At the end of this past winter semester, I received an email with a title that read something like:
“Earth and Environmental Sciences Spring 2022 Field Trip to the Western US — Apply Today!”
I clicked on it mindlessly, thinking I would be too young for the opportunity or that I would find some kind of dumb excuse to disregard it. To my surprise, the trip was open to freshmen, I could get some financial aid for it and I would receive class credit if I decided to go. When I read this, I was sold. I sent in my information, even though I didn’t know anyone who was going on the trip. I don’t usually have trouble making friends, so I wasn’t too nervous about being lonely for a few weeks.
Fast forward to the trip: Me and 10 other tree-hugging U-M students are sitting on the hard, dusty ground of one of Grand Canyon National Park’s campgrounds, huddled around the campfire. About 15 other students are already sleeping in their tents close by. It is the final night of our trip, and we are all sad to fly back to Ann Arbor the next night. Because of this, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to take a personal turn. We begin to talk about both our past experiences and our current situations.
The most notable topic we covered in this special moment was how much we valued each other, even though we all met only about two weeks prior. A few people expressed their disappointment regarding the social aspect of their lives outside of this trip, explaining that they never really found a group of fun friends who stuck around for them. I noticed that most of the students who said something along these lines were upperclassmen. At the end of our conversation, the group mutually agreed that we should continue to get together after our trip had come to a close.
The amount of students who said they had only a few or even no close friends in this conversation made me think about college students and how lonely we really are. In a recent study from Boston University, two-thirds of university students consider themselves to be lonely or feeling isolated. This number has only been climbing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it should be a concern to universities as a whole. Young adults, being the social creatures we are, have been mentally affected the most by the pandemic compared to any other age group. And although most of the world is no longer on lockdown, the pandemic continues to influence the current social lives of many. Unmet social expectations can negatively affect everything from a student’s academic performance to their mental and/or even physical health. And because the majority of students are lonely, how are we expected to perform at our best — especially at an institution like the University of Michigan where the stakes are so high?
In the internet age, loneliness in young adults is amplified through social media: the place where students make the assumption that everyone else is having fun, unlike them. In reality, they’re not. Whether students believe it or not, life is lonely for others too, even if they do not portray that dimension of their lives. FOMO is a real issue, and it is a direct gateway to becoming lonely. Feelings like this can be combated by joining clubs or organizations, attending social events or joining sports teams, but there seems to be an everlasting struggle due to the lingering thoughts of “I could be spending my time with a better group of friends” or “I could be having more fun if I was doing something else.” In reality, loneliness will always be a stressor in a student’s life unless they find and learn to accept the opportunities that are given to them.
We have seen student reactions to this loneliness on the recently revived social media app Yik Yak. The app allows users to create and share text posts anonymously, so real feelings can be portrayed. Yik Yak was extremely popular among Michigan students this year and showed that many were lonely, both romantically and platonically. It created a sense of connection based on real emotions among young adults, which is difficult for other social media apps to do. Students would often express their boredom because of their lack of friends on Friday nights or tell the internet how much they longed for someone to love them.
So remember, people just want to be loved. Get out there! Meet some new people or make plans with your old buddies. They’ll love you for it. Also, remember that loneliness is a normal feeling, especially for those who are in their first year of college. Have hope and determination to find some people you love so you can defeat FOMO before it defeats you.
Leah Larsen is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.