Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 21, 2021

Letting go of the perfect life in college

By ELIZABETH BORODA | February 6, 2021

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Between 8 and 9 p.m. every evening, I begin my nightly routine. Those who know me know that texting me during this time almost certainly yields a response of “I’m about to go to bed, but...” I change into a big T-shirt, make a cup of tea and get under the covers, positioning my laptop, mug and phone all within reach. Ideally, I’ll be asleep before 10 p.m.; I want to be asleep before 10 p.m. But I can’t tell you the last time I was actually asleep before 10 p.m.

The past 18 months, in many ways, have destroyed the naïve girl who moved into McCoy Hall in the middle of August 2019. I’m not the person who says “hi” to people in lecture anymore, scarred by too many blank stares back. I don’t sit in any common area with a book in hand, hoping someone asks me what I’m reading to start a conversation. I no longer hype myself up as I approach the dining hall, telling myself that this will finally be the time I sit down next to a stranger and leave with a friend. 

Hopkins has destroyed my optimism and replaced it with a cynic’s brain, always assuming that something will go wrong, double- and triple-checking that my apartment door is locked at night and twitching at every noise as I lie in bed willing my brain to shut off. 

I get stomachaches now, pain that comes and doesn’t leave for hours or even days, destroying my appetite and desire to see the few friends I do have. I think it’s because of the stress and pressure I placed on myself as that silly little girl 18 months ago and which I’ve been unable to live up to ever since. I don’t have a 4.0 (or anything close to it), don’t have a funny boyfriend and close friend group and don’t have the perfect life I thought coming to Baltimore would bring me. 

What is a perfect life, anyway? I lie in bed and think, trying to imagine myself living it. I would be living it, I tell myself, if not for the hard classes and ruined friendships and the fact that I’m too awkward to hold eye contact during any conversation. In the perfect life, I sit around a kitchen table with friends. I give them imaginary names, based on the popular girls and smart boys in middle school. We’re drinking cocktails, eating a dinner we all cooked together and playing poker or a board game. 

The perfect life daydream, needless to say, does not help me fall asleep. I usually try a podcast next, turning on one that isn’t too interesting, and I hope that the soothing voice works to lull me to sleep. That’s worked for me exactly once, so obviously it’s an essential remedy to try every night. A few minutes later, I get bored — there’s a reason I’m fine with this podcast playing as I sleep — and open up my phone again, the sharp blue light hurting my eyes. Glancing through some Instagram stories of people I don’t care about, refreshing Twitter to give me updates on the horrors of D.C. in the last 20 minutes, seeing no new texts even as I’m waiting for four or more responses — it’s all in the way of things by now. 

I’ve heard all the advice about making friends. Put yourself out there, they say, initiate conversation and the friendships will come. I’ve done it all — made plans, gone to events, joined clubs I was and wasn’t interested in, tried sorority recruitment and texted people who take days and weeks only to respond with a single word. 

It isn’t all bad; I’ve met a few wonderful people at Hopkins whom I know I can rely on. Yet it is so far from the life I had imagined for myself. On the especially lonely days, when it feels like there is no one in this city who understands me, I FaceTime my sister or call my mom, a reminder that someone out there knows the real me. I text friends from home who hype me up and give me advice. I take long walks, using a latte and a podcast to clear my head.

I’m so tired, though, tired of putting in effort that is never reciprocated and tired of hoping that next week will be the week my luck turns around. It is that feeling that gets me, the exhaustion that comes from loneliness coupled with the feeling of being alone, like I’m the only person on campus who doesn’t have a solid friend group. 

Along with the weight of shame that I carry, like my lack of some imagined perfect life is a personal failure, it feels easy to feel hopeless. I don’t know a lot of things, like how this semester or the next two years and beyond will go, but I do know that my lack of a perfect life is not a personal failing. That knowledge, close to midnight, is the only way I can fall asleep. 

Elizabeth Boroda is a sophomore from New York, N.Y. She is studying Applied Math and Statistics and Computer Science.

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