Girlfriend is lonely and stuck
This question is actually regarding what I should do with my girlfriend's situation (or more likely, what she should do in her situation). We have been dating for over a year and a half, and have been good friends since we were both very young (elementary school). She and I have always been around each other and always had friends to go out and do stuff with. When we went off to college, our schools were 60 miles apart and we knew nobody. Basically, we are both far away from all of our friends, family and, most importantly, each other.
I have managed to cope with this well, as I am on campus, living in the dorms and making friends. I enjoy my classes and I get to visit her every couple of weeks. She, however, opted to live with some family near the school, so she is not getting the closeness of dorm life or school activities, nor the interaction of being around other people her own age. Save for me, she really has lost all of her other friends due to drinking, drugs, or location (not deaths, she just doesn't want to be friends with them anymore). She comes from a divorced household (he parents divorced when she was 5 years old), and has always been living with family - either her mom, dad, grandparents, etc. However, now she is living with her aunt and uncle, who are usually too busy to hang out with her.
In her school, since she is 1 of 10 000 students, she feels like just another seat filler; just another ID number in the school's student database. Since she doesn't have that much money, she can't go out and do things with people she meets at school, or things she likes to do by herself, such as painting and drawing (can't afford supplies). On top of this, she really doesn't even want to be in school and just wants to move on with her life, get a job, and settle down with me to raise a family. So here we have a person who is away from her family and her fiancÚ, in a place that she hates. She has little interaction with other students, no friendships within school, and wants to get out and move on with her life, but is pressured to stay there. Her family has threatened to abandon and disown her if she drops out of school and gets a job. Additionally, since she is living with family, she can easily get kicked out of the house if she drops out of school or disappoints them in any way.
What can my girlfriend do to be happy and feel somewhat fulfilled, even though she is separated from all the people and things she loves?
Dear Scott, I am sorry to hear about your girlfriend who, it seems, is not partaking in life itself, let alone college life. I wonder if all her problems arise from the divorce which you say occurred when she was five. She may be experiencing feelings of rejection, which is often a reason why people can't make new friends easily since they fear the leaving part of loving (loving as viewed in their world view, where love is attached to rejection because that is what they learned in their lives). Still, she has managed to create a good relationship with you, so that is one good and strong foundation in her life.
Other than that, the horizon is not too bright for her. She has no friends, can't make more, lost the only ones she had, and has no money to do anything at all, including taking an interest in her college studies. She also has, if I may say so, an extremely negative world view. It is the world view of a person who is extremely depressed, according to Aaron Beck. He propounded the Triad of Depression: the theory that a depressed person often has depressive ruminations, such that the Self, the environment, and the future are all viewed in a negative light. I do not know if your girlfriend is depressed, but depressed persons certainly have a negative view of life. I suggest that she visit her local general practitioner to discuss her negative situation. Perhaps you might offer to go with her on one of your weekend visits.
I am assuming that it was your girlfriend's friends who drank and took drugs, not your girlfriend. Still I wonder why she would drop all her friends because of one weakness. Did they all drink too much every time? Why did she not make new friends? Why is she not making friends now, during the most important time of her life when it is easy to make friends? These are some questions she must ask herself if she wants to make life enjoyable and not just something to get through.
I am not trying to make her sound unlovable. She clearly is lovable - for you love her. However, it does seem to me that she has a problem with shyness or perhaps a feeling of perfectionism in herself and in others. She may also be afraid of rejection. Since she did suffer rejection when her father left home (even if it was amicable he still moved away from her, physically presuming she stayed with her mother) this may be the grounds for her fears of getting too close too soon with strangers. However, it seems as though she cannot make friends and keep them. There may be all the reasons in the world for not meeting people, but in the end, if one is amenable to friendship, one will find it.
However little money one has, there are things one can do with others. For instance, sports, or joining an art circle (since that is her interest). Moreover, not being able to afford art supplies doesn't seem to make sense in today's world. The one thing she needs at this moment of loneliness is the uplifting experience one gets from drawing and painting, but she has neither that nor an interest in her studies.
I am going to suggest to you that you quite seriously encourage your friend to do one or more of the following, for the sake of her own happiness and her future psychological health. Getting married cannot be her only ambition. That would mean that she too was escaping life - not in drink, as her friends seem to be doing back home, but into a relationship where she thinks she will be safe from unhappiness. Life however, is about being independent of others and having friends, but not being too dependent upon them.
So, here are some avenues for her to follow to make changes in what might seem to be a rather unhappy and unproductive life.
1) She might want to discuss her predicament with the college counselor. The counselor will not be new to this sort of problem. S/he will suggest ways to help your friend meet others, and ought to detect the symptoms of depression or anxiety in your friend if there are any.
2) She could deliberately start seeking out others pro-actively, especially those who also seem to be "alone". In fact, you are never alone with a problem...someone else always has it too. That is, there will be others who are also feeling lonely in college - the trick is to find them. When doing a group assignment, she might suggest coffee afterwards to one, or all of the group. She might start smiling at another girl who is taking the same class, all alone. What has she to lose? It might take some courage but she could try it as an experiment - no one can do it for her. It will give her confidence and make her stronger when she succeeds.
3) She could join a local evening education institution, which is usually free for students. You see, life is like a two legged stool: if one breaks you fall off. So, we have to put more legs on the stool. It is not enough to have a job and a happy home life; what would be more helpful is to add a third leg, such as a hobby which we love. When and if a leg does fall off, (a break up with a boyfriend for instance, or the loss of a job), there is a third "leg" to give us balance and perspective in life.
4) She could move into one of the dorms, a scenario in which she will have to mix and make friends. If that fails and she returns to her family, perhaps she can invite some girls to visit her there.
5) A visit to the local doctor to check out her physical health might be a good idea, because, poor health could be the basis of the problem.
This is the time in life when it should be easy to make friends. If she cannot do it now, what hope is there for it in the future? We all need friends. She has lost some of her friends, so now she has to make more - and perhaps be more tolerant of their weaknesses, since no-one is perfect. Perfectionism is a barrier to happiness, since whatever one does achieve is never enough.
Empowering her and you to take reasonable chances in life will strengthen you both. Your friend is surrounded by girls, some of whom are also in need of friendship as well as she. It is about creating opportunities to fulfill this need for both her and others. A counselor should be able to assist, and your love and encouragement for her to start being more proactive in making friends is also important. She will learn to reach out to others instead of turning into herself.
Thank you for writing on her behalf. However, in the end, as you rightly pointed out, it is she who has to become pro-active and create opportunities for meeting people, as discussed above. If you support her in those endeavors, no matter how frightening they may appear to be for her, then she has chosen well in you. I sincerely hope you will encourage her to stay in college and get an education. It is the most important insurance in life; it is the gateway to freedom. Marriage is not necessarily always so, though it might appear to be.
Best wishes to both of you, and your futures.
Pat (Treicha) Ryan Ms, B.Sc (Hons) Psych, Psychologist
This question was answered by Pat Ryan. Pat is a registered psychologist and has a private practice in Wollongong, Australia, having worked in several esteemed drug & alcohol therapeutic communities. Her aim is to empower: to safely explore relationships, emotions, unresolved conflicts, patterns of behavior and symptoms of disease--a structured cognitive behavioral approach as the predominant theoretical context with psychodynamic contribution.