Do you remember back in elementary school, when you’d run up to some random kid, ask to be their friend and that would be the end of it? Turns out, it takes more effort than that in college. At best, such a question would reward you with a weird look, at worst, you get labeled a creep.
So, how does one…make friends?
I asked myself (and my therapist) this question a lot since I started college. As a bona fide adult now, I should learn to do adult things, like make friends. Most colleges have an orientation, allowing freshmen to bond and making sure they don’t accidentally wander off to their death. My freshman hall became my first friend group. You get pretty close once you can hear each other breathe through walls made of paper and prayers. I spent the majority of my freshman year with the same people who can hear me shower as they pee.
Then my second year rolled around.
Scary, I know. Since a housing crisis tore through my college last year (as it did many other colleges), we split ways. Living 10 seconds down the hall from each other, turned into a five-minute walk across the lawn from one another. It sounds like nothing, but it turned out to be the opposite of nothing. I very quickly realized that my freshman friend group formed through shared camaraderie only held together through proximity. Once we couldn’t talk to each other by shouting across the walls, I quickly realized that I barely had any shared interests with them. They played all the sports imaginable to man and womankind, I joined every publication I could find on campus. They wanted to go to mixers, I wanted to have a movie night where we watched Mamma Mia for the third time. They had found their core group of people and I had not. They went off to compete in tournaments and go to soccer team parties while I stayed home on Friday nights.
That’s when the loneliness set in. Suddenly I’m eating by myself, I’m walking home alone, and I’m inviting myself to things instead of getting invited. So, as an adult, I put on my big girl pants and tried to make more friends. I tried with other East Asian people but since I attend a predominantly white college, I predictably ran into difficulties. I tried to have a friendship with my new roommate but ran into the same problem as last year. She worked in cybersecurity for the government, I spent the week analyzing poetry.
So, I stayed eating alone, painfully aware of my solitude on my late-night walks and feeling like an intruder during group hangouts.
Eventually, I got the brilliant idea to ask an acquaintance out for coffee. Surprisingly, that kind of worked. We share a lot of the same interests: she’s an English major like me, she likes a lot of the same media as me and as a bonus, she’s also Chinese American. I can definitely say that we had graduated from acquaintance to friendship.
As I was laying this all out to my therapist, he hits me with “That’s how friendships work.” Jaw. Drops. I apparently have to actively work at cultivating and maintaining a close group of friends to not be lonely. Shocking news to someone whose elementary school friends stayed with her up until high school graduation. However, it’s true; I had to look for my group of people, a group that would understand my identity and would actually share my interests. I could be surrounded by people but if people can’t identify me as part of their core group, I will still feel lonely. I still haven’t found my group yet, but I think I’m on the right track.