Think about all the friends you’ve made since getting to college. Have a number? Great. Now, here’s a harsh reality: for every 12 friends you’ve made, statistically you’ll only remain friends with one of them.
For many Michigan students, college is the best opportunity to make friends. Newfound independence, plus 40,000 people our age, equals social interaction. We’ll never again live in a microcosm so designed for creating relationships. So we take advantage of our surroundings. We make friends in our residence halls, classes, student clubs and Greek communities. Some of these people become our close friends, even our best friends, but after we vacate our dorms, finish classes and leave our organizations, we too often leave our friends along with these spaces. This shouldn’t happen. Of course, we can’t maintain every friendship, but we’re not maintaining many that we should.
Now, not everyone’s terrible at maintaining connections. It’s entirely possible that you easily stay in contact, but statistics say we’re generally not. A recent study showed that we have 396 friendships over the course of our lives, yet we only maintain 33 at a time. Out of 33, only six are considered close friends. Here’s another statistic: seven out of 10 people identify losing 11 out of 12 friends as one of their biggest regrets, so losing touch isn’t a habit we welcome or accept — it’s a legitimate problem.
Which makes sense. At our core, we have an innate desire for companionship. We try avoiding a lonely state, but our constant busyness makes scheduling friend time difficult. After enough time, we lose touch with many once close companions, and both parties feel uncomfortable initiating a conversation. Post-college life worsens the situation. Moving, work and children cause increased busyness, meaning we have fewer opportunities to make new friends. Couple this with our inability to stay in touch, and we push needed socialization on fewer people. This toxic trend continues as we settle into long-term relationships. Our romantic partners increasingly engulf our needs until our friendship circles narrow significantly — even totally.
And though romantic partners provide an otherwise unattainably powerful friendship, they alone cannot satisfy the human craving for interaction. One reason is we examine our friends’ personality traits and incorporate the ones we most enjoy into ourselves. As we become familiar with each individual, we come to understand their ingredients — what makes them them. After spending enough time together, we pinpoint the traits we admire. Eventually, conscious or not, we merge these traits into our identities. Maybe witnessing your friend’s level-headedness gives you composure in stressful situations. Perhaps hearing a rationally grounded yet emotional boyfriend rant causes you to feel and express your emotions. Regardless of which traits you appreciate, no single person demonstrates every admirable characteristic. We need many people with differing traits to be the best person that we can be.
Friendships are more than a tool for self-improvement. They’re fundamental in getting the most out of life. Outside of necessary alone time, life is simply better enjoyed with people. Favorite pastimes can be fun alone, but oftentimes being with a friend enriches these activities. I’m sure we can all look to our last lunch, movie, workout or night out and remember the highlights and memories came from moments driven by social interaction. Friends also invite us to activities we would otherwise never do. You may never realize that you love grabbing coffee or taking walks until a friend makes the suggestion, but they may quickly become favorite pastimes. You don’t even need active conversation to enjoy friend time; even comfortable moments of silence can feel enjoyable with a friend.
Whichever activity is chosen, having an assortment of friends maximizes these experiences’ values. Going to lunch with different people can be drastically different, but you enjoy each one. Part of this enjoyment comes from having a wide variety of interactions and personalities, and no matter which friend you choose, activities feel considerably more fun with lifelong friends who know you intimately.
But friendships aren’t just useful during good times; they aid us in times of struggle, and we need a variety of people to guide us through problems. Different friends possess different strengths. Some friends are perfect for relationship advice while others prove the perfect confidant for family issues. Different friends even fill specific subcategories among different topics. Sometimes you just need an emotional vent while other times you need advice. At times you need someone to validate your opinion while occasionally you need your friend to empathize and express the frustration you’re experiencing.
I’m sure it didn’t take this column for you to realize that friendships are important. I think every student agrees that great friends enhance life, but if we understand this, why don’t we maintain them? They provide us with substantial benefits, yet the effort we invest in them doesn’t equal their significance. This imbalance likely stems from how rapidly we befriend in college. After leaving a residence hall, class or organization, we quickly enter another where we make other great friends — assuming life will always occur like this and enduring friendships will effortlessly last. However, similar to the flawed logic of love’s effortlessness, friendships require attentive nurturing. And as we move, marry and have children, maintaining friendships — let alone making new ones — will become increasingly difficult. As college students, we’ll never have a better opportunity to make friends.
So while you have the opportunity, consciously develop friendships with people you enjoy. Send the text message about planning a lunch catch-up. Or get coffee. Or play video games. Or go work out. Or Skype them if you’re far away. It may feel uncomfortable if you haven’t spoken in months, but receiving the “Yes! I’ve missed you,” text trumps the potential awkwardness and occasional non-response. I promise. If you consistently do this, you and your friend will develop the ability to remain close even without speaking for awhile. That’s important, because life is busy and you can’t get lunch with 60 people every week, but you can keep in touch with 60 people you value.
But don’t feel like you need 60 friends. Everyone’s different, so everyone requires a different number. If you only have 20 friends, that’s fine as long as you haven’t lost someone important for lack of keeping in touch. Whether or not you remember, if you really cared about someone, you had a reason, and seeing them again will likely remind you of their significance. These people deserve a place in your life. Though quality is better than quantity, quality and quantity are better than just quality because progressing through life is better when done with many people you’ve known for a long time. Sharing your life and creating memories are always better with people you care about, or more importantly, who care about you.
Michael Schramm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.