We look at each other with warm smiles, enjoying the vigor that animates the room following a winding but meaningful discussion. I wave my hand and others nod farewell.
The host has ended the meeting.
As I detach myself from my laptop screen, I am transported back to reality: me, sitting alone at my desk. The deafening silence of my house settles in.
Before COVID-19, the well-fabled sophomore slump centered around moving on from the unworldly excitement of first year. No longer lavished with FroCos, exclusive events and attention, we are no longer Yale’s coddled baby but the forgotten middle child. It’s time to get our acts together and chip away at our future majors. As the newness dims and the practical decisions of college set in, the magic of Yale fades.
One factor has uniquely dominated the remote sophomore slump: solitude.
We have gone from meeting new faces and strengthening existing friendships daily to sporadic texts and FaceTimes. And since many other college students have returned to campus, our home friends are also few and far between. Some have responded by immersing themselves in social media, which is a double-edged sword. Doing so may only exacerbate loneliness when we see traveling friends and stories of Yale, but taking a complete hiatus, as I learned this quarantine, may also exacerbate our disconnect.
Some may be lucky enough to be traveling or living off campus with friends. Others, including myself, must stay at home for familial obligations, financial reasons or other commitments. As someone whose only parent works and only sibling is attending school in another state, I am alone for the first eight hours of my day. As I walk around the empty house, I’m jarringly aware of my solitude.
Yale hasn’t taken enough substantive action to improve the experience of those studying from home. But we don’t have to rely on Yale. Regardless of poor circumstances or institutional shortcomings, Yalies have a propensity to make the most of our situations. In the case of the remote sophomore semester, there are truly meaningful takeaways that can be gleaned from our experiences with exclusion, doubt and solitude.
Mainly, solitude has made way for radical humility. At home, I have called people, eagerly hoping for a response, only to be left dejected by rings and voicemails. When I’ve texted some friends, I have been met with “too busy” or the insincere “maybe next time!” And, of course, I have been left on read while trying to make new friends from Zoom classes.
It wasn’t until these rejections came in that I became aware of my social vulnerability. I never viewed myself as someone who struggles to keep company. In fact, during my first year, there were times when I scorned the hyperactive social scene, preferring to spend time alone. But even those of us comfortable being alone can struggle immensely with loneliness on our worst days. None of us are invincible.
I’ve come to reflect on my time at Yale, with a radically different tenor. During first year, I scoffed at overly extroverted Type A Yalies who “tried too hard” or came off as “clingy.” My criticisms now seem shallow, a poor consideration of others’ circumstances. I know I’m not alone — Yalies glorify an idea of self-sufficiency, the idea that we need nobody but ourselves. But the self-sufficiency we’ve built in our heads is misguided.
As someone who missed calls and didn’t return texts from my dad last year, I see exactly how this ideal of self-sufficiency can lead us to neglect and hurt those we care about. I thought I had it all under control, so I didn’t need to reach out for help. But when people reach out, it’s not just to give us advice or ask us how we’re doing. They have their own needs, too, and we should be more mindful of that.
At the beginning of this semester, I thought I could flip a switch in my head and rigorously work at becoming my best self. I thought I could escape loneliness by immersing myself in my classes and filling the rest of my day with my internship. I thought I could make do with “me-time.”
Coming to terms with these deluded perceptions has taught me a valuable lesson: We need to wake up from a myth of self-sufficiency. In doing so, we can emerge from this dreaded remote sophomore slump as more conscious individuals, more supportive friends and family members and more tolerant neighbors.
EDWARD SEOL is a sophomore in Berkeley College. His column runs monthly on Thursdays. Contact him at email@example.com.