I was in the bathroom a few weeks ago, watching my friend wrench her guts out from food poisoning. I had a paper due the next day, it was 4 in the morning, and frankly, I was starting to feel nauseous myself — but none of that mattered. A friend is a friend is a friend, and friendship requires sacrifice. This is not a question of simple human ethics. Were the person throwing up not my friend, then the situation would not be my problem. But somehow this elusive label of “friend” has certain claims on us, claims we like to cast in terms of obligations. When describing the bonds of closest friendship, we turn to the language of family: He’s like a brother to me, my suite is my family, these girls are my sisters. There is something comforting about the comparison. Just as we cannot reject the familial bond, so too can we not reject the person who has attained the status of friend, regardless of what they do or whom they become.
The elasticity of the term “friend” is often unsatisfactory because it can mean both everything and nothing. A friend can be the person who will lay his or her life down for you or a Facebook friend you barely know from a forgotten summer program.
And this broadness makes it difficult to talk about friendship at Yale.
There has been much discussion recently over the financial diversity of Yale students, the culture of silence around money and privilege, and ways that Yale as a university should respond. Absent from this discussion is how all this silence plays into Yale friendships. What does it means for us as a community of friends if we don’t know about the financial struggles of our suitemates? What does it mean for us to consider one another a family if we talk politely about religion, politics and the controversial views of our home communities? How can we be friends in the deepest, purest sense of the word if there is a culture of silence around the very issues that shape our lives?
A friend of mine, who recently transferred in as a Yale junior from a very homogenous college, remarked to me that friendships at Yale seem more superficial. This reflection could easily be chalked up to the busy lives of Yalies, and all the ways our overscheduled, hectic lives of meals planned weeks in advance are a further manifestation of our generation’s problems. This much-derided phenomenon could be one reason for the prevalence of shallow friendships. But another reason is that students arrive knowing so little about one another, or far less than in communities where students grew up with shared cultural assumptions and beliefs. The diversity of the Yale student body means that friendships will take more work. We start from further places. Acknowledging the gap our differences produce is coming one step closer to ensuring we work harder to understand one another in more than just a superficial way, and thus take full advantage of the strength of our communal diversity.
Friendship is one aspect of life that gets better with age. There is something unique, and incredible, about old friends. My parents have friends who have literally been with them through everything — friends who have seen them single, newly married, with children and with an empty nest; friends who have been there when parents died and careers seemed derailed and life proved difficult; friends with whom they have circled through life’s big questions. But, in testament to the generation in which my parents grew up, their friends are, on the whole, mostly like them. I believe, and hope, that my community of old friends who will still be there for me in the decades to come, who will be the role models for my own children, will reflect the diversity of Yale. But I know that forming such meaningful relationships won’t come without considered effort, and respecting the sacred possibilities of friendship requires first and foremost eroding the culture of silence.
Shira Telushkin is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .