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Alone, not lonely

One of my most cherished personal possessions is my calendar. I know, seriously? It might seem lame, but there's something so satisfying about pulling it up on my computer and seeing the neatly arranged boxes, each with their own color signifying the event's importance. Light blue for class, purple for meetings, and pink for plans with friends. As beautifully organized as it is, I'm starting to think I need a new color - time to be intentionally spent alone.

Last semester, I went to a concert at DPAC to see a group I had been dying to hear live ever since I could remember. In the weeks leading up to the show, I asked around my group of friends to see if anyone was free that night. Ultimately, any tenuous plans I had made—texts of “yeah, maybe” or “Let me see if I can!”—ultimately yielded nothing. As the day of the show approached, the reality that I would be going alone stared me down, becoming more of a daunting challenge than a fun experience. But what was it that made me feel this way? This was something I had been looking forward to for weeks and had excitedly counted down to, but now, as I faced the reality of solitude, there was a part of me that didn’t want to go—at all.

On one hand, how pathetic is that? That I couldn’t find anyone, not a single person, who was willing to go listen to a few hours of Bon Iver on a Monday night, that I couldn’t muster the courage for a post in All Duke or even a message in a couple GroupMes, looking for a companion. But on the other hand, I saw it as a chance to do something that I wanted to do, simply because I wanted to do it. A situation without social pressures or worries of keeping a guest entertained, an experience only for me and only because I wanted to do it. Luckily, I decided to go despite my reservations and experienced one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen. But when I told people about how I had spent my Sunday night, they pushed back a little on my excitement.

“Wow… you went by yourself? That’s cool, I guess.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you had gone alone, was that weird?”

None of these comments were meant to come off negatively, but given the uncertainty I had experienced, they only confirmed what I had thought before—it was weird to do something by myself. Even though I had a great time at the concert, I chalked it up as a strange experience, something out of the ordinary that I wasn’t necessarily excited to repeat.

I faced a similar situation at the very end of winter break as I attempted to make plans with friends to see the movie “Call Me by Your Name.” None of the plans ever really took shape, so I found myself on the last night of winter break facing a 10pm showtime and no one to accompany me. I had been waiting to see the movie almost all of December—Dallas was one of a few cities showing a limited release, and I had the release date marked on my calendar as soon as I found out about it. I knew I was going to miss out on the opportunity to see it in a theater if I didn’t go, but just like last time, the thought of going alone didn’t sit totally comfortably with me. My mom unknowingly gave voice to my doubts when I told her I was leaving the house at 10 o’clock on a Monday night by asking, “Really? You’re going to a movie right now? By yourself?” I ended up going to the movie despite her confusion, but even as the gorgeous scenes of summertime northern Italy flickered on the screen, I still felt a twinge of something sad, an extra degree of awareness of my solitary state.

I must say, as I exited both DPAC and the movie theater in my hometown, I felt a little bit adrift, maybe even a little bit sad. I don’t think I was sad because I was alone, instead I think I was just a little more conscious of the fact that I was completely by myself. After my first couple weeks at Duke, I remember calling a friend and noting that over the past few weeks, I had been more social and outgoing than I had ever been in my life. As someone who doesn’t normally lean towards extroversion, I think it wasn’t until I intentionally created time alone for myself that I realized how much emotional energy my transition to Duke had required.

As rush has drawn to a close over the past week, I’ve found myself with more time on my hands as friends are busied with social events and the excitement of new groups. I don’t necessarily feel left out—things are just different, and my friendships no longer exist in their own little nuclear world. I’m glad I’ve learned the value of time alone and realized that the changes of the new semester are difficult in their own ways for everyone.

As I’ve reflected, I keep coming back to the words of Elio’s father in the final moments of “Call Me by Your Name” (if you haven’t seen it, you need to). They stuck in my mind as I walked out of the theater, drove myself home, fell asleep, and even the next day as I flew back to Durham:

“But to feel nothing, so as to not feel anything—what a waste!”

More and more, I’m realizing that college can be both incredibly fulfilling and incredibly lonely, and that these two feelings are not necessarily at odds with each other. It’s okay to feel something, even if it’s overwhelming, even if it’s sad, but to miss out on something as great as Duke because of the fear of feeling something complicated? To me, that’s the greatest waste of all.

Ann Gehan is a Trinity first-year. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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