed. Autumn faded into winter. The ground, once covered in leaves in all shades of yellow and red, became covered with an inch-tall sheet of snow. During the week, I would go to class alone, eat lunch alone, and study alone. There were days where my only human contact outside of home was with the Tim Hortons cashier, but I was too immersed in the cycle of lecture-tutorial-assignment-quiz to worry about it.On the weekends, though, the embarrassment of being alone ate me up. I begged my high school friends to go out, only to be met with choruses of, “I’m busy studying.” I did not want to go anywhere alone so instead, I did not go anywhere. Two semesters passed like this, and suddenly, it was April. On a surprisingly sunny Saturday afternoon, after I had finished the last of my first-year exams, I was lounging on my bed, my phone in hand, ready to double tap pictures of other people having fun and then brood about them afterwards. Scrolling down my Instagram feed, I was bombarded with various group pictures whose captions ran along the lines of: “First year would have been different without you,” and “Couldn’t have survived first year without these people!”My first instinct was to search my gallery and post a picture with a caption echoing these sentiments, to show that I had also found great friends who had gotten me through first year. Until I realized that this was not true at all. No one had gotten me through my first year except myself. I had gone to all my classes, done my readings, turned in all of my assignments and packed my own lunch. I had only cried twice, no matter how hopeless my situation had felt. I did not get angry at my friends for cancelling almost all our plans and I did not complain to my parents so that they would not worry. I had dealt with both the good and the bad, the happy days and the hard days. And I had done it on my own.Although company is nice, I realized that I really did not need someone to share every single experience with me. I would have to spend the rest of my life with myself, so it was worthwhile to get to know me — to be comfortable with myself. This summer, I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do, alone and unencumbered by other people. I visited bakeries by myself, went shopping solo. I even had dinner with myself. “Table for two?” the host asked me. “No, just me,” I replied with a smile.