It wasn’t until I was being introduced to a perfect stranger on campus by a mutual friend and the stranger said, “Oh, yeah! I know you! You’re friends with Abby, Emily, and Emma! Everyone knows you guys. Do you ever leave one another’s side?” that I realized I’d gotten somewhere in college I’d never wanted to be: part of a clique.
The biggest thing I was looking forward to when I entered my freshmen year was finally getting away from friendships I’d had in high school and more specifically, the obligated friendships I’d kept up long past their due; the friends in high school you keep that aren’t necessarily your BFFs but you’ve known them since you were six or your moms are best friends or you have so many mutual friends you just have to be friends — you know, those friendships. There were so many times nearing graduation that I realized I absolutely hated something about this person or couldn’t stand the way someone did this or that, but the only reason why we were still friends was because I felt like “I had to.” I was so excited to start anew and form real honest friendships.
I got to college and immediately made a dozen or so acquaintances. There were no defined ‘groups’ to settle into, you only had to hang out with people if you made a point to and actually wanted to, and the best part? No one was upset if you had lunch once and then never called them again. It was like being ‘single’ after a break-up. I met so many people during my first semester that it didn’t occur to me that the people who I was choosing to make my closest friends were all friends with each other and in turn, people I only hung out with in a group. Eventually, as you find your niche in college, acquaintances fade and that’s where the true friendships stick. And, by the spring of my sophomore year, I realized I was exactly where I was when I graduated high school: confined within a small group of friends, some I loved, but mostly filled with people I just tolerated.
Friendships at times can be toxic. I think it’s in many people’s natures, especially when tied to pre-existing insecurities, to be somewhat competitive: who can dress the best, date the best, get the best friends, and do everything with a smile. The truest friendships are ones where you can be happy for each other when they succeed. Ones where you aren’t comparing one another against yourselves. Ones where you’re able to tell the other person what they may not want to hear.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved having such a strong support system my freshmen year and even into my sophomore year. Having a group of “girls” is crucial to getting through so many of the trials we’re faced with as young women. I wouldn’t be here without those girls and I wouldn’t have such amazing memories of that year without them. But what I realized was that instead of forming healthy friendships within a group of girls, I’d formed a string of sometimes pleasant but mostly dishonest, toxic, and limiting relationships. And that was the real kicker.
Being referred to as just one within a group hit me. I realized point blank that everything I’d built for myself in college so far had come to a sudden halt. The joy in college is being exposed to so many new experiences and I’d stunted myself by only being friends with people who were friends with each other. How come I wasn’t going out of my way to meet new people? Why wasn’t I interested in meeting anyone new even though I didn’t really ‘fit’ where I was, either? It was fun for a while but as you grow up, you learn that quality over quantity is more than just about your relationships, it’s about how you’re spending your time as well. Becoming an upperclassmen, suddenly time is tighter and when you have a weekend night off, you want to spend it only with people you’re going to enjoy your time with.
So what do you do? How do you get some space? But more importantly, how do you do it without personally offending the people who were your friends and you spent a great deal of time with?
Thankfully, space happened for us. We separated ways when it came time to moving off campus and the five miles between our living quarters made a world of a difference. It allowed all of as individuals to get a breath of fresh air and explore again; it was truly best for all of us. I’m not the kind of person who necessarily wants to burn bridges and make enemies- especially when I’ve learned that in smaller doses, I can still be friends with those people without spending every bit of my free time with them. And best of all, I’ve gone out and met new people and from those people, made a few better friends. I have my handful of close friends now, all of which I’ve maintained because they are healthy and honest friendships (rather than the High School clique obligatory type).
However, most of us reach the point in our friendships where we just want out in the height of conflict, when we might not have an easy way out. I think the important thing about college and adult relationships is to remember that we don’t “owe” our time to anyone like we did growing up. Friendships as adults happen because of a mutual effort and mutual connection. It’s okay to let some friendships fade. You don’t have to sever ties (in fact, I’d never, ever want to put myself in that position) but in college, you always have the freedom to expand your horizons. Everyone changes and there’s always room to grow. In dealing with your own friendships heading south, sometimes saying nothing and fading out without warning is worse than confronting the situation.
If it comes down to it, kindly expressing that you might need some space from the friendship because of said conflict would probably be your best avenue if you can’t slowly fade apart. In my case, I stopped replying to texts as quickly, broke up our pattern of hanging out by declining invitations to do my homework instead (flat out lying is definitely not the way to go, ever, and only makes you seem like the catty one), and eventually on both ends, communication diminished. Honesty is important and being prepared to deal with confrontation is both the mature choice and best way to ensure the drama doesn’t worsen. If I had been forced to, I was ready to admit that I didn’t think we had much in common anymore and while I was there for those friends if they needed me because I still cared, I wanted to spend more time with people I had different things in common with.
I’ve figured out how to simultaneously balance both old and new friendships without any hard feelings in either direction and I can happily say all of my friendships are more honest. In the end, you just want people in your life that make you feel good. It’s really that simple.
Maggie is a chai lover and clothes hoarder. Her Kindle and Jeffrey Campbell booties are her prized possessions and watching entire seasons of sitcoms in one sitting is her greatest talent. She will shamelessly talk up her home state of Idaho for hours if you let her and she lives on to-do lists. Currently, she’s studying biology and writing in Montana and enjoying life in her new apartment one day at a time.