“The number of people there doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. You’ll find your niche,” my mother told me over and over before college. She assured me even though the school might be huge, I would find my group and end up fine.
I came from a Pennsylvania high school where I had to find my friends, so I thought, Why should this feel so different? College graduates who told me everything would work out continued on with disheartening stories like, “Your first year roommate is going to be awful. In fact, my first year of college…” Then they peppered me with terrifying stories of why they and their roommate had fought over cleaning, lights, showering and everything in between.
This one roommate never showered. That one didn’t do anything except lay in bed all day. This one wore the same shirt the entire year. Who even knew there could be so many horrifying anecdotes surrounding the mythical freshman year roommate?
Alas, as everyone had warned, the freshman year roommate situation didn’t work out.
The first week I saw nothing of either of my two roommates. They came to campus ready to find some kind of mysterious joy in running around in heels and dresses to introduce themselves to all the sororities. They got along like long-lost sisters, leaving me in the dust.
I didn’t hate them for becoming friends so quickly. But I started to feel like a wall stretched across the room between our respective sides. We didn’t talk. We barely made eye contact. It became clear that our interests didn’t match up. So I journeyed to the great outdoors of manicured campus lawns filled with hoodie-clad backpack-wearers to find “my group.”
I decided to go to a campus meet-and-greet to introduce myself to other freshmen. That didn’t go as planned either. It felt so strange. Every conversation seemed rehearsed, as if the people I spoke with said the same things to each other over and over. I didn’t see my promised niche anywhere.
Everyone around me wore headphones. No one met my eyes as I walked around campus. I felt lost. When would that elusive, storied college friend group appear and draw me in? My family told me I would discover my true self in college, but I had never felt more like just another number.
I wanted to return to Pennsylvania and leave the unknown behind me. I resisted calling my parents, though I desperately wanted to hear them. If I did, I would end up letting every tear I fought to hold back fall. I still needed to find somewhere on campus I could truly be alone before I let myself cry.
One day, I buried myself in my computer until dinner, and then (thankfully, successfully) navigated my way to the dining hall. Dozens of conversations echoed against the walls, the sound ringing in my ears. Everyone enjoyed each other’s company, as if they had been friends for years. Perhaps some of them had been. I didn’t come to college knowing anyone, and I envied those who already had connections.
One lone girl at a large, empty table stood out to me as someone I might be able to sit with to eat. She focused her attention on her phone, like everyone seemed to do. Worry ate at me. My stomach felt hollow. I thought if I spoke, she might be too immersed in her phone to hear me and I’d just stand there waiting for an answer I’d never get.
But that nightmare didn’t happen. She looked up as I came to stand in front of her, plate in hand. “Do you mind if I sit here?” I asked.
The conversation started and flowed easily. I didn’t have to force it.
Meeting friends didn’t happen the way high school me dreamed. No one went out of their way to get to know me. Apparently that only happens in movies. It scared me to do so, but I just needed to make the first move.
The funny part? Our first conversation actually started to flow when we got on the subject of roommates. We both could tell some pretty wild stories.