Friend-Making

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:

Tight-Knitters
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.

Compartmentalizers
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.

Samplers
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.

highschool

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:

now

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?

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11 thoughts on “Friend-Making

  1. Wow you just described my life. I have been feeling like this a LOT lately. I am friends with a group in Boston, but they are all far closer with each other and I’m often reminded of that (like when they surprised one of them by driving up to her marathon this weekend- a different one than I ran). It sucks to sometimes feel left out but I do have friends in all different places. I only know of one, maybe two people I’d be invited to be a bridesmaid for, and I have friends who seem like they’re in weddings every other weekend. Definitely going to read this article now.

    • I would be a bit surprised if I ever ended up being anyone’s bridesmaid, other than my sister’s if she gets married some day. (Though with how expensive being in a wedding can be, I haven’t shed too many tears over it haha.) Most of the people whose weddings I might’ve been in got married five years ago, which is also kind of an interesting thing to think about, because of those people who got married five years ago, I think if they got married today, I’d only even be invited to one of the weddings, not all three of them. I guess that’s also representative of how friendships change over time.

  2. I’ve never been part of a friend “group”, either. I think part of it is that I’ve never really taken to casual friendships; I prefer to get to know people really well and feel close to them, so I pick my friends on that basis, rather than what group we share. Having an interest or activity in common has never really been enough – I have to bond with a person. So I look for that irrespective of social group, hence why I’ve always had friends in different groups.

    I don’t think that how we make friends in school can really be compared with how we make friends as adults, to be honest. It’s just a completely different environment. Making friends in HS or college is easier regardless of how you go about it, because you’re constantly surrounded by people your own age who have few obligations beyond showing up for school, thus everyone has loads of free time to get to know each other and hang out. That environment just doesn’t exist in adult life: we become more secluded as we need to prioritize work and family. While friend groups certainly exist for adults, they are usually either groups that formed back in the school years or groups that formed at work, not groups that formed spontaneously in adult life, and they are notoriously difficult for outsiders to break into. EVERYONE I know struggles to make friends as an adult, except for the people who still hang out with their HS and college friends.

    • I’d agree, that most of the people I know who have “their” friend group established that group in high school or college. It is interesting, though, how having a group still seems to be the expectation – how you’re supposed to have your “squad,” as the kids say these days. And, I suppose, you could make the argument that the term “squad” almost became popular as a result of teenagers on social media, who would be expected to have a squad, given that they’re in an environment conducive to creating a friend group, but I don’t think that expectation goes away in your 20s, even if it’s no longer realistic.

  3. I had a pretty tight friend group in high school and college (different people) but haven’t had a strong one that stuck around since then. I think if I lived where my college friends lived (Ohio) I’d probably have a stronger group but I don’t. I guess I’m a bit more of a sampler at this point. I also fully admit that I will only try so hard to engage someone in a friendship. If I don’t feel like they’re trying as hard as I am. If I’m the only one ever initiating anything it makes it difficult to want to keep reaching out. And since people seem to be so busy these days, I also admit that I’ve probably dropped the ball too early on some people.

    • The closest thing I had to a friend group in college were my roommates my senior year, though that was really more of a friend group I was adopted into rather than one I was in in the first place. Anyway, the ones in that group who still live in the area of my college town hang out a bit, but I haven’t seen most of them since 2012. Like you, I imagine if I lived in the area, I’d hang out with them more, but even when I go home nowadays I never make it back to where I went to college, so that’s all just fallen apart kind of on its own. I agree about the engaging thing, too. I know I need to initiate getting together with people and can’t always wait around for someone to invite me to do something, but at the same time, if I’m always putting in the effort and not getting anything back (or even worse, putting in the effort and then getting bailed on), then eventually I throw in the towel. It’s just not worth it at that point, in my opinion.

  4. I love reading stuff like this – thank you for sharing! I am happy it helped explain to you that the way you were in high school was not odd. And I am happy you found your idol group online to get the feelings you were missing in high school.
    I know people who have those tight-knit group and it really amazes me. And I always wonder what it’s like. BUT, I don’t want it. I am a compartmentalizer who wants to be a sampler. I’ve had mostly trouble when introducing friends to each other. I used to, but now I mostly don’t! Ha! I have six close girlfriends (not counting my snister) and I think we are able to stay close because they don’t overlap (one did, but she moved, so that is helping). I can’t seem to get close with the people who are part of a friend-group.
    Also, I was the same in middle school AND high school. No friends at all. So don’t feel bad! I didn’t make my first friend until after college.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences! This whole thing is so fascinating to me, so I love hearing what other people think! It sounds like sampling really works well for you, especially in the case of your six friends. I’m glad you’ve found a way of making friends that you like, and that you’ve made friends, period! Middle school and high school can be so tough for making friends.

  5. I think I fall into the compartmentalizer. Right now my groups of friends can be divided between:

    – Friends from high school (yes, I’m still friends with some of them) – this group has some overlap with family that I also consider friends
    – Blogging/running/fitness friends
    – Burlesque friends
    – Support group friends

    In high school, I had two groups of friends – the group that centered around my neighborhood/childhood best friend who was 2 years older than me and the group that centered around friends in my grade and was a motley crew of band nerds, AP nerds, athletes. I’m still friends with a few people from those groups, and some of those now resemble more solo friendships.

    • That’s impressive that you’re still friends with people from high school! I really only talk to one person from high school ever anymore (well, two, technically, since my sister and I did go to high school together). Part of that is geography–none of my friends from high school live anywhere near Chicago–but I think another big part of it was just growing apart as our lives went in different directions, especially after college.

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