By Luke Devine
Before you continue reading, visit Reddit McGill and type the keyword “friend” into the search-bar. Scan through the slew of posts made by students despairing over their inability to connect with other students at McGill.
Forgetting for a moment that Reddit McGill does not exactly constitute the greatest sample size, the fact that so many students feel compelled to reach out to anonymous users on an online forum speaks to their feelings of helplessness. If you sorted by ‘new’ you might have also noticed that the time elapsed between each depressing post has been narrowing.
“Why,” in the words of one McGill Redditor, “has McGill become so sad?”
Unnervingly, most posters are equally puzzled by their newfound loneliness.
“Before I came to McGill I was a very social person, but somehow here it did not work out.” (November, 2016)
“This surprises me because in high school I had a lot of good friends and people generally seem to like me.” (August 2016)
“I went back home for the summer and am having such a great time with friends and family […] Now in second year that everyone has friend groups I fear it will be even harder. Advice please.” (July 2016)
“I am at loss how to make friends at this university.” (September 2016)
Is there actually something off with McGill’s student body, as these comments suggest?
Well, when I first pitched this topic, a peer writer tellingly suggested I focus the entire article on “the McGill student without a niche.” That is, the student who’s disturbed equally by the alt-right and radical left, who isn’t a varsity athlete, who finds the Frosh-Hype-Carnival-Science Games crew a little too intense, and who’s put off by the McMUN crowd’s sense of gravity and formal dress code.
The argument, put simply, is that the McGill community is so hot-blooded that it can alienate those who came here for a good education, and just aren’t that passionate about, say, ending McGill’s complicity in acts of imperial warfare and colonization. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it holds much water. McGill’s student body is certainly lively, but these activities tend to exist as an appendage to campus social life, and they definitely do not determine one’s chances of making friends.
Another possible explanation is that the appearance of McGill as a four-year long frosh after-party inflates one’s sense of isolation. This might be true to a degree, especially considering the most common point of anxiety in these threads seems to be the fear that everyone ‘but me’ has a lively social life.
“I don’t have any friends, just acquaintances, and am alone all the time, while people socialize all around me.” (September 2016)
“I’ve added loads of people on facebook [sic] and it’s even more depressing. All I see are people posting about how they hang out / visit each other and I’m never invited anywhere.” (June 2015)
Imagine walking by OAP at the end of the term feeling somewhat lonely. The huddled groups, crowded tables, line-cutters, and the discreet no-ticket-required beers would all suggest a world of intimate connections and gestures apparently closed to only you. Check your Facebook news feed during hype-week and, even if you don’t necessarily feel friendless, you’re bound to think, ‘My God, I am a square.’
Of course, other Canadian universities (Western and Queens come to mind) cultivate the same image, and yet their subreddits are not riddled with post after post by forlorn students. (Not to mention the fact that party-animals can feel lonely, too).
Still, the argument alludes to an issue of impenetrable social circles that many McGill Redditors fret over. Apparently after a certain amount of time has elapsed (usually after first year), friend groups become set in stone and the only option you have left is to grin and bear your fate.
“Now everyone in my year has their own groups of friends and I feel like I’m screwed […]” (July 2015)
“Everyone already has their cliques and they seem impossible to join and no one seems to want to welcome a new friend in their friend group.” (September 2016)
“I cannot study thinking of how lonely I am. I know it is my fault for not having friends and probably not being a very likeable person. It is too late to make friends cause everyone in my year already has friends.” (October 2016)
Whatever the cause, the pain is evidently severe. So can we offer anything in terms of a solution?
First, this problem has no structural quick fix (eg. reducing classroom sizes, inserting more floor fellows, etc). Here’s an empty argument I often hear repeated: McGill is simply too large and factory-like to foster meaningful connections, or a sense of community within its student body. This stale line ignores the actual face-to-face encounters that occur between students.
We, as the students, form this community, and the onus is on us to extend a sympathetic hand. I am not a particularly friendly person, but my girlfriend is a socialite who will befriend you by force if she finds you chilling alone in the corner of a seminar. When I read these posts I often wish I could be more like her, not because I want more friends, but because it can mean a lot to those who feel isolated.
Likewise, it is crucial to be proactive about your loneliness. The flood of sympathetic comments and suggestions on Reddit stress this point over and over again. Do not let yourself fall into the “loneliness trap”; join clubs, join councils, and most important of all, do not stay at home.
One of the more productive answers I found in the Reddit threads imparts this advice:
“Do cool shit. I repeat, do shit that is cool. […] I’ve attended movies, concerts, protests, and more by myself. What’s great about that though is that although it can be slightly lonely, you’re out in the world building memories and experiences that you will not get if you’re at home waiting for other people to invite you to DO COOL SHIT.” (November 2016)