The Fluidity of Friendship

by Lucy M. Li | 4/12/16 5:06pm

When I first came to Dartmouth this past fall, I was genuinely concerned that I wouldn’t find “my people,” a sentiment that I’m sure many other freshmen shared. Who was going to be my college partner in crime? My best friend? My rival best friend who would motivate me to do better? The twin I never had?

Fortunately, I was worried over nothing. Over the past seven months, I have found friends here who fill these roles, but in different shapes, sizes and forms than I might have expected. I’ve learned that anywhere you go, there will be a Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte in your life — inevitably, you’ll find people with whom you share things in common, who appreciate your quirks and enjoy spending time with you. It might not always happen instantaneously, and not all friendships are meant to last forever, but when you do find those with whom you truly connect, it’s something special.

College can even elevate typical friendship dynamics, as you’re living with your friends in addition to attending school with them. They’re the ones with whom you discuss your day over the dinner table, from whom you seek advice when you feel sick and the ones who put you to bed after long nights out.

Ruminating on this made me wonder about friendships from before college versus friendships made here. To what extent do people here maintain their friendships from before Dartmouth? Are friendships here stronger because we’re all, to some extent, living together? Or does that not make a difference?

For me, coming to Dartmouth illuminated the friendships that were capable of surviving distance and change. It takes effort to maintain those friendships when you’re attending different schools, sometimes on opposite sides of the country. Some friendships withstand that distance easily. Others don’t.

The friendships Lexie Lynn ’16 has maintained from before Dartmouth are the ones she remained deliberately committed to.

“I think part of it was an intentionality,” she said. “Because we’ve put effort into it, it’s shown that the friendship is very valuable.”

It doesn’t always take four years to tell which friendships are long-lasting. Carson Spahr ’19 said that his time here has already shown him that only the most valuable friendships from high school will last.

Spahr said that he mostly only maintains contact with his closest friends.

Even the friendships that we do maintain evolve. You will likely not be able to communicate as frequently as you did in high school, and you have to adjust to this new, less flexible schedule. However, this isn’t necessarily a negative thing.

Lynn said that good friendships don’t require constant communication, but rather an ability to keep the conversation going even after some time has passed.

“Honestly, my best friend and I talk and text some and Skype sometimes, but with the rest of them its more of a pick it up where we left off when we see each other again, which I think is very valuable thing to have in a friendship,” Lynn said.

Spahr has had similar experiences with his friends from before Dartmouth, but added that physical presence undeniable plays a role in developing and maintaining friendships. As we form friendships here, we can’t help but sometimes put others on pause.

He added that he prioritizes friends from college over those from back home because he sees them more often.

However, despite the other friends with whom he’s lost contact, Spahr says that his best friend has remained not only a constant but an invaluable fixture in his life.

“When it comes to my best friend, he’s kind of the outlier,” Spahr said. “I’d say he is the exception.”

Not seeing your best friend every day is certainly a challenge. Geographical differences can also play a role in how frequently you even talk on the phone with people from home. Sometimes all I want to do is relay an event or experience to my best friend, but I know that she often can’t talk because we’re in different time zones.

Maintaining important long-distance friendships really requires a genuine effort, something that Lynn can attest to. She described a short rift with her best friend from home, when her friend felt like Lynn wasn’t doing her part in their friendship.

“We had this falling out, like a failure of communication. She asked, ‘Is this friendship even valuable to you anymore?’ That was kind of a wake up call for me,” she said. “I think I tend to be really bad at keeping in touch, but it made me realize it’s important that the effort comes from both sides.”

For others, it seems that as time at Dartmouth passes, they are instead more motivated to stay in better touch with old friends. Timothy Messen ’18 said that after his freshman year, when he was one of the frenzied freshmen running around campus in search of friends, he realized his desire to reconnect with old friends.

“I think I’ve actually sort of reached out more to them this year than I have in the past,” Messen said. “I think I tried too hard maybe freshman year to make friends in college.”

Despite all of this, I was still curious — what role does college living play in friendships? Are the friendships we form here at Dartmouth inevitably stronger?

Something that distinguishes college friendships from those at home is the history that comes with pre-college friendships. These are often people that saw your awkward phase, that remember your uncomfortable middle school years. I personally have known all of my best friends from home since second grade, meaning that we went through all kinds of formative failures and successes as we grew up alongside one another. Although college can undeniably foster incredibly strong friendships, and often does so quickly, most people have only known their friends here for a small fraction of the time that they’ve known friends from home.

Lynn agreed that for her, the close bonds she had before Dartmouth were hard to find and replicate when she first came here. She wanted to find friends at Dartmouth who were similar to her friends at home, who were open about talking about issues like mental health, but she found this difficult.

Like Lynn, I approached my freshman year with expectation that I could find people to be the “Dartmouth version” of my best friends from home, which was not realistic. However, the beauty of our friendships at Dartmouth is that they are not supposed to replace our old best friends. Rather, they are supposed to complement them. Lynn agreed that though it took her time, she finally did develop relationships that she felt were equally meaningful to those from home.

“I remember freshman year being frustrated by the shallowness of the friendships that I had, especially having come from something really tough in high school that had made my friendships there very meaningful,” she said. “But over time, I think through meeting more people in different activities, I’ve kind of found my people here at Dartmouth, too and I’ve found relationships that have equivalent depth.”

As a freshman, I can only hope that I can maintain valuable friendships from home and continue to establish meaningful friendships with people here at Dartmouth. At the end of the day, we should all be grateful to the people, whether they’re sitting next to us at Foco or halfway across the world, who have made us who we are.