For the past 19 years, my biggest fear has always remained the same. The most typical fears — heights, the dark, small spaces and snakes — were not the things that made me the most afraid. My biggest fear has always been being alone.
I never had any trouble making friends in school. In kindergarten, by the end of my first day, I was already sharing used crayons and holding hands with my first friend. On my first day of high school, I made another. Shortly after, I met the people that would become my best friends for the next four years. But that was then, and starting college felt like a completely different ball game.
If I wasn’t with my friends, I was with my family. I did everything with them, from daily family dinners around our table to trips to the movie theater and Target. If my mom was going to the grocery store, I was going with her. If my dad was watching a Warriors game, I was next to him. Between the time I spent with friends and family, the 25-minute drive to school was the only time I spent alone.
Despite growing up in San Francisco, my parents raised me with a set of Indonesian values, where they are both from. My older sister and I shared a room our entire lives, and we still sleep in the twin beds we grew up in when we come back home for breaks. In Indonesia, family is everything and my parents made sure that we practiced that every day.
When it came time to say goodbye to my sisters and parents in the Pauley parking lot on move-in day, I begged them to stay longer. I knew that the moment I saw my dad’s car back up and turn out of the lot would be the first time in my life that I was truly alone.
In my short two months at Oxy, I felt homesick and lonely. I attached so much of my identity to the fact that I’ve always had friends, so when I found myself having trouble connecting with people, I felt as if I had become a different person.
“What happened to the Jameela who people naturally gravitated towards? What happened to the Jameela who was charismatic and always out with friends?” I thought to myself.
I compared myself to my friends from high school who already seemed to be forming friend groups, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was being left behind. I kept wondering why it was so hard for me to find my people.
I soon realized that I was less scared of being alone and more scared of people seeing me alone. The thought of my loneliness being displayed for everyone to see at lunch or in class made me feel nauseous. This fear followed me like a shadow everywhere I went.
At the beginning of school, I kept pushing myself to say yes to every social event, to get people’s numbers and to spend as little time in my room as possible. I was drained. Taking time to be alone was the only way I could recuperate from the emotional and physical exhaustion that came with meeting new people and being in a new place.
I FaceTimed my older sister, a junior in college.
“I’m alone like 80 percent of the time. It’s so nice,” she told me.
If my sister, one of the people I trust most, could find peace in being alone, maybe I could too.
I walked in the library and saw someone sitting alone and studying. I went to the MP and noticed many people sitting alone and eating while listening to music or studying. And as I walked onto the Quad, I saw people sitting on the benches alone, looking at their phones or the squirrels. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who was alone.
In college, and in life, it is impossible to be with someone else 100 percent of the time. Once I was actually faced with being alone, I decided to embrace being comfortable in my own company. I told myself that I could either be alone and be miserable, or I could make the most of it.
I started walking to get coffee alone on York Boulevard after my class and found that I was able to be more productive with my homework. When I was alone, I didn’t have to worry about what other people thought of me or how I was presenting myself.
I have never appreciated being alone more. I am now okay with going to the MP to eat alone or walking to class alone because I have become comfortable in my own presence.
I now know how important it is to take time to be alone when you are in a place where there are always people around you. Being alone is something that I now look forward to and value, but I never felt like this before starting college.
Now I know that being alone means taking care of myself. Having my own time is a necessity, and it’s a stepping stone to learning more about myself. Being alone isn’t something to be afraid of. It does not make you a loner or someone who is unlovable. I encourage you to take yourself out on a coffee date, to go on a walk and listen to your favorite podcast, to stay in and watch a good rom-com if you feel like it.
Being alone does not always have to be sitting by yourself in the dark feeling miserable. Being alone can be feeling the fall leaves crunch under your feet on a walk, or sipping on a hot chai latte in the morning, screaming your favorite Rihanna song or doing watercolor in your room. It can mean being at peace and healing. Being alone doesn’t have to mean being lonely.
Contact Jameela Bowo at email@example.com