The first few weeks of college are a lot like speed dating. You talk to one person after another while going down the standard list of questions. “Where are you from?” “What’s your major?” One day, you strut over to the quad to eat lunch and catch some rays. You see a random guy doing the same thing and so you strike up a conversation. Before you know it, the conversation bumps up to the crucial next level. “What sports do you play?” “What type of music do you like?” “What are your favorite foods?” If the conversation is free-flowing and the feedback is catching your fancy, then congratulations! You may have a winning ticket in the friendship lottery—a high-stakes game in which strangers have the potential to develop into great friends.
Going into college, I had friends from high school, middle school and even as far back as elementary school, and—surprise!—I had enjoyed every moment with them. (Okay, most moments.) But I was anxious to meet new people in college. When else in my life was I going to be surrounded by such a collection of diverse people? Amongst the masses, I figured there had to be a handful I would click with on a spiritual level. I just wanted to meet some guys (and gals) who enjoyed watching baseball and listening to country music. I wanted a friend or two who I could reminisce with about growing up watching Legends of the Hidden Temple and eating Dunkaroos. We had all grown up in the late 90s and early 2000s, but I was interested in breathing nostalgia with people who had experienced similar childhoods to mine. But a question lingered: how would I meet these people?
The odds did not seem to be in my favor. It felt like the stars would need to align for me to meet that perfect friend on campus, and so I spent week after week buying that lottery ticket.
There are of course ways to better your odds in the friendship lottery. I remember being preached to at orientation about the necessity of joining clubs and meeting tons of people—if you join an a cappella group or improv comedy troop your odds will surely increase. You could also join a club sports team or a service organization. “You’re bound to connect with people through these groups,” they told me. But if you’re like me—no musical talent or great athleticism here —it can be difficult to find that perfect club.
I wasn’t worried, though. I knew where I needed to start investing in friendship lottery tickets. Class would be a prime time to interact with people, and I assumed my fellow English majors and I would bond over books and have vigorous class discussions. I was wrong. When everyone came into class, a palpable awkward silence would set in that said, “Only a few people actually did the assigned reading.” As eager as I was to chime in and engender discussion, I could tell the rest of the room felt differently. These feelings were affirmed outside of class when I talked to a few classmates and ultimately realized that they didn’t especially look forward to coming to class, as was the case for me. I had to accept that not all English majors are the same kind of people.
I did myself no favors in the friendship lottery. But none of the on-campus clubs and organizations drew my interest. When I finally did get a break from studying, I immediately turned to my two good friends—napping and Netflix. Unfortunately, I don’t expect all the other people who enjoy napping and Netflix to congregate and form a new club anytime soon (although that’d be an amazing club and I’m on board).
Once or twice a week, I’ll head over to the campus gym and play pick-up basketball. I’ve always found that pick-up sports tell a lot about people. It’s an excellent way to see how they act during competition. Can you compete head-to-head against someone and then afterwards shake hands and say, “good game?” For me it often goes, “Hey this was fun. We should play again sometime.” It may not be lifelong friendship material, but it’s a start.
Colleges are not going to be experiencing a shortage of students anytime soon, and so the friendship lottery will continue. As long as you are meeting new people, you’re giving yourself a shot at winning a prize. Though you make seek the jackpot of a new relationship, it can often be at long-shot odds. In reality, even a partial win in the friendship lottery can feel great. It may not be the jackpot, but any type of friendship carries value.