An Intro(vert) to College: The River of Friendship
A lifelong question of how to make friends and the non-answer to that question.
March 17, 2021
There seems to be this natural phenomenon when it comes to making friends. A gravitational attraction, like we had always been orbiting each other, and now we were finally locked together.
I’ve wanted to write this article since I came up with the idea for my column. How do you make friends? I’ve pondered and wondered about this question for years. When asked the question by my similarly introverted friends, I always ended up shrugging and I gave them advice I wasn’t confident about. I tried to follow the pathways that have led to my friendships now. I considered my freshman high school self who had to start at a new school and make new friends. I was terrified then, completely hidden in my shell. My totally accurate Meyers-Briggs personality test told me I had an introversion percentage of 96 percent back then (I’m at 81 percent now!). How did I make friends at all? I have to be completely honest: I don’t know. Unlike my usual articles full of advice for introverts, this article is going to contain philosophical wonderings, reminiscing and thinking ahead to a future unknown.
Making friends is not magical, and it’s not a completely passive action either. We don’t stand around waiting for friendship to suddenly form if we hold eye contact for long enough. But at least for me, I drift towards people, slip away from crowds, find the similarly awkward smaller groups of people sitting, standing, not saying much except for the occasional ice breaker that’s been ingrained in our minds after years of schooling. I drift to them and join in the awkwardness. Eventually the little voice in my head has yelled at me enough that I say something, or better yet, someone says something to me and by the power of obligation, I must respond.
This is the moment of destiny. This is the moment where we see if the key fits the lock, if the piece fits the puzzle. It takes a single word, a word full of mutual understanding, to change short responses to an actual conversation. Now you may ask, how do you get to this point? How do you know if the key actually fits the lock? I must once again apologize for my non-answers but I don’t know. Are all friends forever? Not necessarily. As I read in a study, many friends are just the result of geographical proximity. This doesn’t mean they can’t be your best friends forever and ever, it just means that a little bit of fortune was involved in finding a friend so close to you. At this moment, when you are starting to play a table tennis match with conversation, trying to see if you can match each other’s rhythm, the future isn’t important. It’s what you say next. Whether you regret it immediately or are glad you said it because it pushes the meeting along a little further. That first real meeting has only one purpose: to figure out if you want to continue it at another time.
Now here’s probably the only solid piece of advice I can give to my fellow introverts: if you really want to keep that conversation going, do not hesitate to ask for social media or a phone number. I know, it’s horrifying to put yourself out there, to give them access to you at any time. However, they want a new connection just as much as you, especially if you are both at the beginning of a new stage of life. Worst comes to worst, you slowly stop talking and what was not meant to be fizzles away.
But imagine, you end up putting aside your homework, stopping your walk, pausing your show to text this new friend. Another back and forth, more questions you wanted to ask, simple inquiries of “What did you do today?” and “What are you doing tomorrow?” and “Why don’t we do it together?” Again: this fear that they’ll say no, that it’ll start feeling weird or forced. Don’t stop immediately, but just like I put down a book if I can’t get into it after several chapters, don’t be afraid to take a step back, to let it fizzle. Friendship is not exclusive but it does not have to be so inclusive that every action requires exhaustive energy to keep the relationship going.
But maybe it keeps going, and texting conversations turn to lunch conversations turn to making everyday plans. Maybe it feels natural, maybe you still have awkward silences. Who doesn’t? Better yet, if the friend you make is another introvert, you’ll probably have comfortable silences. Congratulations, you’ve made a friend! They might not be the best friend you’ve ever had or the person you feel like you can tell all your secrets to, but they are a friend—somebody to hang out with, to study with, to text with random thoughts, to connect with when our surroundings are unknown.
What if it seems like nobody clicks? Day after day it feels like you are always alone in your dorm. Remember what I said about proximity? Create that proximity for yourself: hundreds of clubs, organized activities, hallmates, surrounding areas, classes (at the very least, find a classmate so you can ask questions if needed). Your dorm is safe, and you may be accustomed to loneliness, but I can promise that the world isn’t going to open the door of your room to greet you. The first step is opening the door yourself.
All that’s left is time. As I graduated high school, my friends and I ruminated on the fact that it would take another four years to become as close to new people as we had become to each other. However, thinking about it, our four years or six or ten were not spent fumbling with our words, wondering if we were going to become closer friends, wondering if we had achieved friendship at all. I think about my own future often, but when I’m with friends, the present is all that matters (warning: this is about to get cheesy) because when I look back, whether we’ve grown apart or not, I am grateful for the happiness of our moments together. I am grateful for our awkwardness and little disagreements and the hardships of planning a single meeting with the whole group. I am grateful for our efforts to move forward together.
The whole process is seamless, natural. I cannot look at each thread in the bracelet of life we’ve made. I cannot say with confidence the moment where we decided to be BFFs. One day it was clear.
How do I make friends? By enduring a little vulnerability, by letting the river wash me down stream and enjoying the sights along the way.