The fall of my freshman year I worried most about the change in academic rigor from high school to college. I realized I would have to adjust how much time I spent on my schoolwork and my methods of studying. I didn’t realize I would also have to reevaluate my previous friendships as well as my methods for forming new bonds. That first semester made me realize I no longer had any close friends and that I’d have to use more energy than in the past to form quality friendships. As the semester got more challenging and more things in my life were changing, I began to long for a support system on campus. I wanted REAL friends.
I tried some of the traditional ways to make friends like keeping my door open in my residence hall, talking to people in my classes and trying to join clubs. Although I met many people, none of the relationships stuck. Unlike high school, where I saw the same people daily, college life was more fluid and unpredictable. People where entering and exiting my life more quickly than I was able to remember their names! The few people who were consistently in my life were my roommates and a group of guys who lived on my floor. But the more I got to know them the more I wish I didn’t know them at all. I didn’t share any values with them. In fact, many of their views were in opposition to the identities I hold (i.e., they were kinda racist/sexist).
These issues became very apparent after an incident in a store toward the end of my first semester. I was followed throughout the store and stopped by security. In that moment I felt scared, humiliated and alone. I rushed back to my building, wanting someone, anyone, to confide in. I tried talking with one of the people I regularly hung out with, but he just questioned me and tried to figure out what I “did wrong” that “made” them think I was stealing. I was hurt and I was angry. Soon after this I decided to tell one of my professors what happened and about the reaction of the person from my floor. She introduced me to some students she knew who shared similar identities and values. I didn’t become best friends with these new people overnight, but I suddenly had people to eat with in the dining hall and I could talk about my life experiences with them without worrying about being shut down. I am still friends with one of these people now, two years later!
Starting my second year didn’t make finding friends any easier but I learned many things about making quality friends. I understood that a fulfilling friendship is like a plant; it needs nourishment and time in order to grow. I no longer thought of myself as a failure for not having a bunch of best friends. First year students are always told how to make new friends but aren’t taught the value in nurturing brand new friendships and I think that is a major oversight. Making friends for the sake of not being alone isn’t enough. You should never tolerate people who make you feel bad about yourself. It is OKAY to struggle with making friends because quality friendships take discretion.