Here we are, once again, after a weekend trip I haven’t had time to blog about. While you all wait anxiously for me to tell you about the penguins and Tigers I saw this weekend (any guesses as to where I went?), I shall subject you to my philosophical musings on friendship. You’re welcome.
I stumbled across this article a couple weeks ago, and holy smokes, it felt like my entire life suddenly made sense. The article summarizes a study done by Janice McCabe, a sociology professor at Dartmouth, that aimed to understand how friendship structures impact academic success. In doing the study, McCabe discovered that people generally fall into one of the following three categories of friend-making:
These people have one friend group with a lot of friends who all know each other. The article doesn’t give examples of what any of the three friend groups look like in the “real world,” but if I had to guess, I’d imagine this would play out like a sorority or fraternity.
These people have multiple, distinct friend groups that don’t know each other. Think of someone who divides their time between band, the basketball team, and the school newspaper, and has friends from all of those activities.
These people have multiple, one-on-one friendships. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory and can’t come up with a well-known, college-based analogy to explain it further 😛
This was so revelatory for me. If I have ever had a long-standing social insecurity, it’s been around my lack of a friend group. I have never had a friend group. Not in elementary school, middle school, high school, college, or any time after. That’s not to suggest that I’ve never had friends, of course, but my friends rarely were friends with each other, and I always felt on the periphery. After reading this, it all made so much sense. I’ve been a sampler and a compartmentalizer, and as a result have never had MY friend group.
To explain: a diagram, representing my high school social existence.
In this diagram, a line between my name and another name indicates that I would consider myself friends with that person, i.e.: I hung out with them specifically. The boxes represent friend groups, where all the people in that box know each other and are friends with each other. Some people in the boxes may be closer to one person in the group than the others (in the pink box, for example, it was common knowledge that Rachael and Kate were best friends, and that Kalee and Leah were best friends), but regardless, if you printed out the names of the 112 people in my high school class on individual strips of paper, presented those strips of paper to anyone in my class and asked them to sort them into friend groups, the names in the boxes would be put into the same group.
Now it would stand to reason, based on my social connections, that I would fit into the blue box. Not only did I have three friends in that group, but the blue box is also made up of the AP/Honors kids. I was second in my class, so even though I didn’t take all the AP classes my high school offered (I wasn’t smart enough for AP Calculus, and for reasons I no longer remember, I decided to take regular U.S. History instead of AP U.S. History), you’d think someone with a 3.99 GPA with existing friendships inside the smart kids group would be part of the smart kids group. But nope. In fact, I couldn’t remember everyone who fit into this group, so I consulted old photos from Katie’s Facebook page, and came up with a good amount of this list from pictures of a birthday party she had in high school that I didn’t attend and have no recollection of knowing of its existence. I was FRIENDS with Katie! Good friends with Katie! And even THAT wasn’t enough to warrant an invitation to a group outing celebrating HER birthday!
I suppose this illustration makes me seem more like a sampler attaching herself to tight-knitters than a compartmentalizer, and in terms of high school, I don’t think that’s entirely off. The Quartz article mentions samplers feeling a sense of social isolation, and if that doesn’t describe my high school experience, I don’t know what does. I can remember one–ONE!–Friday night of the course of my entire high school career when I hung out with people outside of a school function (basketball game, football game, track meet, dance). I constantly felt excluded and lonely in high school, and I’m sure that’s a HUGE part of why I ended up gravitating towards the internet and making friends like Annie there. On IdolForums, I finally found my tight-knit group in the American Juniors fan fiction forum (don’t judge me) and the Class of 2008 thread that I longed to have in real life. We couldn’t hang out in real life, obviously, given that we were spread quite literally across the globe (my best friends from IdolForums lived in Scotland and Canada), but it was the only place I felt connection to other people. I don’t know if I can accurately explain how important that was to me.
Anyway, let’s talk about the present day. If you asked me if I have friends, my answer would be no, because I’m dramatic and prone to overstatement. I no longer have “sampler” friends: individuals unconnected to larger groups. I had a couple sampler friends for my first few years of living in Chicago, both of which were holdovers from college, both of which tried my patience more often than not, and, consequently, quietly faded out of my life after I realized I was absolutely not obligated to hang out with people I didn’t want to hang out with. Because I don’t have those individual friendships anymore, it often feels like I don’t have friends anymore, period, but that really isn’t true. These days, my social existence looks more like this:
My dance friends live in one box, my CARA friends live in another box, and my blogging friends live in a third box, and the only overlap between any of those groups is me. None of my blogging friends know my dance friends, and none of my dance friends know my CARA friends (I assume. Chicago isn’t even half as big as I often think it is, so I suppose it’s possible that there’s overlap that I don’t know about.). The exact people who make up these boxes changes over time–people come and go from dance, people run the Chicago Marathon one year and not the next, people start or stop blogging–but this has definitely described my social life lately.
I suppose this is how adult friendships often plays out, assuming the friends you have as an adult aren’t the ones you had in school. When you meet people through different environments, you’re less likely to have one friend group. It’s one thing to have an established friend group when you all see each other in the hall between classes; it’s another thing to have an established friend group when you see some of the people for an hour every Tuesday, other people for anywhere between one and three hours every Saturday during the summer, and other people whenever you happen to sit down to read blogs.
While I certainly appreciate all the friends I’ve made this way, having my friends segmented like this makes my social life feel disjointed. When I was in Nashville and saw dozens of bachelorette parties, I kept thinking that I would never feel comfortable doing something like that, and not just because I don’t drink much, but because I don’t have a clue who I’d invite. I don’t have a group of three, four, five, fifteen close girlfriends to travel with. I don’t know if I even have ONE close girlfriend to travel with.
Obviously, this is a ridiculous thing to stress about for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I’m, you know, not engaged, and therefore not in any sort of need for a bachelorette party any time soon, nor is there a law requiring that women who are engaged must have a bachelorette party prior to getting married. I could quite easily not have a bachelorette party. Heck, I could easily not even have a bridal party if I didn’t want one. Regardless, I feel somehow deficient, like I got an F in having friends, for not having “my group” of friends.
While the article didn’t solve my non-existent bachelorette party not-problems, it at least made me feel a little less socially inept, which was nice. I have no idea if anyone else has ever felt like a weirdo for the way they make friends or not, but I found the whole article interesting, so I thought I’d share.
How do you make friends?