I grew up with my parents telling me about how amazing secondary school (or high school) and university friendships are. They told me all about how that’s where they met their closest friends (besides the ones they grew up with) and about how that’s typically when you make the deepest connections. I, being the extreme extrovert that I am, absolutely loved the sound of that. More people for me to talk to and learn from and shower my love on? Yes, please. So, for that reason, I invested the better part of five years of my life building and nurturing friendships. Now, college isn’t much different, but because of how deep the relationships I have already formed are, I’m struggling a lot with something that I never thought I would – I call it “The Friendship Chasm.”
A chasm, simply put, is a huge gap between any two things, feelings, ideas, stages, etc. The Friendship Chasm (TFC), I would say, is the gap between having no friends and having friends in a new environment. Now I’ve never really had to deal with TFC before because I’ve always been in a relatively small class. When I was in boarding school, there were only about 80 people in my year, so I made friends very quickly (even though I really didn’t want to be in a boarding school for the first few weeks that I was there). After boarding school in Nigeria, I went to the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in Johannesburg, South Africa. ALA is also a very small school, with about 250 students in total. I made some of my deepest connections in ALA because it’s very rigorous, and there aren’t many schools like it, so my classmates and I bonded over the uniqueness of our environment.
When I got to Rhodes (a small school when compared to other colleges but large in comparison to my past experiences), I was body-slammed with TFC. I mentioned before that I am an extreme extrovert, so making friends has never been an issue for me. However, because I am coming from a condensed environment where it’s relatively easier to form deeper friendships quickly, I’ve almost forgotten that it takes time to become comfortable around people. I’m still struggling to fully understand that because people haven’t known me for long, they simply aren’t 100% comfortable around me yet, and I see a lot of other people struggling with that too. There is an underlying pressure to quickly form friendships with as much depth as the ones you have back home, and it took me a lot to start ignoring that pressure. Having vulnerable or deeper conversations is great but it is no indicator that a friendship will last. At the same time, the absence of vulnerable or deeper conversations is not an indicator that the friendship is going nowhere. Getting comfortable and vulnerable with people takes time, and I’ve decided not to put any strain on any friendship to make it what it is not (yet).
This is not to say that you shouldn’t put effort into relationships or friendships. Rather, it is to say that you shouldn’t force a friendship to move faster than it’s meant to. In the same way, you should try your best to learn how to be invested in the new friendships you are forming where you are. It is amazing to keep friends and nurture friendships after you’ve left a school or an environment. However, while you do that, learn to remain present – do not deprive your current location and the people around you of the amazing person that you are.
Right now, take the time to understand how you are developing friendships. Be intentional about reflecting on how you have previously formed bonds so that you can do that elsewhere. ALA was, hands down, one of the best places I’ve ever been, grown, and made life-long friends, but adapting to my new situation is necessary. I have to learn how to trust again, how to find different people funny, how to find homes in new people and it’s definitely not easy. I’m willing to take on the challenge, though, because I discovered in my first few months here at college that the pain of having no one is worse than the discomfort of finding someone.