During the four-year roller coaster known as college life, collegiettes will experience some of their highest highs and lowest lows. While there may be aced exams, landed internships, and totally cute dates in your future that simply beg to be celebrated, there may also be championship losses, rejection letters, and breakups that demand a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a good cry. The good news is that your friends will be right there beside you in every scenario: happy, sad, and in between.
Of course, it’s always easy to celebrate your friends’ accomplishments. But what do you do when you’re on the consoling side of a hug…and have no idea what to say? Don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes, being a good friend means saying nothing at all.
If a friend is going through something difficult, the first thing you have to do is make time to spend with her. Propose a 7th Street date or invite her to your room for some Oreos and peanut butter. Your reaching out will remind her that she’s not alone, and that she doesn’t have to suffer in silence.
When you get together, be sure to give your friend your full attention. This means going somewhere that you two can be relatively alone…the center tables of the Caf or the East Reading Room are probably not the best bets. You should avoid checking your watch, and super-avoid checking Instagram. Seriously, your friend needs you more than @hotdudesreading does right now.
When your friend starts talking, just listen. Chances are, she wants to get all of her feelings off of her chest before asking you for advice. She’ll feel much better after she finishes venting to you, mentally and emotionally — in fact, research psychologists at UCLA have proven that talking about one’s emotions has a therapeutic affect on the brain. While your friend is speaking, all you have to do is take in what she’s feeling. Try to see the scenario from her shoes. Don’t give advice or make a comment before she tells you the full story.
Once your friend finishes her rant, acknowledge how difficult her situation must be by conveying a sense of solidarity, not pity. You want to be supportive, but optimistic. Gently remind your friend that she is strong and can make it through any adversity and that you will be beside her every step of the way.
At this point, a well-intended friend might try to draw parallels between her struggling friend’s situation and her own life. Warning: DO NOT try to relate if you can’t. You don’t have to have experience dealing with the same type of challenge to be a supportive friend! Sincerely noting that you can’t imagine what your friend is going through is better for her than telling her you know “exactly how she feels.” After all, she may not be looking for answers — just a sturdy shoulder to cry on. And that’s enough.
Even if you can relate, speak gently. No two divorces, family deaths, breakups, or rejections are the same. The way you coped with a similar situation may not be the same way your friend copes. You can certainly share with her how you handled it, but by no means assume that her recovery process will be identical to your own.
As you end your conversation with a good, long hug, remind your friend once more that you are always available to talk or listen. You should keep an eye on her in the days that follow, but you don’t have to nag her by constantly asking if everything is okay. Remember that being a good friend is not about having all the answers — it’s about having all the compassion.