I was wallowing in anxious possibilities for the first few weeks before I arrived at Duke. Thousands of questions swarmed my mind: would I make friends? What if I couldn’t contend with the social and academic pressures of college? What if certain attributes I possessed made me unlikeable in a more diverse setting, suitable only to the small town that I had grown up in?
I drowned these troublesome thoughts through a mechanism familiar to many teenagers: scrolling through TikTok, more specifically Bama RushTok. As I listened to an onslaught of brand names that I had never heard before, I found myself enraptured by the likes of Kylan Darnell. I discerned fragments of what I envisioned college life to be: a social reconnaissance that would eventually culminate in long-lasting relationships.
But this illusion began to feel more and more real as I consumed other social media that showcased people I knew – and cared about — dwelling in the same lifestyle that had earlier seemed so elusive. As my Instagram feed began to be dominated by images of my former classmates captioned by words such as “finally home!” and “instant friends forever,” I began to wonder whether this quintessential college experience would ever become mine and more perturbingly, what I would do if I couldn’t attain these same social connections?
When I finally arrived at college, I waited anxiously, dreading the moment in which I would witness my fears of loneliness and isolation come true. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. At least not in the way that I had imagined. I made good friends, kept up with my academic rigor, and didn’t buckle in the face of the countless new experiences that college imposed upon me.
Yet my college experience was nothing like the ones my friends showcased on social media. I was inundated with unexpected incidents that altered my lifestyle permanently, the stress of which was exacerbated by changes in my living situation. And when I attempted to share my struggles with my counterparts, I found it difficult to relate to them.
This experience trapped me in a lonely vacuum, as I drowned in feelings of isolation. All I craved was a glimpse into the future, a single proof that if not today, that tomorrow, it would all be okay.
I write the rest of this piece for November Advikaa. With these words, I hold her and tell her that it will all be okay, that new life experiences often take the form of tortuous tunnels but eventually these tunnels open to the comforting light of tomorrow.
By addressing all of you, readers, I hope also to speak to the version of myself that only yesterday knows.
First, it’s okay if college isn’t instantly the time of your life. It’s okay if a moment’s conversation doesn’t transform into the friendship of a lifetime. Furthermore, realize that social media is toxic. It crafts illusions of relationships that do not mirror reality and hides the sober difficulties that characterize the ups and downs of all our experiences. College is not simply a montage of beautiful pictures. Don’t attempt to view your life through the filter of a camera lens.
Second, independence is hard. Taking care of yourself for the first time when you’re extremely sick is hard. Being unable to run to your parents for instant advice about how to deal with relationships and interpersonal dynamics is hard. Dragging yourself out of bed when your heart weighs you down and there’s no one to hold or comfort you is hard.
But so is the first time you attempt to settle back into patterns of interdependence–conforming to the molds of your parents’ household after you have carved your own niche for yourself in a world to which you belong and they don’t. It’s hard to reforge connections with old friends when your lives begin to diverge in parallel pathways. When we try to slip back into these previous patterns of existence, we jut out like misfitting puzzle pieces. Our lives are split into two halves, and somewhere along the way, there emerges two of us.
Finally, and this is the one piece of advice that I wish I’d realized earlier, attachments in college can be superficial and fleeting. Friendships are often the product of circumstances, produced more by proximity than similarity. When that proximity fades, as you transition into different classes and club spaces, so do the friendships. And it hurts. It hurts to see someone who witnessed your weak and vulnerable moments transform only into a handwave in the distance.
You must realize that most attachments you will form are temporary. One of the most difficult things for me to learn was how to grieve the loss of a friendship that was once meaningful, a friendship that fulfilled me and buoyed me through difficult days. After all, how can I grieve for someone who isn’t gone – who’s there but who is no longer there for me?
It’s a puzzle that I still haven't worked out, a grief that I still can’t comprehend.
These epiphanies are fundamental parts of college and by extension, of growing up: reckoning with feelings we’ve never felt before and trudging through difficulties we’ve never faced before.
No less formative in these years are the positive sentiments we come to discover: an increasingly blurring line between friends and family; stimulating conversations about topics we never imagined could incite our passion; and finally, a sense that we are discovering who we are meant to be.
Sometimes who we are meant to be can only come at the cost of who we used to be, and only we can determine whether the loss will be worth it.
Advikaa Anand is a Trinity freshman. Her columns typically run on alternate Thursdays.
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