When it comes to cheesy sitcoms, “Friends” will always be my favorite. With my love of coffee and Chandler-esque sarcasm, I’ve always felt like part of the group. Of course, there are some questionable aspects of the show. The fact that their signature table at Central Perk never seems to be occupied, or even that their entire social network consists of six people. Despite these minor plot holes, however, the friend group’s loyalty and unconditional love for one another was something I sought in my own relationships.
Growing up, I viewed everyone as a friend in some capacity. Between classes, after-school activities, sports and sleep away camp, I was constantly meeting new people. I had the mentality that all of these faces, from my biology lab partner to the person with the locker next to mine, would be in my life forever. Whether this was foolish naivety or the beauty of childhood innocence, I guess we’ll never know. I’d like to think the latter.
As I transitioned to college, I was tasked with balancing various friendships in several different social circles. Between the excitement of making friends at Lehigh and navigating a more independent lifestyle, a lot of change was happening. With my friends from home and I operating on different schedules, finding time to catch up was tricky.
The pandemic made this even harder. It goes without saying that coronavirus turned life as we know it upside down – masks and social distancing being the most obvious adjustments. When I learned that classes would be remote, I was concerned primarily about the learning aspect. I knew that adapting to a virtual school setting would be difficult, and that staying motivated from the comfort of my bedroom would be challenging. Even so, I hadn’t considered the social implications.
Gone were the acquaintances I’d see in passing as I walked through campus, and gone were the in-class friendships that revolved around me mishearing whether or not we had homework. While I hadn’t previously valued or given much thought to these peripheral interactions, their absence was loud. I went from being constantly surrounded by peers to having to put in tedious effort to make plans.
Settling into this new normal, I tried my best to keep in touch with everyone. Facetime became my best friend, but the “what’s new?” “nothing” dialogue got old fast. There were so many people who I missed seeing around, but wasn’t close enough with to actually reach out to. With restaurants closed and indoor interac
tions unsafe, outdoor plans were really the only thing to suggest. And I could only walk around my neighborhood so many times.
This dissipating social circle initially scared me. Helplessly watching a friendship fade is incredibly painful, especially one you thought would last. Part of me couldn’t help but wonder whether I had done something to warrant this disconnection, or if my lack of effort was to blame. One silver lining of the quarantine, however, is that it gave me ample time to reflect.
To put it simply, I realized that one-sided relationships aren’t sustainable, regardless of how hard that one side pushes. Growing apart is natural, and isn’t any one person’s fault. Though it may sound depressing, coming to terms with this lifted a weight off my shoulders. Rather than struggling to maintain the maximum amount of friendships I could, I began to prioritize the ones that mattered most to me.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that I don’t want to make more friends, or that I plan to abandon all acquaintances. As an extrovert, meeting new people energizes me. I am instead trying to convey the value of a forever friendship. Just as teachers often preach the “quality over quantity” cliche (one page of textually cited work is better than five pages of fluff!) the same can apply to relationships. Surrounding yourself with people who genuinely care about you is far more fulfilling.
I now realize that the tight-knit “Friends’” friend group isn’t necessarily an indication of clique exclusivity, but an indication of maturity. The two-sided relationships that make you feel happiest are the ones worth the effort, and the ones that will last. While I may not text my entire third grade basketball team on the daily, the people who I do talk to often are the ones who I know will always be there.