Sunday, February 8, 2009


I am really satisfied with my school life as a grad student - I take challenging classes that are useful for what I am interested in, I have an awesome advisor, and I feel like my project is relevant and important. I get along fantastically with my labmates and other colleagues, and I realize I am really fortunate to have all these things in my academic life going so well. (With the exception of the blasted broken heater issue).

But I am, if I stop long enough to think about it, lonely. I can keep myself busy with school and my own projects and hobbies, so I'm never bored. But I can't fix lonely, I can only ignore it.

I have a great group at work - my labmates, and other grad students in mechanical engineering. I can always count on lunch invites, chats in the hallway, people to grab pizza and study with, and somebody to sit next to me in class. I also have a set of people I enjoy in the dorm - other officers who say hi when they see me, other volunteers to banter with while we prepare meals. I even have friends I see at bible study - once a week friends with whom to sing and study biblical topics.

So I am blessed, and I have more than enough people around me to satisfy my introverted personality. So I feel almost guilty for being lonely.

But what I am missing is the kind of friend you can call up at any hour, the ones you can count on when you are upset. I had these friends in undergrad, and some of my favorite memories are with them: random nights watching crappy reality TV, spur-of-the-moment road trips. Occasionally there would be episodes of somebody crying on the bathroom floor, or someone holding an impromptu ice cream binge after a breakup. But if I was ever upset, I knew I could call. And if they needed me, they knew I'd be there as soon as I could.

One of the guys at school has a girlfriend who recently got a cortisone shot in her back. He took off a few days to take care of her - bringing her home from the hospital, making sure she ate (well, he ordered in fast food instead of cooking, but hey whatever works....), sitting through chick flicks with her while she recovered. If I ever needed somebody to take care of me like that, I don't know who I'd call. You don't ask people from work to do that, (in fact being that close to people you work with can backfire). It takes a different kind of friend, and I'm not sure how I go about finding that kind.

I think I partly shoot myself in the foot because I am so independent; I so rarely need to be taken care of I don't even think about how valuable those kinds of people are. So this logical engineer needs to remember not to neglect her social life. That, or just avoid ever needing to go to the hospital...

Where do your "anytime, anywhere" friends come from, internet?


  1. Mostly people I know from high school and the extra-curriculars. After HS I dropped the volunteer stuff out of my life, wanting to focus on school and a "social life", but I found that most other people engaging in a social life were, well, social butterflies who I didn't have a lot in common with.

    So I returned to the extra-curricular activities. For me that involves volunteering with a local fabricator/craftperson/artisan's collective to get their fabrication facilities up and running and do stuff around the building; from that volunteer gig I've made at least two solid friends who I not only think are great people but who also argue ideology with me.

    Another thing that I do to keep myself out of the trap of loneliness is to live with other people. I rent a room in a house that someone else is responsible for, and when I was choosing my habitat I screened my potential roommates very carefully - basically looking for people I got a good vibe off of. Just living with other people can be a great way to a) save money and b) get to know people very well. But I also recognize that cohabitation isn't everyone's cup o' tea.

    My basic strategy is to find people who notice and laugh at my side comments and conversational digressions and make an effort to be their friend. Because nobody will reach out and be *your* friend unless you reach out to be *their* friend first. Small, handmade joke-gifts are a great way to kick-start a friendship, as they establish a rapport by saying (without words): "You occupy my thoughts even when we're not together, and I had an opportunity to make your life a little more pleasant and I took it. Enjoy!"

    Hope this makes some sense.

  2. Look at it the same way you’d look for a boy- shared interests and all that. Church groups, sports, hobbies and all that kinda thing. You’ll eventually run into someone. I second the shared living thing, one of the people I was close to down here was in the residence halls with me, and she and I went out flatting for the entire time she was down here.

  3. Excellent suggestions, thank you! I actually just started thinking about housing for next year, so I'll keep an ear open.

  4. Extra-curricular project (or activities) are what worked for me. I found a good friends many years ago and our friendship is still going strong despite being in different cities now.

  5. This can be so hard to do, I know. Esp. as an academic who moves around. I have yet to find a good girlfriend here despite being here for over a year now.

    My 'anytime' friend from Grad School happened to be in one of my random classes. I spoke with her after class one day, and thought to myself, she would be a great friend. As much as it pained me to do it (due to fear of rejection), I decided to put myself out there and 'pursue' her. Asked her for coffee, etc, and it went from there. The tough thing too is that it can take 6-12 months to really develop a good friendship.

    Involve yourself in extracurricular activities, and when you meet someone you think has friend potential, I'd actually recommend actively pursuing them. It seems like it shouldn't take so much work, but it does.

  6. Given some things you have mentioned, I strongly suspect that you're at the same institution I'm postdoc'ing at. If so -- our institute has far more in the way of graduate student community than I've seen anywhere else. There's lots of non-academic activity, and many of the student clubs have more grad students than undergrads. I think there's even grad students on the sports teams?

    That said, for friends-I-can-call-at-any-hour, I'm still relying on people I've known since before I came here. (Who are sadly in other states.)

    P.S. Trying to post this has been giving Firefox fits. Not sure why.