Friendship In College

16 Feb 2023

There is a common expectation – told to us by college alumni and by media representations of university life – that one’s college years is where you find your “lifelong friends”. For some people, this may be true. For me, finding close friends at Penn has been a challenge. I’d like to share my journey and suggest a framing for friendship that allowed me to accept what I cannot control.

In short, I remind myself that some friendships are ephemeral: they last for a short time and then fade away. During the pandemic, I would contemplate whether something was wrong with me when a friend would not respond when I reached out to them. I would think, “Am I overly formal? Am I too much of an old soul to connect with other twenty year olds?”

Challenging these unproductive thoughts, I remind myself that people move on. Some friendships come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. However, college may not be the time where we all find our close friends.

Valuing friendship is associated with well-being, and one's early-20s may be a fruitful time to cultivate close relationships. However, Snapchat’s Friendship Report found that people of different generations found their closest friends at different ages.

My conception of friendship has evolved since I was younger. I moved from Nevada to California when I was ten years old, which was a big change for me, leaving behind friends I had since I could talk. I had difficulty making friends at my new school. I hoped that one of my close friends from Nevada would move to California (that hope would not come true). I switched schools three times in three years, but luckily, I found friendships in high school that I am grateful to remain in touch with.

When I started at Penn in August 2018, my understanding of relationships had been altered significantly. During my senior year of high school and summer before I started college, I had a falling out with two close friends and my parents finalized their divorce after 21 years of marriage. Once I got to Penn, I coped with this by diving into my classes and clubs.

Over the past few years, I compartmentalized my friends through clubs, which, in part, is a reason I have had trouble making deep connections. My desire for structure has led me to invest time in student organizations without also making time to casually “hang out” with friends; I’m trying to make more time for the latter this year.

Friendships evolve with changing circumstances, which are often out of our control. Friends may leave a club you shared, they may graduate early, or a pandemic may distance you to the point where you lose touch with them. Despite all the uncontrollable variables, we choose how to invest our free time in order to thrive, both to personally recharge and to connect with others.

I would like you to respond to these questions: Who makes you laugh? Who comforts you when you’re feeling down? Who accepts you for who you are?

If you think of someone (or multiple people), then they may be the ones you would benefit from spending more time with. I know I feel the happiest when I am with the people who make me think deeply, laugh heartily and smile widely.

If you have difficulty thinking of anyone right now, that’s okay. The great thing about college is that there is a wide array of people who will be pleased to meet you.

I am in my final year at Penn, and I am still figuring out who my close friends will be. I don’t have it “all figured out,” and I doubt any other upperclassman does. We all have challenges with friendships, no matter our age.

If I recognize that a friend does not respond after multiple attempts to reach out, I let it be. Whenever I face an interpersonal hurdle, I remind myself of the 3 P’s developed by positive psychologists: “It is not personal, not permanent, and not pervasive.”

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I would discourage measuring your self-worth based on whether or not you have any close friends at Penn yet. I have fallen into this trap many times (I still do), yet I have lived to tell the tale. I have one more year of Penn left, and I am optimistic that I may find close friends this year. Whatever happens, Penn has taught me a lot about relationships and how to manage them.

If you remember one thing from this column, please remember this: you are worthy of belonging. If you have not found a close friend yet, practice patience and keep looking. If they do not appear this year, they will likely grow sometime later, perhaps in a place you never even imagine.

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