Let Longing Guide You
By final year, every fresher I have ever listened to unpacks the same hopes, wilting under the new flares in their wardrobe:
I) I haven’t met all the best friends of my life yet.
II) I am so lonely.
These are shared with a wistful look. An almost indignant sniff, that the vaporous “student experience” they thought would be their life is as much of a sham as the Emerald City. I felt the same. Convinced the great student experience was rattling by out there, missing my stop, and I was running late. This was three months in. I still feel, in third year, it gnaw at me whenever I have a day that is blandly restorative, with pasta bakes and Netflix. A hunger to do more. A thirst to meet more. A desire to get out. A running late-ness.
Where the hell are we all running to, then?
Everything we demand of being young — especially moving-to-a-city young — is high. Saturated with longing. We want novelty, seasoned by chaos. Difference. Impulse. Fashion. Sound. Other bodies with new laughs. Sweating to unnamed bands. Life on film reel, life worth a mixtape. Reinvention: of our selves, accents, circles.
What’s worse and frustrating is, we can’t even know what among this chaos we yearn for will scratch it, exactly. There is no cure for longing but to chase it. So we start out being left with a lot of sour mouths, and confused friendships, and questionable ex-girlfriends and ex-hobbies. Dabbles and experiments and dreams that often last less than a season.
Perhaps that’s the point.
In my lectures last year, we learned about the Big Five within psychology. It is the gold-standard personality test: more honest and informative than The Tab quiz on which Love Island contestant you are.
The Big Five is also known as OCEAN, for each of its five dimensions. Openness to Experience. Conscientiousness. Extraversion. Agreeableness. Neuroticism. These are the five main alchemical elements of how every person ticks. Everybody falls at some point along each, in relation to the general population. For example: someone in the 56th percentile for Agreeableness is more easygoing and warm than 56% of the population. Someone who scores in the 33rd percentile for Conscientiousness is likely to have a bit of an erratic work ethic, and a messy room.
If you did want to try just then — perhaps have even tried it already - that’s indicative of the first factor: Openness to Experience. Openness includes how curious we are to try new things, to seek stimulation and impulse, and to enjoy variety and aesthetics. It is, in essence, our little longing dimension.
Personality is unique and varies between individuals, but it is also malleable over time. Some trends in how it changes over the lifespan are shared. Neuroticism, for example, tends to mellow out as we grow older, particularly for young women. Conscientiousness increases — so don’t worry about that messy room just yet.
Openness to Experience generally peaks in your early 20s.
To be young is, then, to long for things. It is ours and it is natural and it is inescapable. The longing is the only way we figure out what we want.
To let it bloom into panic that you’re not doing everything, all at once, or that you’ve done something, and didn’t like it, is to hurt yourself unnecessarily.
My life in the city so far has included painting a guitar, a risography workshop, reading a hell of a lot of books I liked and some I didn’t, a couple of picnics, a few re-inventions, and a birthday snowstorm. Eating questionable Oreo-flavoured desserts. Trying to learn maybe four languages and settling on one. Working in tutoring and research and social work. Trying on belief systems like gloves. Haunting art galleries. Playing in badminton, stretching in yoga, writing in workshops.
It’s also included, for more of the time, a lot of buying the same meal deals to plough away at essays in the same library spots wishing I was doing the above, mindless scrolling, rainy trudging, sluggish Sundays, shifts that dragged, lectures that confused, friends I saw all the time just to disappear and for new ones to come along.
All the shining moments of this great experience are punctuated by long, sleepy stretches of routine and nothing. That’s not a sign you’re wasting your time, that’s a sign that you’re human.
Some of the most looked forward to events have been disappointments, and some of the very best of times and friends have been found where I didn’t expect them to be. You can never tell how good of a kisser someone will be until it happens, and life is like that: stubbornly itself, everywhere, regardless of your pre-judgement.
Let Openness/longing guide you to what you love, while accepting that you will slog through a lot that you don’t to get there. Longing is a fickle compass, but a good teacher: it will have you stumbling around trying to calibrate it. Along the way — along your supposed “mistakes” — you are honing in on your own true north of friends, pains, pleasures. The learning is in the longing.
In our capitalist, highly-pressured culture of productivity, attainment, choice overload and instantaneous gratification, it can too-easily feel like somebody will snipe you out if you don’t achieve greatness by 23, or a new best friend in the first year of a new city. But the only person lining up the sights in this pre-emptive assassination attempt is you.
Time isn’t the enemy; self-criticism is. Allow yourself to be a little longer.