Elena Hubbell: Invest in friends

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 - 11:47pm

Out of all of the pressures placed on us in college, the pressure to have a broad social circle and loyal friends may be the most confusing. The pressure to get a good grade can be solved by studying, the pressure to feel involved can be solved by joining organizations on campus, but the pressure to make deep and meaningful connections with other people doesn’t have an easy solution. Social media, where people often flaunt their friendships by posting group photos and commenting on each other’s statuses, only works to exacerbate this pressure. In some cases, people can put their time and effort into an organization on campus and thus make friends, but it doesn’t always work out this way for everyone. We are constantly surrounded by people our own age, with similar interests and similar schedules — so why is it so hard for some of us to make friends and form a social group?

In high school, friendships were easier to make and sustain. For the most part, we saw the same people multiple times each day, and due to high school’s rigid social structure, it was fairly easy to tell whom our circle of friends were. At least this was how it worked in my case — I attended a school where my graduating class was 90 people, most of whom I had known since middle school. I remember that before coming to college, a lot of authority figures told me that at a university, I could decide whom my “real” friends were, that they would no longer be based on convenience. And for the most part this has been true; I have been able to make a lot of new friends at the University of Michigan, the foundations of these friendships based on more than accessibility. So, in my experience, meeting potential friends hasn’t been the issue here at the University, it has been finding ways to sustain these friendships.

Let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I had a very close friend throughout childhood whom I had a falling-out with, and I believe that the source of this falling-out was because one of us decided to switch schools and neither of us were very good at keeping up with communication. Recently, I tried to reconnect, but she essentially told me that she wasn’t interested in any chance at reconciliation. After hearing this, I felt I was incapable of maintaining a friendship. This was especially daunting to realize as I am planning to spend the next full academic year abroad in China. I was worried that the friendships that I had made at college would go the same way as my childhood friendships — that we would stop talking and that the end of our friendships would be clouded in confusion and anger. I desperately wanted to keep these friendships — friendships that, though not based on convenience, are easily maintained because we all live in the same city and have similar schedules. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep this interaction up while I was thousands of miles away and in a different time zone.

I’m still figuring it out. I haven’t left for China yet, so I still have time to come up with a plan of action for how I am going to sustain my friendships. But recently I’ve found that trying harder is a good place to start. The friends that I have that don’t live in my dorm, I’ve tried to learn their schedules and invite them to hang out more. I try to leave the comfort of my dorm more often so that I can visit my friends who don’t live in the same building as me. I try to be the first to initiate contact with somebody whom I think I could become friends with — something I never did in high school. I’ve started to value myself as a friend — I try to see myself as a person that other people would want to be associated with, which makes me more confident when trying to establish connections. And, most importantly, I’ve decided to focus mainly on my individual friendships and not on the group dynamic. It can be exhausting making sure that all of your friends are also friends with each other and ensuring that your circle of friends is in good shape.

When it comes down to it, I’ve found that perfect friendships aren’t really something that exist. Though it may seem that everybody around you has the perfect squad, I bet that upon closer inspection, things aren’t as impeccable as you would think. I think that the most important part of making good friends in college is to take care of yourself — get rid of the friends that drain you, and hold on to the friends that lift you up. As we all have learned by now, there is no part of our lives that will ever be perfect — so why should we expect our friend groups to be perfect? All we can do is protect ourselves and be kind to those who have been kind to us.

Elena Hubbell can be reached at elepearl@umich.edu.