It’s 1 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and faithful to the optimistic spirit of the first weeks of school, there’s a problem set pulled up on my laptop — but for the past hour, I’ve been draped across the back of my chair, talking with my suitemate about how we see friendships, acquaintances and interpersonal relationships.
We didn’t set out with such poetic intentions, but rather with honest reflections about what our friendships had been in the past, how they had developed recently and what they would probably become in the days, weeks and maybe years to come. We had been back on campus for less than two weeks, and already huge changes had been set in motion. We now knew to some extent who we got along with and who would remain casual acquaintances, and we no longer crowded out to form huge circles in the courtyards. We were more confident in who we were, but we still had questions as we tentatively felt out the new school year. Recently, I had had doubts about the new dynamics of our friend group: last year, we had hung out constantly due to online classes and college quarantine, but with the second year of Covid Yale, we were busy with classes and meeting new people. At moments, I found myself questioning whether our friendships were only thanks to the circumstances of last year, and how our friendships would fare in the face of diverging majors and widening social circles.
What helped set off my thoughts further were the times I would bump into people from the summer or classes, and immediately hug each other and excitedly catch up, and sometimes introduce each other’s friends. One time, my friends waited for me to say my hellos and, after they had left, wondered out loud about the meaning of those friendships. This started a conversation around the dinner table about how, at Yale, the go-to conversation ender was “We should get lunch or coffee sometime,” and how in a lot of cases these statements weren’t followed up on. This conversation continued later that night with my suitemate, one of my dearest friends.
At first thinking on a surface level, I suggested that it was hard setting up a date when both people involved were full-time students with multiple engagements — which is probably very true, at least for me. But as the conversation continued, we started questioning the depth of the friendships that formed from briefly meeting people at parties or classes and saying hi to them on the street. If I’m being completely honest, there are some people at Yale that I have spent more time greeting on the street like old friends than the time I spent with them when I met them for the first time.
What, then, does it really mean when I greet people I honestly hardly know as if they were childhood friends? I genuinely feel a rush of happiness when I bump into them, and I am genuinely excited to talk to them. And when their names are brought up in conversation elsewhere, it is instinctive to vouch for them as if they were family. But one thing I can’t deny is that the word itself, “friend,” rarely comes out, even as I write this. The words I choose are something along the lines of “I know them,” “they’re so chill,” “they’re great, I had them for so-and-so class.” So somewhere in my head is the distinction between friend and… acquaintance? Is that the right word? It seems too clinical for somebody I am so happy to see and talk to, somebody I am excited to get to know better every time I meet them — somebody who is a precious person to me.
I think in the end, I came to realize and accept how alone — alone and not lonely, because there is a difference — I was. My friends and my precious people will always be immensely precious to me, but at some point I had started relying on them for my sense of self and completion, and that wasn’t healthy for me; it only left me feeling emptier when I was by myself.
After these realizations, I realized a newfound peace in solitude and independence, in self-determination. I’m alone, sometimes in body and always in self, and yet I’ve never been more secure in the camaraderie of the friends and precious people with whom I have chosen to populate my beautiful world. And honestly, I like the place where I’m at. I feel like now, having come to terms with and begun to transform a core need of myself, I am one step closer to who I am meant to be.