The Stages of College Friendship

12:00 PM

College makes friendship awkward. You'd think that living with 2300 people would mean that your social skills get honed (especially after years and years of being a homeschooler). You'd think that. You'd be wrong.


Freshman Year

As a freshman, you desperately feign friendliness and extroversion and boundless energy to small talk. You never know if that boy you sit next to in class will end up the love of your life (the answer is yes). You can't tell if the boring discussion on how far you progressed on your paper will suddenly spark a profound connection (the answer is usually no). Crowds and crowds of people at the lunch table just means more options for best friends. In reality, you end up with a collection of names, hometowns, and potential majors that sets you up for a lifetime of trying to attach them to the right names.

And that's what you do for the rest of the year -- you make it a point to introduce yourself and learn those three important things. After you know those three important things, you're entitled (almost obligated?) to say hello when you pass each other in the dorm, in the lunchroom, on the way to class. You might even make a little bit of small talk right before class starts. Maybe. In an attempt to foster these friendships, you circle back to those three things: "Oh, I like your name. Hey, I lived in Mississippi too! You're a history major, right? Oh, econ? Sorry, I'm mixing you up with somebody else."

Every Other Year Afterwards

You already found your best friends and thus no longer have any motivation of necessity to look stupid while attempting conversation. You sit at the lunch table silently, pondering understeamed vegetables, listening to the same arguments on Calvinism and evolution, the same complaints about bad food, lack of sleep, and that paper you don't want to write. When new people join, you don't introduce yourself -- except at the beginning of the year, when you exchange names to throw your name into the pool of potential friendships with cool freshmen. 

This bubble forms around everyone. When someone unknown sits next to you, you aren't obligated to talk with him or attempt to be friends. You already have your friends; you assume he does too. You just eat, chat with whom you want, and leave. This becomes a problem when you realize that your group is his group. You don't know his name, he doesn't know yours -- I mean, you do, but you aren't sure you do, because you never actually introduced each other. And the longer he sits at your table, assimilating into the group, the more and more awkward it becomes to turn next to him and say, "Hi, I'm Bailey. You're who, exactly?" 

Even worse is the Problem of the Passersby. Some people you know but you don't ever make eye contact with them for some inexplicable reason that both of you understand perfectly. Some people don't know you at all but you know them because you stalked the student spotlights section as a prospective student. You definitely don't make eye contact with them. And if you do end up getting introduced to those paragons of Hillsdale virtue, you never, ever mention you know what their favorite class is and where they're from and their freshman struggles that you found posted across the internet.

There's also the unique situation where random people you saw in the student union friended you on Facebook...but again, you've never actually met. You avoid those people. You avoid them, because otherwise this happens: "Hi, I'm Christopher!" "Yeah, I know. We've been Facebook friends since the second week of freshman year." Of course, you don't stop friending unknown classmates, because they're normally witty and write the best Facebook statuses that you can't like or comment on because you're not friends in real life. 

It's depressing, really, the struggles of knowing of many people and figuring out with whom to make eye contact. People with whom I volunteered with for two years -- we don't make eye contact. We don't say "hi, person with whom I prayed and served!" We just tuck our heads and walk past. And you learn that sometimes this is purposeful and sometimes it's accidental because half the time at college, people are zoned out, anyway. We're all great actors: acquaintances with you? No, no, no! The same dorm experience, the same class, the same job -- I think you're making that up. 

You get tired of this fakery, so once you become an upperclassmen, you make it a point to introduce yourself to freshmen and say, "Hi, friend!" whenever you pass. Those freshmen greet you with stares of bewilderment: Why is this creature talking to me?? Never mind that you took them to lunch and chatted with them after church. Obviously, it's impossible to remember everybody's name...but surely those acts of kindness meant something?

Okay, I can't blame them. I totally avoided upperclassmen who mentored me and bought me things. I don't know why. It's just college. Acquaintance is fluid. 

So while you're avoiding eye contact with the people you used to know, you begin striking up conversations with people you never met -- your boyfriend's classmate who laughs at the same kind of jokes you do, the excited senior who got an interview. You just start talking and laughing and connecting without even knowing name, hometown, and major. Which is awesome...until you continue to do that for weeks or years. And by that time it's too awkward to ask, "Sooo, what's your name, anyway?"

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