The Overemphasis on Having Friends in College (And Why It’s Okay Not to Have Any)

Who are friends? Are they the people you go out with? The people you see in class and study with? The ones available during a quarter-life crisis? Or are they all the above?

The environment of campus life gives off the perception that you’ll find your true friends in college. Countless Hollywood movies depict college life with the “dream team” of friends, we have sitcoms and shows based on a circle of friends (literally the titular Friends), even the anecdotes of my high school alumni have rhapsodized success stories of finding people who “get them”.

But for those of us who haven’t found that dream team, that best friend, or that sense of belonging, we’re left to feel that we’ve been doing something wrong.

When I entered my first year at U of T, I changed my introverted tendencies drastically. I was everywhere and anywhere social. I thought this spike of extroversion was what I needed to relate to people. What this gave me was loneliness, even around people.

Loneliness is often associated with lack of social contact. However, one research study shows that the relationship between loneliness and number of social contacts were negative.[1] You can know many people, go to parties, have company, yet still feel lonely. [2]

For some people, including those struggling with their mental health like anxiety disorders, Asperger’s, making friends may not be so easy. So, in environments where the necessity to have friends is prevalent, people who are struggling to make friends may feel ashamed. [3]

Extroversion isn’t necessarily key to being happy either. Evidence that extroversion is linked to happiness is not exactly conclusive.[4] Moreover, one study suggests extroverts are happier because they live in a society where extroversion is encouraged.[5] So, when campus life is hyper-social, it’s easy to see why people who aren’t extroverted feel misplaced.

Being alone is not something to feel ashamed of. When campus culture made me feel the need to have true friends of a lifetime, I only became a lot happier after accepting that I enjoyed my own company – that many times, I prefer being alone.

There’s so much advice on how to be more outgoing, confident, and social. But how to be alone and happy, you don’t hear that as often. If everything starts with you, then why are we made to feel like being alone is a problem?

[1] Cacioppo, John T et al. “Alone in the crowd: the structure and spread of loneliness in a large social network.” Journal of personality and social psychology vol. 97,6 (2009): 977-91. doi:10.1037/a0016076

[2] Reynolds, Marcia. “You Could Be Lonely Even If You Have Friends.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Jan. 2013,

[3] Marston, Daniel. “Why We Don't Need Friends.” Https://, Sussex Publishers, 8 May 2019,

[4] Reynolds, Marcia. “You Could Be Lonely Even If You Have Friends.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Jan. 2013,

[5] Fulmer, C. Ashley, et al. “On ‘Feeling Right’ in Cultural Contexts: How Person-Culture Match Affects Self-Esteem and Subjective Well-Being.” Psychological Science, vol. 21, no. 11, Nov. 2010, pp. 1563–1569, doi:10.1177/0956797610384742.

7 comments on “The Overemphasis on Having Friends in College (And Why It’s Okay Not to Have Any)

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As a only child, I understand the importance and need to be alone. Alone does not mean lonely. As you grow older, you’ll only have a handful of ‘true’ friends. The rest are acquaintances that you use or they use you to gain some type of advantage to what is needed at that moment in time.

  2. The problem of being happy and alone to me is that the individual words themselves are used to define grouped identities in society. Media, movies, shows, stories, and pre-existing ideas of normal behavior emphasize the need to be with others as a sign of happiness, which puts a stigma on self-isolated preferences. One should focus on what works for them than what others approve to be good for their happiness and to achieve that place is to re-evaluate what type of person they want to be to others and to themselves.

  3. I really enjoyed this article! It carries with it a tone of irony, considering that we live in such a “connected” or “small world” due to advancements in social media, yet it seems people still struggle with loneliness regardless of these conditions. This well articulates the idea that happiness has to start with self love. Thanks for this post!!

  4. Thanks for talking about this! I didn’t really have “friends” in undergrad. I had tons of colleagues and study buddies but I haven’t seen any of them after we graduated. I am at peace with it though. I don’t feel I need to be attached to them, however; I am overjoyed when I see posts that they’re doing well.

  5. So true!
    More often than not people are led to believe that the only way to be happy is to be surrounded by people.
    It’s important to know that true happiness starts with you.

  6. Love this! I, too, found myself pushing to be more social my freshman year and found it very difficult to keep up – it just wasn’t me.

  7. Reading this blog felt confirming of some of the joy I’ve gotten on my own time. People my age and even area of study stress so much the value or joy of being around their peers, but when you don’t find yourself doing the same things as them it feels discomforting, like a return of some of the social pressure I felt in elementary and high school. Nowadays I can say I’ve figured out how I can enjoy others’ company, and there are even those close few I can’t be without, but this fortune has definitely been thanks to the time I spent alone, knowing how to truly enjoy company when the connection is genuine and not a matter of circumstance.

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