For many college-goers, freshman year feels like a dream. For many, it’s a wonderful, impressionable time where you make some of your best friends for life. But unfortunately, for some, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the drama and toxicity outweigh the peace and healthiness of what you thought was a stable friendship. This is detrimental and exhausting. But most harshly, it might not be easy to detect. You may, like me, even find yourself months later going, “Huh. Maybe the way they treated me actually wasn’t okay.”
As girls, toxic friendships are something we, unfortunately, get exposed to at an early age.
I had an experience with the like, but I never was strong or loud enough to put an end to it. I had one friend in early high school who decided one day she hated my guts out of the blue. After not speaking to me for weeks, she acted as if nothing happened. I forced myself to play along. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. Not until college. Not until I felt like I was really forced to, and that I had no other option. For me, it took nearing the deep end of my mental health to realize that I deserved better and the only person that was capable of saving me was myself.
College meant constant immersion with those of my generation. The environment meant a never-ending balance of stimulating conversation and goofing off, sometimes to the point of complete energy depletion. I was constantly hanging out with either my roommates or friends I made down the hall, chatting until the sun went down. I wasn’t very good at gaging when I needed a break. FOMO is very real and very hard to release your mind from. Of course, you create lifelong bonds by consistently being around friends. But we can’t ignore that college can foster shallow, slippery relationships, too.
I had one such bond, though it didn’t feel so terrible at first.
We were inevitable, bound to collide because we were so alike and lived near each other. Hanging out at night meant not having to leave the dorm. Everything we did, we did together, from partying, to hanging out in dorms, to studying in the library. Kappa Alpha was throwing a party one weekend? Great, we’re going. Finals are coming up? Sounds good, we’ll be cooped up in a library study room together until dawn. Over fall and winter break, they called me every day. I remember having to sacrifice studying for a test because they wanted company at a dorm party. Even when I didn’t want to be, I was with them.
Managing a friendship with someone who laments their insecurities so often proved to be difficult: It explained much of the codependency and relentless need for my reassurance. I walked on eggshells because of their heightened insecurities. I felt miserable. They always asked to go out, again and again, and berated me when I said I didn’t want to. Inside, I knew going out meant another night of babysitting, which became a regular occurrence. I was always second best, feeling like a plus one at every party. I was made fun of for attending student org meetings, for participating in extracurricular activities because it was ‘lame.’ Slowly, I began thinking that too.
It didn’t stop there. Being around them meant sacrificing my other friendships.
I turned on innocent people my friend felt threatened by and for no good reason. I opted to be socially awkward at a party I was dragged to instead of being with my other friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The conversations I had always centered around this person. I never got to talk about me.
Worst of all? They never outright forced me to do any of the things I did for them, but I felt obligated to. I felt like I wasn’t a good friend if I didn’t. Almost everyone who’s had a manipulative friend can attest to this feeling. The guilt trip I’d experience for not accompanying them to simply a frat party was unjustifiably immense.
Soon it became too much for me. I fell behind, unable to keep up with assignment after assignment, paper after paper. I lost interest in my organizations. My passions and mental well-being suffered and reflected through my grades. I had been worn down and realized I wasn’t happy about the things I once felt joy in. With worsening mental health and grades, I finally put an end to the chaos. I didn’t want the rest of my college experience to go down this path.
I began distancing myself.
I focused on me, what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be with. I chose two student orgs I felt really passionate about, GW Pakistani Students’ Association and GW-TV. I also joined a sorority and found true friends there. Friends who shared my values and aspirations and most importantly, loved me for me. My sorority sisters pushed me to pick up theater again, and I’m fresh off my second performance, eager to go back to the stage when senior year starts. It was a bittersweet, emotional drama set in Paris about an elderly man and his daughter that reminded me of the beauty of storytelling and the art of theater. I’m lucky to now have such genuine people in my life who are supportive of my dreams.
Looking back, it definitely feels like I wasted my freshman year. But I have to remind myself that I’ve come out stronger. I’m now an advocate for myself, and I know what I deserve. Here’s to lessons, and the life skills they give us.