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Boxes, Brunch, and Other Things I’ve Learned About Friendship in University

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

I have never put much stock in personality tests, smooshing people into little identity boxes based on their answers to a set of questions about their favorite brunch food and which Hemsworth they would date.  They always seemed pretty absurd to me given that, at least as far as I was concerned, a box to encompass my identity would need to be some sort of magician’s collapsible concealment box with mirrors, a false bottom, hidden compartments, and a dyspeptic rabbit.  In other words, it’s not that simple.  And with that typification come serious friendship quandaries, especially when it comes to uni.  How do I find people like me?  How do I make sure those people like me?  What if our star signs don’t align?  You know, your usual pre-uni panic.  Admissions counselors told us to use our “type” as a marketing hook – the scholar-athlete, the prodigious musician, the future congresswoman – but at the same time told us to be versatile, multifaceted, and diverse of interest.  I mean seriously.  And even as we emerge from the morass, spluttering to the surface for our first glimpse of our bright shiny future at our new school, we are met with still more decisions on where we belong.  We have been regaled with stories all our lives about friends who met on the first day of class who went on to be each other’s maids-of-honor.  How do we know who to pick?  The short answer is, we don’t, but I have some thoughts.  And so, to offer what guidance I can based on what experience I have, I humbly give you my top four pieces of advice on college friendships, from someone who has tried them all.

Number one: Seek people you like, not those who like you.

Perhaps the biggest trap that’s easy to fall into is “being liked.”  It’s great.  It’s fantastic, even.  The feeling of being accepted and valued by a group of people is one of the best there is.  And, of course, you should find a group of people that enjoys hanging out with you.  Equally important, and easily overlooked, however, is that you enjoy hanging out with them.  Are these the kind of people you want to be spending your time with?  Are there activities you all like doing together?  Would you choose to invite them home over a break?  Maybe you think so at the beginning but discover after a while that you don’t love the way this particular group acts, or even that you’d just rather hang out with another.  That’s fine.  It’s most important that you are happy with the people that you’re hanging out with, not just relieved they’re happy to be hanging out with you.  After all, we saw how well that worked out for Veronica in Heathers.

Number two: It’s ok not to have a huge friend group.

If you’re like me, you thought you would enter uni and instantly have the cast of “Friends” sitting in your room every Friday night, and if that’s how it plays out, fantastic, say hi to Chandler for me.  But it’s also more than plausible that it’s not quite so cut and dried.  Maybe you have a group of three ‘ride or dies,’ a casual friend you like to grab coffee with on the weekends to chat about your chemistry class or the most recent episode of “Killing Eve,” and a huge group from the ski club that all grabs tacos together after practice.  There’s no perfect formula, just a whole world of possibilities.

Number Three: Some disclaimers on advice to be wary of.

“Stay true to yourself” is perhaps the most misleading piece of advice given to young people as they embark on their uni journeys.  Uni is a time to meet new people, and lots of them; to try new things; to take your quirky roommate up on her invitation to try a Doctor Who-themed golf mixer, decide it’s really not your thing, and make a break for it with another girl half way through in favor of some really good Chinese food.  You are not limited by the little box you built for yourself in your application, and you should feel free to take every opportunity, even if it doesn’t quite gel with the identity you’ve created.  After all, maybe you’re a Whovian and never knew. 

A related piece of advice I’ve never found helpful is “never change for anyone.”  Now I know this is meant to be identity positive and reaffirming, but I find it limits our conceptions of ourselves as humans.  We have flaws.  We have bumps that can be smoothed.  Of course, you should never change a part of yourself that you love and are proud of to fit someone else’s conception of who you should be.  Never.  But maybe a good friend points out a habit you didn’t even know you had that others might find off putting.  Maybe that friend helps you break that bad habit.  Maybe a different friend wishes you could be more sensitive towards a certain topic you’ve never been educated on, and for her you do some research, learn some things, and change your perspective.  I guess a different way to look at it might be to avoid the absolutism of “never changing for anyone,” and to focus more on ensuring that you are surrounded by people who will only help you to change in ways that help you become the best version of yourself.  This brings me to my next and final piece of advice:

Number Four: Be open to change.

Maybe you click with a group in your first week, but then decide you have different interests.  Maybe your roommate gets a serious boyfriend and doesn’t have much time for you anymore.  Maybe your initial friend group falls apart over a disagreement.  All of this is ok.  People change.  You change.  Uni is a fantastic time to work out who you are, how you want to present yourself, how you want others to view you.  Who you are on day one does not have to be who you are when you graduate, and you’re going to meet new people and lose some old ones along the way.  What matters most is that you surround yourself with people who are loving, accepting, and supportive of the version of you that you want to be in the moment.

Let me close by saying that I am no expert in the world of friendship.  In my 21 years on this planet, I have made and lost some wonderful friendships, grown apart from and rekindled others, generally stressed about finding the right “niche” of people like me.  But what I do know is this: you are not confined to a box and to the people who fit in it with you.  Remember the very last scene of Indiana Jones – Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the ark is being stored in the basement of the museum, and the camera zooms out to show a massive storage facility with millions of identical crates full of fascinating hidden artifacts?  That’s uni.  You just have to open the boxes.  

Alexandra is a fourth year at the University of St Andrews in Scotland studying English and Modern History. She is also the founding president and editor-in-chief for the St Andrews Her Campus chapter, and can usually be found buried in a theatre rehearsing for the next musical, opera, or play. In her spare time, she loves writing creative fiction, traveling, and generally enjoying living in Scotland!