Why Sleepaway Camp Was One of the Loneliest Experiences of My Life
I'd always heard the stories of people meeting their lifelong best friends (and sometimes future spouses!) at sleepaway camp.
Camp was, apparently, this exciting, carefree getaway where you stayed up late, gossipped, found your first love and really connected with people over lakeside splashes, campfire songs, friendship bracelets and the occasional game of dodgeball.
That's why, when I had the opportunity to go to sleepaway camp for two weeks with my then-best guy friend, I thought it was guaranteed fun. I was initially on the fence because I didn't want to go alone, but when my friend and I made a pact to go together and stick together, it sounded like a no-brainer.
We're both Jewish, and all the attendees of this particular camp were Jewish as well. Growing up, I wasn't surrounded by many Jews, and it was important for me to get some kind of cultural experience. I figured this was the perfect opportunity, and that I would just naturally have more in common with these camp-goers than I would with some of the people who attended my school.
An Unexpected Turn
Leading up to our trip, my friend and I were so excited. We carpooled over to the shuttle that took us to our campgrounds, and we looked around in awe of how many fun-looking people surrounded us. There was such a diverse group of campers and a seemingly equal number of both guys and girls. I thought for sure I'd walk away with a camp fling, a new long-distance BFF—or, at the very least, memories to last a lifetime with the friend who came with me.
Once we arrived at the campground and got settled into our bunks, I was separated from my friend, since he had to go to the male side. I didn't mind because it was all about expanding our horizons and getting to know other people. We'd always have each other at the end of the day. We arrived in time for a late breakfast/early lunch, ate our meal, and went back to our bunks to get settled.
I don't know what came over me, but within a few short hours, a feeling of nausea hit me hard. It was weird because I'm not generally prone to illness. I don't know if I was accidentally served something spoiled at lunch or what the case was, but I hadn't experienced this feeling before. I tried taking a couple Tylenol, which has helped in the past, but nothing changed. I was suddenly bedridden.
My friend came over to my bunk and said they were going to head out for the day to do crafts and later hit the pool. I told him I needed a moment and would reconvene for dinnertime or later that night. Welp, sure enough, I passed out and didn't wake up until the morning.
Discovering the Cliquiness of Camp
I'd love to say I woke up feeling good as new, but that would be a lie. I felt like crap, but, nonetheless, I knew I didn't commit to this experience to lie in bed for two weeks. So I made my way down to breakfast, expecting my friend to greet me with open arms.
Sure enough, he was seated with a handful of unfamiliar faces, laughing away as if he'd known these people for years. He offered up a quick salutation but didn't bother to save me a chair. Okay, he probably figured I wouldn't make it down, I told myself. I moseyed on over to a table in the way back, where I asked two girls if I could sit. They said yes, but didn't bother to engage in any further conversation with me. Well, this sucks.
Still sick, I forced myself to get ready for the day, excited to embark on those delightful camp activities that everyone raves about. Once everyone was ready to go, we crammed ourselves into the camp bus for our first field trip, and I learned quickly that people get acquainted fast. It didn't take long to realize the "cool kids" sat in the first four rows, and anyone behind those rows was basically just an insignificant extra.
It was crazy how, over the course of the one day, girls were already huddled onto guys' laps, and squads had already developed. TBH, I kinda thought my friend would be the dork of the group. I never expected he'd be the one in charge of the speakers and music selection; didn't think for a second that people would be clamoring to team up with him for group activities. And while he'd give me the occasional wave and ask if I'm having fun, he completely ditched me for the "cool kids," who, BTW, were not even cool.
For the first few days, I expected things to get better over time. Maybe I just needed some serious 1:1 time with my bunkmates or other people in the group. Maybe my friend would come to his senses and include me now that he doesn't feel like he has to prove himself to anyone. He made a point to tell me that a couple of people in the group suggested I seemed "boring," and my friend assured them that was the furthest thing from the truth, and that I was simply sick. Thanks, buddy—that still didn't stop you from leaving me out of your group activities. I felt boring at this point.
By Day 5, I accepted the harsh reality: I hated sleepaway camp. I felt like I was back in elementary school when I didn't have a designated friend group and I kind of followed people around because I didn't want to just walk around alone at lunch. Imagine that awkwardness, but for 24 hours a day, for two weeks! Everything at camp, from the time you wake up to when you go to bed, involves hanging out with people or picking teams. It was incredibly isolating. It got to the point where even the shy, uncomfortable-seeming girls had their own clique! I literally had no one.
We had to write in these journals about our time at camp, and I'm sure most people wrote about their life-changing experience or the boy who stole their heart. I wrote about how I've never felt lonelier and I can't wait to go home. I kept thinking about how different things may have been had I not been sick that first day. Ugh.
Eventually camp came to a close, and, of course, my "popular friend" went right back to being my bestie. He acted as though nothing happened and joyously recounted his amazing time. At this point, I didn't have the energy to get into my misery. I was just grateful to have it all over and done with.
Looking back, it was a painful experience, and I guess sleepaway camp isn't for everyone. If I could go back and do it all over again, I think I'd be much more comfortable in my own skin. I'd be more content doing activities on my own and sitting in the back of the bus, twiddling my thumbs with my headphones on. It's not even like I envied any of these people or thought they were that cool—I simply hated that feeling of tagging along and how every activity set you up for potential alienation.
I don't regret giving camp a shot. The idea sounded great on paper. I do wish I could go back and make it a more enjoyable experience, knowing what I know now.
Feel like embracing your alone time? HERE are a bunch of empowering Instagram captions that show you're proudly independent!