I want to preface this letter by saying that I don’t believe that I am “forever alone” because of my looks, height, or lack of social skills. I’m 6 “1” and I’ve been told by people that I’ve met that I am fairly handsome, and although I do have social anxiety and (mild) Asperger’s I believe that I can work on my social skills to become better at talking to people. No, my problem is that in a cruel twist of fate the ever evolving pandemic situation keeps getting in the way of my plans to be more social and join hobby/interest groups and meet other like-minded people. It seems like whenever I think the pandemic is over it always throws another obstacle in my way to prove me wrong, and I’m not sure what to do about it.
I’m 21 years old, a 3rd university student in the stage of life when I’m supposed to be dating and socialising with others as much as possible. Your teens and twenties are the time when you’re supposed to be discovering your adult identity, a time to explore your interests and identity with other young like minded people. People meet their best friends and lifelong romantic partners in university because it is one of the only places where young adults can easily meet and date each other outside of online dating. After university most people are paired off with their lifelong romantic partner and friends are much harder. I don’t make friends easily, which is why I worry what will happen if I graduate without any substantial social interactions with others.
The thing is that I’m living at home with my parents even as I’m studying, a living arrangement that screams “basement dwelling loser”! I study a lot but otherwise I’ve reverted back to the age of 13, since my parents do most of the housework like vacuuming, cooking, and yardwork. I don’t have a part time job yet even though I’ve applied to a few job listings and really want a job. Since I’m immunocompromised I’ve had all 3 of my COVID shots as well.
My 1st (pre pandemic) university year didn’t go well because at the time I was engulfed in self loathing and tried to be someone I was not (I put on a fake British accent to impress others even though I’m Canadian born and raised). People understandably thought I was weird and that there was something wrong with me, and I ruined what could have been great platonic relationships as a result. I want to go back to school in person as my confident true self so that people will know the true authentic me, not the weird fake persona I put on as a 1st year. I know that I can be confident, sociable, and likeable person if I want to be, since I have been quite sociable and confident in the past when I worked on a political campaign and when I joined my high school’s geography and ecology club. However I can’t go to school in person right now because of uncertainties over this new Omicron variant. COVID has given me a lot of insight into what went wrong during my 1st year, but I remain haunted by the memories of my cringy behaviour.
I know that I’m not entitled to love and friendship obviously, but I’m not sure what to do to improve my friendship and romantic prospects in the future since COVID pandemic keeps throwing obstacles at me. I want to stay alive and COVID free obviously but I’m worried that 10 years down the road the COVID pandemic will still be ongoing and I’ll forever be a single friendless loser rotting away in his parents basement.
Do you have any tips on how to improve my friendship and romantic prospects while the uncertainties caused by the pandemic are still ongoing?
The former weirdo from uOttawa
So, I’ve been pushing a strategy recently that I think is vital to folks in your position, FWUO: questioning and challenging your self-limiting beliefs. One of the things I’ve noticed in my years of doing this job is how often folks tend to just… accept that their beliefs are true, binding, disqualifying and inescapable.
Except most of the time, they’re not. In fact, most of the time, those beliefs are as fragile as gossamer and as restrictive as a piece of twine. The issue is that folks just accept these beliefs as valid back when they’re first formed and never think to challenge them since. They become just a part of the firmament of the universe, a fact as unchanging and permanent as laws of physics. But it’s like the example of a mahout and their elephant; because we experienced the events that lead to these beliefs when we were younger and more impressionable, we have assumed that they are equally as binding and restrictive now as they were back then.
But they’re not.
The elephant is much, much larger than its mahout. The chain and stake that hold it in place are easily breakable. But because the mahout has trained the elephant from near birth, the elephant sees the mahout as bigger and dominant. It stays captive, in no small part, because it chooses not to strain against its bindings. And it chooses to do so because it still believes that the chains that bind it are stronger and that the goad is capable of doing damage.
So it is with our self-limiting beliefs. When we start to push against them, we often discover that the only thing that was truly holding us back was… well, us.
And so I want you to ask yourself some questions about those beliesf, FWUO, because I think doing so would be revelatory to you. Let’s start with the obvious one: that your teens and twenties are when you’re “supposed” to do all your socializing and self-discovery. What, exactly dictates that? What has convinced you that you have this relatively narrow window in which to do all your living and personal development before you presumably calcify into your permanent self?
Odds are good that it’s equal parts the lionization of youth in pop culture, reinforced by other young folks who’ve likewise convinced themselves that life stops at… let’s be generous and say 29. But what if that weren’t true? What if I told you that people change and grow and discover their adult identity at a wide spectrum of ages? What if – and stick with me here – not only does life, learning and development not stop in your 20s, but is a thing that you will do, continuously, over your entire life?
This isn’t idle speculation or feel-good platitudes; I can tell you that this is true from personal experience. I am wildly different from who I was in my 20s. My career now is nothing like my career trajectory while I was in college or even in the years afterwards. My social development didn’t stop just because I graduated or because I turned 25, 27, 31. Hell, I made massive changes to my social development in my late 20s and 30s. I, for all intents and purposes, dropped major aspects of my life – things that I’d been focusing on and working towards for decades – in my mid 30s, in part because I realized that those no longer reflected who I was.
The benefit of being in your 20s, in this day and age, is that we’ve come to recognize that life doesn’t happen on a set schedule. For all that folks talk about “the extended adolescence” of Millenials and Zoomers, we as a culture have come to realize that so much of what we consider to be the demarcation of “adulthood” are arbitrary and artificial and those markers change with the times. People are marrying later and later in life, for example. The average age that people begin to marry and settle down used to be immediately post-college. Now folks tend to start being interested in marriage and kids in their 30s; does that mean that they’re not “adults” yet? Or is it more the case that the supposed milestones are whatever we decide they are, rather than just going along with traditions that are based on a bygone age?
(And while yes, it’s “traditional”, let’s be real: what is tradition except peer pressure from dead people?)
Is it easier to meet folks, make friends and find lovers in college? Yes and no. You have more free time, fewer responsibilities and you’re surrounded by folks who’re more or less in the same place in life, which makes it more convenient. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, or even difficult to do so later on. I met the bulk of my current social circle in my 30s, long after I got out of college. I met the vast majority of my various romantic and sexual partners post-college; I dated exactly two people while I was an undergrad, and one of those relationships lasted barely 4 months.
Most of the friends and lovers I made afterwards? Those came because I made a point of being socially active and chose to go out and make opportunities to meet people.
And, incidentally, I’d suggest providing some citations for “most people have paired off for life after college”, because it seems like your source is “Dude, trust me.” And, not to put a fine a point on it: the divorce rate in the US and Canada makes it pretty clear that most of those aren’t “lifelong romantic partners”.
For that matter there’s the fact that you live with your parents. And? Why would that make you a loser, exactly? More than half of 18 – 29 year olds live at home; this is hardly a mark of shame, especially when you consider that you’re a college student in a stagnant economy. Rents are skyrocketing, real estate is priced out of reach for immense swaths of the population and college degrees are expensive as hell. The idea that you, at 21, should be capable of working a job that will pay enough for you to have a place by yourself while also attending college – full-time or part time – is a hell of a stretch, and most folks out there can’t swing that.
You say you feel like you’ve regressed to being 13 and… ok, that’s understandable. But the reasons for this are hardly outside of your control. Your parents are doing the lion’s share of the cooking, cleaning, housework and yardwork? There’s no reason why you can’t take some of that on, starting today! Unless you’ve left something out, there’s nothing stopping you from taking over the yardwork or doing more chores or even starting to do at least some of the cooking. Hell, this would actually do you a world of good by helping prepare you for when you are out on your own. Knowing how to cook and cook well is an invaluable skill and goes a long way towards dispelling the idea of male bachelorhood being some slovenly existence requiring their romantic partners to be surrogate parents.
You did weird shit your freshman year in order to try to stand out and connect with folks? Ok… so? That’s part and parcel of the college experience. I can’t tell you the number of folks I met in college who were choosing to be weird and eccentric because fuck it, why not? Weird Hat Boy, dudes rocking Harris tweed suits, handlebar mustaches and Meerschmidt pipes, the hippie revivalists who thought smoking weed was a personality, the Activists Without A Cause, the Weebs… a fake accent may be a bit cringe, sure, but in the grand spectrum of Weird-Ass Behavior, it’s pretty low on the list compared to the dude who insisted on riding a unicycle everywhere in the dead of winter. You can’t chuck a rock at a gaggle of college graduates without hitting at least five people who have some heavy cringe in their past. Don’t kill the part of you that is cringe, kill the part of you that cringes.
All of the things that you’ve listed about why you’re doomed to be Forever Alone is nothing of the sort. It’s all illusions, mirages, your anxieties screaming at you, not reality. Most of it isn’t the handicap you think it is, and the rest is easily changeable. This isn’t the dead end you fear, it’s literally part of the personal and social development you say you’re worried you missed and are missing.
Now, the part that does complicate things is COVID and the Omicron variant. Folks in general need to be more careful to avoid exposure and spreading the virus while Omicron is spiking, and your being immunocompromised makes taking precautions more important. Even fully vaccinated and boosted, you and other people like you are precisely why we can’t just act like the pandemic is over; we live in a society and we have a responsibility to one another. So it’s entirely understandable that you feel stuck and locked out of society – especially with folks who seem to think that you can just choose to be done with the pandemic.
However, that doesn’t mean that you’re locked out of life and society forever. To start with, the rapid spread of Omicron seems to coincide with an equally rapid recession; cases crest and fall far more quickly than previous variants, which gives plenty of reason to hope. As the seasons turn, I think we’ll see cases drop and it’ll be safer to ease our precautions and return to a more public life again.
But even with the current restrictions and precautions, life, uh, finds a way. There’re still ways of meeting, mating and dating and being social, even when you’re avoiding in-person gatherings. Online communities, hobbiest groups and organizations all exist on the local, national and international levels; I imagine that just checking the university’s social media will open any number of opportunities for you. Likewise, if you don’t necessarily find a community that matches what you want, you can create one of your own. It takes very little to start a Discord server – say, one for university students who want to be social during the pandemic – and invite folks to participate. You could host virtual tabletop nights with online programs like Tabletop Simulator and happy hours over Zoom or other video apps.
Building these communities now and forging connections with folks, even when you can’t risk meeting in person, means that when cases drop and restrictions ease, you’ll have an existing network. From there you can take those online interactions and bring them in person, hosting or arranging parties, cookouts and other events. Maybe, once the weather improves, you can set up an epic campus scavenger hunt or a NERF war or any number of wacky-but-fun events for folks. Not only will taking the initiative push back against this sense of helplessness you feel, but it’ll lay the groundwork for building an awesome social life. After all, being someone who’s responsible for bringing folks together and having a great time makes folks very popular indeed.
You have far more options and opportunities than I think you realize, FWUO. Most of what you’re afraid of is just that: fear. It’s not prophecy and it’s certainly not an inevitability; it’s just your anxieties and self-limiting beliefs yelling at you. They’re phantoms, ghosts, ephemera that only have the power you give them. You have the strength and capability to break free from them and build new and incredible opportunities for yourself. You just have to be willing to take the steps that will allow you to bring those opportunities to life.