Given that this is the first article of this column, I feel the need to specify my audience. While upperclassmen may look at an article about finding friends and think it suited just for our new lanyard-wearing community members, my plan for every week is to write about topics that we can all relate to, even if we do not need help with them in the present moment. Perhaps you have a friend group tighter than a knot, or a best friend who you cannot imagine a life without, but I would encourage you to read the next 700 words anyway, as it might not change your life, but it may just leave you with a new perspective. That is the Lawrence Difference, after all.
Regardless of where you are now in your academic career, we were all freshmen at some point. Thrown into a new social climate, especially at a small school with a distinctive and strong identity, we had to find a place for ourselves in the madness. And so, in the chaos of Welcome Week, you find a few people that you get along with, and you stick with them and make things work. Sometimes you get a lucky draw, and these friends are actually pretty great for you, but most times, a few weeks pass and things start to change. This is a natural process, but if you are going through it now, it is best to be ready for it.
In thinking about friendships and how they work, it is worth asking the question, “What are friendships founded on?” One way in which friendships are formed that I have already brought up is proximity. Living in the same hall, being a part of the same groups or classes, playing the same sport and so on is an easy way that a friendship can start, and that is how most start out in college. Shared interests and hobbies are another foundational aspect of a good friendship, whether academic or otherwise. Friendships that are centered on this usually come about as people in the same clubs or majors get to know each other. How people interact with each other is naturally another large part of friendship, and so personality type and communication style can make or break it. Finally, something that people don’t often realize is such a fundamental part of being friends is values. What you believe in — your moral and ideological code (which is not inherently political) — has great influence on who you spend time with. However, morals, ethics and ideologies are not exactly topics people spontaneously bring up in conversations over coffee. Thus, people only find incompatibilities in this department after quite some time, and that can cause a long-standing friendship to quickly weaken.
In an objective sense, the occurrence of this is not particularly surprising. College is, as the cliché goes, a formative time for all of us. We are away from our families and home cultures (some more than others), we are at a liberal arts school where we are confronted with new perspectives, experiences and ideas all the time, and we are under constant pressure, causing us to make big decisions and grow up faster than we otherwise might. As a result, people change a lot in their years here, and so friendships get weaker, stronger or perhaps just change.
These changes can be hard for people, especially those who have not been through it or who have not prepared for it, but it is not an inherently detrimental thing. Losing friendships, whether completely or in the sense of change, can be an opportunity for growth. It is a chance to find out who you are and what you want in a friend — Kate Zoromski calls this line of thinking the “growth mindset,” but I prefer to think of it as the “thank u, next” mindset. Treat your hard times as an opportunity for growth and use them to move forward, in this case taking the time to reach out to new people. In my own experience, my first two years at Lawrence were focused on having a friend group, but I found this to be awfully restrictive, and so I changed my mindset. Instead of limiting myself to five friends in one close group, I thought of them still as friends, but separate from each other, and made an effort to spend time with people individually, including those in my former group, and those outside of it who I had too long neglected.
This is what worked for me, but clubs, intramurals and even hall programs can be a great way to reach out to new people and see what happens. It can never hurt to meet new faces and try new things, even if it doesn’t work out in the end. Life at Lawrence is full of ups and downs, and friendships follow suit, but it is also a treasure trove of great, interesting experiences — you just have to know where to look.