My friend, after an unlucky turn of events, got stuck living in North Quad for her junior year of college. She’s happily housed in a single, though subjected to freshmen and sophomores on a daily basis.
After a few days of living in this dreaded teenage-infested environment, she said, “I can’t take this; there are actual people knocking on my door … wanting to talk and be my friend. It’s awful.”
That would have been me a few years ago, eagerly chatting with whomever’s door was open about my hometown or the size of my graduating class. Thinking about doing that now sounds unimaginable, and a little bit awful, too. For some reason, past freshmen year, this type of conversation seems a little bit odd.
Interestingly enough, I used to make fun of my parents for not having enough friends. I still sometimes do. It always seemed that they were fine with just hanging out with each other. But that scenario isn’t too far removed from my days spent in the back of lecture halls and studying in a corner of the Law Library. It’s a scary thought.
This summer I read an article in The New York Times, “Friends of a Certain Age,” and immediately forwarded it to my parents, amazed at how perfectly this described them. They were just too old to make new friends. They have jobs to worry about and a house to maintain. It’s just not feasible for them to make new connections at this point. Making and keeping friends is an entirely different, and supposedly more difficult, process for them than it is for people my age.
I worked the entire summer, and some days as I stared at the computer screen for the seventh straight hour, I could feel myself getting old and friendless. I’d come home from work exhausted, say “hello” to my roommates and then turn on a rerun of “Seinfeld” and rest my eyes. At 7 p.m.
I started school this year a little nervous about how my social life would change upon graduation. It felt as if during the summer months I’d been losing contact with old friends. Reading this article had entirely convinced me that friendships will die out, and it will only become more and more difficult to meet close friends.
I think that it’s true that many friends you thought you’d be close with forever will become busier, move away and have lives that go in completely different directions than yours. It’s like there’s a weeding out of friendships that begins in college. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t make new ones. I’ve lost contact with some friends over the years, but the ones I want to be in my life are. And the same goes for other college students I know, and my parents as well.
However, I’m simultaneously making new friends. The people who I worked with this summer were some of my closest friends. It’s hard not to be close with the people you spend a majority of your time with. And I know I’ll stay in contact with them, even though I won’t see them every day.
The author of the Times article, Alex Williams, states in an interview with National Public Radio that sociologists have settled on three conditions to make close friends: proximity, repeated interactions and a setting that “encourages people to let their guard down.” He then goes on to say that college is the perfect setting for this.
Williams is right, but I would argue that he thinks about what defines a “close” friend too narrowly. The way we make friends changes greatly throughout our lives. It’s even changed throughout college. But I think it’s possible to form connections, and meaningful ones at that, at any age.
Age is not the problem here. Friendships do change with age, but their meaning does not.
It’s apparent that how we establish friendships and the ongoing nature of them changes as we move down the road of life. Right now, I am enjoying that “perfect friendship environment.” But that still doesn’t mean I’m willing to relocate to North Quad and spend my time trick-or-treating for friends.
Adrienne Roberts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AdrRoberts.