What makes you feel at home? I’ve been asking myself this question a lot. I’ve never felt as homesick as I do now, and I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly changed to make me feel this way. After weeks of uneasy mornings and motivation gone out the window, I’ve finally settled on an answer: people who make me feel safe. I don’t mean physically safe; I mean safe in the I-can-let-my-guard-down sense of the word.
When we’re all dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic, the transition to virtual learning and the loneliness that inevitably creeps in when quarantining, what we need most is people who are consistent in their support and warmth. What we need most is our close friends and family.
Very recently, I had a conversation with someone surrounding the question of “What is a good friend?” If you know me personally, you know that I’m fairly outgoing and love getting to know new and different people. I thrive in social settings, and I’m not a particularly private person (which is why I love writing this column so much). I tend to form pretty strong bonds with all of my friends. But beyond that outer layer of an open book, I let very few people in.
So then what’s the distinction between someone I’ve met a few times and share common ground with and a true friend? Personally, there are a few things that I think are fundamental to a strong friendship — things that I refuse to compromise on when I get close to someone. The first of those is loyalty — standing by my side specifically when it’s not convenient for them — and trust in that loyalty. Most importantly, a friend will have your back when you’re not even there to see or hear it.
Another one is understanding boundaries. Friends should respect the things you care about; they should know what topics are off limits to joke about, what bothers you and how to apologize when they cross a line. Compassion is completely underrated and perhaps one of the easiest ways to tell if someone cares about you. The last fundamental quality I care about is honesty. I mean it when I say I only want the truth, no matter how brutal it may be. Lies will always unravel, and not only do they hurt more, but they also lead to a broken trust that is near impossible to rebuild.
Unfortunately, these last few months have forced me to grow up incredibly quickly. Not having the ability to go home is an isolating experience. In desperately searching for some grounding for my feet, I’ve learned the hard way that the only consistency I have is within myself. And that’s not to say that I don’t have wonderful friends here, because I most certainly do, and I’m eternally grateful for them. But unfortunately, I have had to redefine some relationships within this time as well.
When you’re limited in who you can interact with, you can see and feel more clearly what and who makes you happy, and where your discomfort lies. Surprisingly at times, I’ve found that I’m most uncomfortable around some of the people I have spent the most time with. Delving deeper in and exploring the “why” is where the real hurt starts. While I could definitely describe that in excruciating detail, I’d rather focus on the positives and share how I’ve built a safety net within myself.
The first, and perhaps strangest thing I did was actively choose to do things on my own. Specifically, I chose to do things alone when I would have previously relied on other people to accompany me. This included going on a walk to get coffee, studying outside of my apartment or watching a movie. Another thing I had to get comfortable doing was saying no to invitations for things that I didn’t really want to participate in. Even if I don’t have other plans, I’ve learned that it’s nicer to curl up with a hot cocoa and face mask than pretend to want to be somewhere I don’t.
Lastly, and the toughest thing I’ve had to do, is actively take power over my emotions away from people who I don’t want to have it. In particular, every time I experience a negative emotion because of someone I’m trying to get space from, I do something nice for myself. Whether that’s cooking dinner or ordering a new moisturizer, I treat myself the way I know I deserve to be treated.
In reading this piece over, I’m realizing just how much I’ve grown in the week that it’s taken me to write it. Maybe Kelly Clarkson was on to something: What doesn’t kill you actually does make you stronger.
Saniya Ramchandani is a senior studying physics from Singapore. Her column is a reflective narrative that chronicles her experiences navigating various aspects of college life.