The very first week of my freshman year at university, I joined a sorority. My mother was in a sorority, all her friends were in sororities. For me, this felt like the pinnacle, the first and most important choice of my college career. These were the girls I was picking to be my best friends, my closest confidants, my “future bridesmaids.” I bought the Tory Burch sandals. I monogrammed my whole life. I drank the Kool-Aid.
My first year in my sorority was everything I could have wanted. I made those close friendships. I took all the perfect pictures to make my life look like a Insta-dream. I partied hard and threw moral reasoning to the wind. Everything was good.
Then sophomore year came around and I started to feel that tug. You know, that sickly feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you things aren’t right? It didn’t happen immediately, but it crept in slowly and it was undeniable. The girls I was living with, the girls who I called my “sisters” had completely different views about life than I did. And the more my views developed and pulled away from the views they had, the more they began to ridicule me. My beliefs about politics, human rights, religion, sex, everything…felt like a target on my back. My freshman year I had been consumed with a desire to fit in, to be well liked. And I had achieved it!
By the start of this year, my junior year of college, a time when most people’s relationships with the people around them have solidified and grown deeply rooted in mutual love and respect, I felt like an island. Here I was, 20 years old, stranded in a sea of people who seemed to know exactly who they were and what they were about, totally isolated. I didn’t feel proud of my beliefs because they weren’t what my peers found praiseworthy. I wished all the time I could continue living like the girls I wanted so desperately to embrace me. But I knew I couldn’t change the values that were so integral to who I was as a person. The only thing I could do if I wanted to find those true friendships was to make a change.
So I struck out on my own in search of acceptance, fearing rejection. I don’t believe there are many things more lonely than putting yourself out there, trying to find friends when you feel like you have no one by your side. I felt like everyone around me had already found their place, like everyone knew where they fit and I was the spare part that wasn’t needed by anyone.
No 20-year-old has it all figured out. Everyone can use more friends. If they think they don’t, they’re lying to themselves even more than you are. And you are not, not, NOT a spare part. You are a vital part of the world around you. Your beliefs, your thoughts have the potential to make your school, your workplace, your sorority a more diverse and understanding environment. You are unique, you are special. You are someone’s child, someone’s student, someone’s neighbor, someone’s friend. You can be someone’s parent, someone’s spouse, someone’s teacher or coach or boss. You have the power to speak life into the existence of someone who feels dead inside, to be an example of what it looks like to be brave and step out in favor of your beliefs, to look at rejection and say “you can’t keep me down forever.”
I found an organization who’s description spoke to my heart about what I was looking for. And then I found another, and another. I invested time in these places, and I planted seeds of friendships. I dug deep holes for my seeds and buried them far below the surface. I nurtured them with care; I helped them grow over coffee and long conversations. I delighted when they sprouted little blossoms of laughter, and I rejoiced when what started out as small buds among thorns of tears and shared sadness bloomed into the most beautiful flowers of trust and companionship.
This year, I learned that it’s okay to feel lonely sometimes, but you don’t have to stay there long. You are not a rock. If you feel repressed or unappreciated, you don’t have to hunker down and tough it out. You can move, you can grow, you can start all over whenever you want. I promise there are people out there who can’t wait to know someone as amazing as you.