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When I tell people that I’ve never attended a college party, I receive mixed responses, especially when they know I’m in my third year at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Some inquire why, genuinely curious and wanting to know if there’s any specific reason. 

Often, portrayals of college in the media emphasize partying, but that’s really my only exposure to the party scene and alcohol. I’ve been consistently reminded of the danger of too much alcohol both in school and in my personal life, so I have felt safer avoiding it altogether. This has translated to my lack of participation with party culture, even in college.  

I actually believe I have benefited from forgoing parties. I prefer socializing under milder circumstances than what parties allow, and my roommates and I enjoy having friends over to our apartment or meeting up with people elsewhere. I cherish building these emotionally deeper connections that likely wouldn’t be possible at a traditional party. 

As well, I consider myself a creative person, and one way that I express this is through painting. This is a hobby I’ve reintegrated into my life since prioritizing staying in on nights that others might choose to go out. I’m healthier and happier for this in more ways than one.

In fact, a British study published in 2019 found that having a hobby lowered depressive symptoms and made it 30% less likely that someone would experience depression overall. I’ve noticed this in my own life. When I reconnect with hobbies like painting, I feel calmer and more productive. If I chose to go out consistently, I likely wouldn’t have the time or the energy for this. 

I’m also grateful I have found people with a similar lack of interest in consistent partying. Last year I opted for the alcohol-free living environment on campus and found friends who have similar outlooks. “I think there’s a fine line between partying and promoting alcoholism,” Cal Poly political science junior Kaitlynn West said. “And I feel like that gets blurred in college a lot because it’s supposed to be like your days to be wild or whatever.” 

Of course, I have wondered if my lack of partying experience might be a mistake, if I’m robbing myself of something incredibly worthwhile by not attending college parties. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

Cal Poly psychology major Eli Sandoval described his experience with party culture to be closely aligned with ‘FOMO,’ or the ‘fear of missing out.’ He also said that with this comes a relentless cycle of internal tension, similar to how I felt until I became comfortable with my decision to refrain from partying. 

“It’s the anxiety, and then you beat yourself up over the anxiety because you’re like, ‘Oh, I missed out,’” Sandoval said. This “feeds the anxiety,” he added, which can lead to feeling paralyzed from doing anything social.

I recognize that for some, going to parties is a tried-and-true way to have fun. But while there are those who genuinely enjoy partying, I think some students use the culture to prove themselves to their peers and to themselves. In her research, Lisa Wade, author of “American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus,” found that being labeled as “too serious” is a quick way college students believe they lose social approval. So, they overcompensate by turning to partying and hooking up with one another. 

Despite that, I can see why going to a party may seem like the best way to socialize with many people all at once, in an environment cushioned by alcohol, music and liveliness. 

“I feel like that’s probably why party culture is so popular, because college is hard and you need that crutch — so people can depend on alcohol,” West said. She believes that students “need an outlet,” as well as “needing help with their social skills … and finding ways to get through the busyness of college.” 

Fortunately, I have friends who do engage with the party scene somewhat frequently, and I value these friendships no less than those with people who avoid it more. I have realized that I enjoy meeting with these friends and hearing their stories and experiences. And I know that when the day comes that I do go to a party, I’ll have people to go with that I trust and that are familiar with the culture. 

What I would like to help other students understand is that the absence of partying has not made my life incomplete. I’ve gained a sense of internal clarity by deprioritizing the party experience, and this clarity might also allow others to understand that college can be about maximizing one’s life in a way that’s best-suited for you and you only. 


Emma Robertson is a third-year journalism student minoring in sociology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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  1. Larry 2 months ago2 months ago

    Never been to a party, but writes an article how she is not missing out? How does she know if she hasn’t even tried them? We can’t be teaching our college students that keeping a closed mind and making judgments is OK.