How My Lonely Daughter Found Her Courage at College

My daughter never wanted to live on campus when she went away to school.

Her dad and I knew this because over and over, for years ahead of time, she said, “I DO NOT want to live on campus.”

When she chose a school 45 minutes from home, she said,

“I do not want to live on campus.”

When we toured the place and saw the women’s dorms with their adorable decorated doors and perpetual sleepover feel, she said,

“I do not want to live on campus.”

When people told her she’d hate the commute, she said,

“I do not want to live on campus.”

When friends who’d gone to the same school told her she’d miss so many wonderful things that happened outside of class, she said,

“I do not want to live on campus.”

When the drive back and forth got boring, she said,

“I do not want to live on campus.”

She likes home. She likes familiarity. She classifies herself as shy. She’s a self-described introvert who’s never been interested in having a huge group of friends.

But she did long for a few close friends…the kind who might be surrogate sisters for life, the kind who are in each other’s weddings, the kind who throw each other’s baby showers.

Yet in spite of “bonding activities” with other commuter students and forced fellowship with other freshman, those friendships did not materialize.

A young woman finds friends at college once she decides to live on campus

Still, she said she did not want to live on campus. Still, she balked at suggestions from everyone (not from her dad and me, but pretty much everyone else) that she needed to change her plans. Still, she insisted she did not intend to become someone different just to play the friend game a certain way.

Her dad and I said the same things over and over: “We love you. We’re already proud of you. We understand. We support you.” But we added some new things, too: “If you want to give something else a try, we’ll support it. And if you do try it and it doesn’t work out, you’re not committed for life.”

Finally, after one too many lonely meals in the dining commons and one too many cold study sessions in the commuter lounge, she started to sing a different song. At first, it was, “Maybe I’ll think about living on campus.” Then, “Okay, I’ll do this even though I don’t want to.” Finally, a few weeks before she made the move, “I’m so excited.”

Our girl got to this decision on her own, in her own way and in her own time, which is one reason she’d only been a resident for about two days before she declared it one of the best things she’d ever done.

She did end up making the friends she’d longed for, but along the way, she also learned some lessons about what she’d done to get to that point…lessons I know she’ll hang onto when her college years are in the rearview mirror.

She chose the hope of what could be over the comfort of what already was.

At some point in my daughter’s first semester, the scales of familiarity versus friendship began to tip in favor of friends.She’d wanted friends all along, but she hadn’t wanted them badly enough to give up what she knew. Finally, though, the longing for what she wanted overpowered the comfort of what she had, which turned out to be a pretty strong catalyst for change.

She recognized the value of what she might gain over the cost of what she had to give up.

Our freshman understood that making a big change would come with a price. She was going to have to let go of some of the comforts of home, including daily interaction with her younger sister. She was going to have to take a chance on relationship, one that might not pay off. She was going to have to risk rejection. But her dad and I told her that even if moving on campus didn’t make any difference in her friendship status, at least she’d know. She’d be disappointed, of course, but she wouldn’t have the added weight of regret over not even trying to make things better. And if it did pay off, she’d know it was worth every uncertain moment.

She kept taking steps to get what she wanted.

My daughter didn’t just move in and wait for people to crowd into her dorm room. She asked potential friends about meeting for meals. She put her phone away at those meals to give full attention to her dining companions. Once she started to make fledgling friendships, she left her dorm room door open to encourage drop-ins. She stayed on campus over the weekends. And before long, she’d found a home-away-from home at school, with a family of friends.

She was realistic about what could happen.

Our new dorm dweller was grateful to have found a roommate she knew from her first-semester classes who was looking for a mid year change-up. My daughter was confident they’d get along just fine, but she told me she never went in thinking they’d be best friends. Both things turned out to be true: she and her roommate are not best friends, but they have gotten along. If my daughter had been anticipating something more, she’d probably have been disappointed. But instead, her adjusted expectations left her feeling mostly grateful for how things worked out.

She appreciated the journey.

One weekend a few weeks after she made her big move, our girl sent us a picture of herself and a trio of new friends. I loved their smiling, happy faces. I loved the three of them even though I’d never met them, just based on the fact that they seemed to love someone I love so much. But what I loved most of all was the text my daughter sent me that weekend:

“this moment right now is worth all the sadness of first semester.”

About a month after she moved on campus, my future preschool teacher had to write a paper for her world lit class describing one of the virtues portrayed in The Odyssey and relating it to her own life. She chose courage and titled her paper “Finding My Courage.” In it, she wrote,

I learned that courage can appear in various shapes and sizes. Our acts of courage are not the same in size, but are equal in importance to our goals: Odysseus’ being returning home and mine being forming friendships. This push for courage has also caused me to realize that without courage, the outcome for both Odysseus and myself would be very different. He would likely never have returned home, and I would have missed my now very important friendships. I will continue to have courage so that I may reach my desires.

Which, when I read it, made me think that the room-and-board payment we made was the best money we ever spent. Because with it, our daughter bought something for herself we’ll never be able to put a price on.


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About Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She’s been married for 25 years to an exceedingly patient guy she picked up in church. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebookand Twitter

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