Last week I was talking with a friend of mine at Yale. I asked him whether or not he was still in contact with his friends from home. “It’s sad,” he replied, “but I’ve fallen out of contact with most of them … at this point, it’s just too different.”
It’s just too different.
I guess I never thought that things could become “too different” for my friends and me. But ever since that conversation, I’ve been thinking about friendship at Yale — what makes it important, how it changes and what makes it disposable.
Our rubric for friendship is different at Yale than the one we use back home. I think this disparity is why many of us see our friends from home differently. Perhaps this is what causes us to question why we valued what we did in those we associated with before coming here.
This tension between what we want in friends now and what we think of our friends back home is the root of why so many at Yale feel far lonelier than how they project.
The question of friendship and loneliness is hardly an abstract one. A 2016 study done by the National College Health Association found that more than half of college students felt “very lonely within the past 12 months.” A separate study done by the University of Michigan concluded that participants with the lowest overall quality of social relationships had more than double the risk of depression than those with the highest quality relationships.
Friendship and loneliness aren’t just buzzwords — no, they ought to be central to any serious discussion of mental health at Yale.
People find value in reciprocal dependence. Having people to rely on is just as important as knowing that they rely on you. In fact, we often derive more satisfaction from being of use to our friends than we do from using them for our own support.
More simply, friends help shape our identities. We have a method by which we choose friends and who we chose is an important reflection of who we want to be. And unlike formal relationships, friendship is volitional, not obligatory.
Many come to Yale with the notion that they ought to be superhuman. Many of us buy into the grandeur of Yale’s sophistication. I know I have, at times. It becomes easy to see our interaction with Yale as a type of formal, stately relationship, one to which we feel obligated.
But this view is dangerous because it constitutes a shift in our obligations. In living up to the very idea of Yale, it’s easy for us to feel the need to redefine what we seek to be rather than remain fundamentally ourselves. And if what we seek in friends is based on who we want to be, then what we value in friends is vulnerable to morph into what we value in Yale.
So, how do we reconcile the molding of our new identities and remaining fundamentally who we are?
The answer lies in balance. Changing ourselves is healthy, but remembering why we valued what we did in our friends grounds us.
For example, I measure friendship in terms of blackmail. I’m not suggesting that the successful friendship is necessarily the most “blackmail-able” one. Rather, I am suggesting that the stupid and outrageous and hilarious parts of friendships are often the most fulfilling. For me, friendship was vaulting together off of my roof at 3 a.m. in the morning onto a 4-foot cushion of newly fallen snow. Friendship was flying down the highway in the middle of the night, taking turns raising our bodies out of the sunroof of my car. Friendship was screaming in laughter (and pain) as my friends and I ate a habanero pepper before one of our finals, just to see if we could stomach it.
For the past eighteen years of my life, I’ve defined what a friend needs to be based on a definite set of criteria — an admittedly bare-boned and simple one — but a set of criteria nonetheless. And based on the experiences and thoughts that we’ve shared, my best friend and I could ruin each other’s lives. It’s a “blackmail-able” relationship, at least by our standards. I think that’s beautiful.
So, where is our reconciliation? Confronting loneliness requires an admission of personal change. It requires recognition that our old friends are not disposable. And finally, confronting loneliness requires that we remember that, in living up to Yale’s reputation, it can become all too easy to forsake our own identities and forget our friends. None of us should be willing to make that sacrifice.
SAMMY LANDINO is a first year in Hopper College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .