Skip to content ↓
MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

i (don’t) want to be alone by CJ Q. '23

on loneliness


if i had to write a literary analysis on my blog posts, i’d talk about how the strongest ongoing theme is coping with contradictory convictions. how can we believe two things that can’t both be true? how can we feel two opposite feelings? how can we both want and not want something? for example:

  • in confronting the self, i discuss how my feelings of anxiety and feelings of depression often feel at odds with each other.
  • in yeah, i’m turning twenty, it’s terrifying, i talk about how i hate feeling like my life repeats the same problems, and yet i’m so worried that one day everything will change.
  • in finding meaning at the end of the world, i talk about the contradictory feelings of feeling powerless about my situation, and feeling like it’s my choices that brought me to where i am today.
  • in lies in mit, lies about mit, i talk about the duality of ihtfp, how it can both mean “i hate this fucking place” and “i have truly found paradise”.
  • and in i (don’t) want the summer to end, i talk about how i love summer and didn’t want the semester to start, but also had lots of things i was looking forward to in the fall.

that last post, i (don’t) want the summer to end was, in my mind, the post that started this school year. so let me bookend this school year’s blog posts with some more contradictions.

for one, i (don’t) want to do work. i want to get things done. i have projects i’m, in theory, excited about, like working on firehose, or making more write-ups about math, or writing this larp. and yet, all i want to do is play video games (like slay the spire, which i have now clocked 300 hours in), and lie down and take naps and read things.

for another, i (don’t) want the semester to end. i mean, it’s true that i want the semester to be over, for my finals to be finished and for the grading to be done. but i don’t want to move out, i don’t want to start my summer internship, and i don’t want to say goodbye to the seniors. i don’t want to play the game of “is this the last time we’ll see each other?” whenever i talk to someone who’s graduating.

and there’s the one i’ve been dealing with the most, these past few days.

i (don’t) want to be alone.


in a season of secondhand joy, i talked about how finals period is the time of semester when all the a capella groups give their performances. i went to four concerts this season. i was supposed to go to a fifth, last sunday night.

i arrived in the room a few minutes before the show was slated to start. as i entered the lecture hall, i scanned the audience, looking for familiar faces. i picked out a few. they were all sitting with other people. i claimed an empty seat on the edge of the third row and scrolled through my phone.

more and more seats get taken. the third row goes from just me, to another person near the middle, to three of their friends flanking them. i glance again at the audience. i was the only person seated alone. i felt heat rise from my stomach, into my arms, down the tips of my fingers. my chest felt lighter, as if a rope was wrapped around it and i was suspended in midair.

the discomfort grew, and i walked out of the room before the concert even began. i take the back exit out. i pass through empty hallways, and let my eyes bounce from my phone, to the floor, to the ceiling, to the bulletin boards. i see posters of people, standing in groups, and smiling. posters advertising the concert i just walked out of. the gravity on my chest flips, and i feel weight stacked on my shoulders, as if someone was sitting on them.

but no one was sitting on my shoulders. it was just me. it was always just me.

i find myself in my room, not entirely remembering how i got there. i lie down on the couch, and feel the weight dissipate. i bury my head in a pillow and cry.


the guilt of leaving the concert that night nibbled on my soul. i promised a friend who performed that i’d show up, and i didn’t. i sat there, in the third row of the audience, for several minutes. i saw my friend, the one i made a promise to, at the front of the hall, off by the side. i wasn’t sure if he saw me. our eyes crossed, but he didn’t acknowledge my presence, so maybe he never did notice me. i don’t know what’s worse. if he didn’t notice, he wouldn’t have seen me leave early. but if he did notice, i at least could’ve said i was there.

it reminds me of how, sometimes, it doesn’t feel like i made any friends in mit. it’s a blatant lie, by any reasonable definition of “friend”. but some days i jump from one community to another without ever feeling like i fit in. i see people i’m acquainted with, people who appreciate me for what i do, but not people who would call me when they need help, nor people i felt comfortable calling when i need help. how could i feel so welcomed here, and yet so alienated?

it reminds me of how, once, a friend invited me to a party he was hosting, and i didn’t know anyone else but him. he smiled when he saw me, said he was glad that i came, and i believed that. but the whole time, i felt out-of-place. i didn’t click with anyone else in that party. and it’s not like i was going to talk to my friend the whole time, because he was the host; he had to see to the other guests. and it’s not even his fault, as i’m pretty sure he invited some other people i knew, who weren’t able to come.

it reminds me of the high school reunion i went to, a pool party, a year after i graduated. everyone was off in their groups. i spend my time floating from one group to another, trying to find a conversation i can relate to, or even one i felt like i could join in. after giving up, i walked to the far edge of the pool, sat down, and stared at the water.


why did i leave the concert, that night? if it was because i didn’t want to be alone, then wasn’t locking myself in my room counterproductive? and if it was because i wanted to be alone, then wasn’t i already sitting alone? i guess it’s not about being alone, but about feeling lonely. there’s a difference, as i talked about in dissecting emotion:

There’s the feeling of being in a group of people and not knowing anyone else. This is isolation, which I like to think of not on its own, but in contrast. If you’re in your room, that’s just being alone. If you’re walking through a crowded subway station, there’s just lots of people. But if you’re surrounded by people who are feeling connected with each other and you aren’t, that’s isolation.

i don’t want to feel lonely. so in my mind, there’s two ways to deal with that. one is to surround myself with friends. the other is to go to my room. it happens that these solutions are, respectively, not being alone, and being alone. being alone is so, so much easier than finding friends.

here’s another thought about loneliness. loneliness is defined in contrast. if you’re alone, but have no one to compare it to, so you’re not lonely. if you’re in a crowded subway station, it’s not like there’s anyone to compare yourself to who’s having more fun than you are, so you’re not lonely. it’s only when you’re around people who are having fun, and you compare yourself to them, and realize you’re not having fun, that it hurts. that pain has a name, and it is loneliness.

i’ve been thinking about this for years now. five years ago, i wrote:

The worst feeling isn’t missing out, but having everything you ever wanted right in front of you, right there, and to be a bystander. The worst feeling is watching people have fun in front of you, without you.

the worst feeling isn’t missing out, but the fear of missing out. in mit, like in any other university, things happen all the time. so i thought i’ve made peace with the fact that i’m going to miss things. but when i go to parties and see people talking and having fun; when i hear goodbye speeches written for graduating seniors; when i see big gestures from one lover to another; when i’m in my room and i hear the party from upstairs, downstairs, and hell, there’s one happening across my room, right now; when any of these things happen, it’s not that i wish i was a part of it. it’s that i wonder: would i ever get to do these? would anyone ever do this for me?


three years ago, the summer before my first-year fall, i wrote:

Call it a belated answer. But when I think about what I don’t want out of the college experience, the answer is surprisingly simple: I don’t want more of the past. I don’t want to be reminded of the past. I don’t want more cliques to form without me in it. I don’t want to get left behind because everyone else has friend groups already.

in this respect, i’ve failed. the past has never left, not that i should’ve expected a place like mit to magically make me feel better. because it was never about being in mit. it’s about me, isn’t it? there has to be something wrong with me, that i feel the same problems over and over and over again.

but is it about me? when i talk to other people i know in mit, or in other places, a lot of them talk about the same things. maybe it’s a problem of perception, then? or maybe it’s the case that the people i know are also the kind of people who’d feel lonely, because if i knew people that didn’t feel lonely, then it’d be less likely for me to feel lonely as well.

maybe it is about me, but it’s not something intrinsic. maybe it’s the depression talking, making me think i’m more alone than i actually am. maybe it’s another downward spiral i’m falling in, after things have been going okay for a while. maybe this is the other shoe dropping, after all this time. i’m grappling with depression, always grappling.

following this eternal recurrence, i end the same way i begin. no answers, more questions. do i want to be alone? do i want to not be alone? how do i stop feeling lonely? i don’t know.