Making friends freshman year

Students pose for a picture with the HokieBird, April 20, 2018.

Have you ever sat around perusing your Facebook feed — snickering at cat videos, scrolling through meme pages, stalking your ex — when you come across someone’s post and think: Wait, how exactly do I know this person?

For me, the answer tends to be freshman orientation, which coincidentally has the same number of syllables as the phrase “people you won’t see again.” The entire ordeal lasts less than 48 hours, during which you meet other first-years, design your class schedule and receive your student ID (i.e., the sweatiest, most sunburnt and single-worst picture you might ever take). 

The first day is designed to be a glimpse of your potential new college friends. It consists of what I call administrative matchmaking: You’re assigned a group and an orientation leader with whom you spend the rest of the day participating in lukewarm icebreakers. I think the general idea is to meet your BFFs before classes even start. 

More realistically, you’ll talk to maybe three people, possibly grab breakfast with one of them the next morning, and be on your merry way. You won’t keep in touch; your knowledge of your orientation buddies over the next four years will mostly comprise where they studied abroad, which music festivals they attended and what tattoos they inked into their skin.

There’s also the infrequent self-congratulatory I-passed-my-finals-and/or-made-Dean’s-List posts. Someone will probably announce their engagement. You probably won’t care about any of it, and that’s okay. Authenticity can’t be fabricated over a coffee date or a game of two truths and a lie. 

For this reason — among others — of the many pressures college imposes on freshmen, making new friends was the one that weighed on me the most. As soon as I set foot on campus, it seemed as though everyone found a solid friend group, which I have operationally defined as the same six or seven people who you can rely on to study with, hangout with and get drunk with. 

The notion of a singular friend group in and of itself seemed weird to me. In high school, I flitted among two or three of these groups and had a good time with all of them. I had my friends from the newspaper staff, friends from choir and friends from those classes that we kept getting thrown into together. Granted, it was a smaller environment, where the graduating class size was around 500 people as opposed to 7,000. It occurred to me that I either forgot how to make friends, or that I never really learned how to in the first place. 

My first semblance of a college friend group came in the form of my freshman roommates. I chose to go random, assuming I would get one roommate, and wound up with three. They ended up housing us in a quad in East Eggleston, and I remember looking forward to adjusting to this unexpected living situation. We couldn’t really complain; the building was air conditioned, our room was twice the size of everyone else’s in our hall and we were right across from the bathroom. 

Some people are apprehensive about random roommates, but I actually liked mine when I met them. We were all from different parts of the state; I’m from northern Virginia, two of them were from the Richmond area and one was from southwest Virginia.

Lesson No. 1: You are going to meet people from all walks of life during your time here at Tech. Don’t be afraid to make friends with them; there are few better ways to grow as a person than to hang out with those who are different from you. You can learn a lot about yourself, as well as others. Even if you don’t stay friends, you won’t regret knowing them. 

As I got to know my roommates, I thought they seemed perfectly nice, like vanilla ice cream or a black dress — nice, but maybe missing something, like a dash of sprinkles or a decorative scarf. I knew we didn’t have to be the best of friends, but we got along well, and I genuinely enjoyed their company. I felt that I was lucky with how our living situation turned out. 

We went our separate ways, and I came home for the summer feeling reasonably happy with how freshman year turned out. I took a mental quiz: Grades? Good. Friends? Acquired. Weight gain? Minimal, muscle only. Final score: 2 out of 3. It seemed I was a little off on the friends part. 

About a week after moving out of the dorm, the summer boredom started to sink in. One night, as I was scrolling lazily through my Instagram feed, I came across a photo of my former roommates. It was one of those OMG-I-miss-my-friends-and-college-town sort of posts that every freshman (girl) feels compelled to make. It wasn’t unusual, except I wasn’t in it. What was more odd — I specifically asked one of them if she wanted to take those end-of-year photos. You know, the ones usually taken outside your dorm or in front of iconic spots on campus.

I distinctly remembered her response: “Nah …” 

At which I laughed and responded, “Okay good, me neither.” 

Truth be told, I always thought those kinds of photos — mainly the ones by the sign in front of your dorm — were kind of lame. I asked to be polite, and to continue a tired tradition, but felt relieved at her rebuff. 

When I saw that photo — multiple times, as all three of them posted variations of it — I couldn’t believe that this actually happened. 

It seemed that overnight the roommates who I regarded as friends wanted nothing to do with me. They were suddenly besties, while I had been shunted literally and figuratively out of the picture. I can’t say I was completely blindsided. I’m a firm believer in intuition; when you live in a single room with three other people for a year, the vibe changes every so often. Even the slightest oscillation is magnified tenfold, becoming as tangible as a pinprick. As the school year progressed, I sensed that my roommates grew closer to each other than they had to me, though I didn’t think too much of it. 

With that being said, their outright dismissal admittedly stung a little. It would have been one thing if they just never spoke to or interacted with me all year. I have a relatively thick skin; rejection was something I could handle. Rejection ex post facto, however, was uncharted territory. 

Which brings me to Lesson No. 2: There is no point in being passive aggressive when you can just be aggressive. Or at least honest. If certain people rub you the wrong way, don’t waste your time — or theirs — pretending to be friends. 

Three years later, some of my close friends who knew my former roommates still ask me about them, as they continue to hangout without me. 

It usually goes something like this —

Friend: Neha, did you see (your old roommate’s) Instagram?

Me: Yep.

Friend: I still don’t get why they would do that, it just seems so rude … 

Me: *shrugs* 

Honestly, some things are just beyond our control.

On the other hand, college may seem like a chance to reinvent yourself, which it can be. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to automatically love you. In fact, some people may hate you. And even if they do — who cares? 

Lesson No. 3: It’s better to be heartily disliked for who you are than to be admired for who you pretend to be. The word “likeable” is just a euphemism for “boring.” 

Yes, my former roommates handled things in a way that was immature, petty and in bad taste. For what it’s worth though, before things soured, some of my fondest and most memorable moments of freshman year came from East Eggleston 321. I’ll miss snarfing down Oreos, quoting Vines, making trips to the drugstore and complaining about our annoying hallmates. The spontaneous fire drills, not so much. I would wish the three of them good health, happiness and success, because that’s all any of us can really ask for.

Hence, Lesson No. 4: It’s best not to burn bridges. But if you think the ashes and debris have potential, by all means — light the match.

In retrospect, I never quite found my big friend group in the traditional sense, but I have made a lot of friends. I even live with two of them, and they have become like sisters to me. I started working at the Collegiate Times, joined a fraternity and became a research assistant in a lab, and I’ve met some really great people along the way.    

Which brings me to Lesson No. 5: Not belonging to a particular friend group doesn’t make you a pariah. Though it can get a little lonely at times when all of your friends already have plans with their own groups, I see more value in having a few close friends who will always be there for you. 

So as you start the next chapter of your life at Tech, try to keep an open mind. If you make a ton of friends your freshman year, that is fantastic. If you don’t, there is nothing wrong in that, either. Freshman year doesn’t determine the course of your social life; friends will come and go over the four years. Most importantly, stay true to yourself, and don’t force things that aren’t meant to be. I promise you will find yourself, your place and your friends.

Neha is a senior studying neuroscience and psychology. When she's not in the newsroom, she is probably napping or watching New Girl.

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