Freshman year — and especially that maiden semester — each of us had to blaze trails and enforce good habits. Many of us had never lived on our own or been without a nagging parent regulating our whereabouts on a Friday night. Luckily, in this uncertain and occasionally intimidating climate, a great number of us shared an imperative to meet people, create connections and make friends. Some found fast friends on our first nights out and at hopelessly awkward orientation events. So much emphasis was put on making friends in the days following our march through the Van Wickle Gates, and it was easy — everyone was in the same boat, open to striking up a conversation.
But, over four years at Brown, keeping friends has proven much harder. Maintaining relationships requires effort and investment, and how actively we worked to stay in each other’s lives largely defined our college experience. It will also define how we remember it.
Think of the friend you met your first fall who you passed last week on the Main Green and didn’t greet. “That was awkward,” you may have thought to yourself. How did this once-close friend become someone you couldn’t even exchange pleasantries with, much less hang or go out with?
Chances are that neither of you reached out to check in after being sent home for COVID-19 or during that first in-person semester back on campus, not willing to invest the minimal effort to keep the relationship alive. Maybe that doesn’t weigh on you — after all, friendships come and go, and perhaps this person wasn’t destined to be a best friend anyway — but there’s probably a twinge of sadness there. Neither a friend nor a nameless member of the crowd, they are now forever somebody you used to know.
Whether it bothers you or not, this offers a good opportunity for reflection. Without a doubt, we all have good friends who drifted from us and relationships we didn’t keep. As we transition to the next era of our lives, it is a good time to figure out what makes someone a friend for more than a season.
For the sake of comparison, think now about the most extroverted and outgoing people in your life, those people who never seem to be wanting for an event to attend or a classmate to study with. Their many connections may seem effortless from the outside, but keeping their healthy social networks is not an undemanding task. It requires continuing purposeful but simple gestures, like reaching out with a text or inviting them to lunch. You may not remember it now, but something like that is probably why you’re still friends with them today. They are committed not just to meeting lots of people but to making and maintaining connections with them. Kind and pleasant — not ornery and gruff — they bring people into their lives by actively showing interest in those around them. Maintaining relationships is intentional for them, and they reap the benefits in connections, opportunities and invitations.
This is not to say everyone needs dozens of personal connections to feel socially satisfied, but we all can learn from those who successfully juggle many close friendships. Being purposeful about the effort we put into our relationships is not only important in the practical work of planning get-togethers and staying in touch, but signals to our friends that we value them, that they’re more than just entertaining side attractions in our lives. Make those close to you feel valued and like more than mere extras in your life story, and you will be rewarded with their persistent companionship.
The relationships we kept — and those we didn’t — will define college in our memories. Every one of this year’s Saturday parties or intimate movie nights will be remembered by those we shared them with, their infectious laughter and the comforting feeling of belonging.
But, think of how you remember those same events from your first year. Is there someone there who you’ve lost contact with? Perhaps there’s a somber feeling there now, and each memory you made with that person will be forever colored with a slightly mournful sense of loss.
Don’t let all your memories from Brown become stained with that negativity. Years from now, you will look back on senior spring the same way you look back now at freshman fall. Of course, you’ll remember the crummy Spring Weekend weather and the final group presentations just fine. But you do not want to look back on these days and feel that you lost something along the way. You’ll want to look back on these days and remember not what great friends you had, but what great memories you made with the friends you kept. You won’t want to awkwardly pass an old friend on the street and wish you still knew them.
As we go our separate ways, maintaining our relationships will get more taxing, demanding more purposeful and directed effort. But it will be worth it as we go forward, secure in our supportive and collaborative networks, setting a solid foundation for the rest of our social lives. It will be worth it when we look back on our time at Brown and remember it not as a pitstop, but as a launching pad. It will be worth it when we realize that symbolically leaving through the Van Wickle Gates didn’t mean leaving anything behind, but just walking into the next phase of our lives with our closest friends.
Stay in touch.