In 1647, Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracián wrote that “true friendship multiplies the good in life and divides its evils,” stressing the rarity of finding a good friend and maintaining that relationship.
In a different but not entirely invalid spirit, an old joke claims that a friend is someone who helps you move, but a good friend is someone who helps you move a body.
Whichever perspective you take, when you first arrive at Northwestern the question is about how you’ll go about meeting potential friends.
When I first arrived here four years ago, I thought making friends would be as easy as registering for a class. It seemed natural that I’d become immediate life-long besties with my classmates. If we’re pursuing the same major or have a similar schedule, then we must have the same likes and interests, right?
Reality, however, proved otherwise. During my time here, I don’t remember making a single friend exclusively because we happened to take the same courses. My friendliness in class has never translated into fulfilling or lasting friendships.
At the end of the day, classes are like businesses. We show up as on time as we can, or as we can bother to do. We sit and listen to the lecturing professor. We take notes. We do our assignments. The classroom is not a conducive environment for friendship. Even in discussion sections, where we are encouraged to talk, the mildest horseplay elicits a frown and slap on the wrist from the TA. In these friend-sterile circumstances, we whittle away some time figuring out each other. We try to determine who is friendship material based on what they say and how they say it.
The most one can hope for in the classroom is a classmate – someone tolerable, capable, and affable enough to sit next to during a dry 50 minutes (or three hours if you're unlucky). We get through lecture or discussion together, then we split ways to our next respective class. Yet some classes are interesting enough on their own that this type of friend is unneeded, and sometimes unwanted.
There seems to be something exceedingly narrow-minded and self-absorbed in the determination to only befriend people in your major and classes. To do this is to deny oneself the ideas, interests, and easy conversations of some very nice people studying under different departments. Doing this is also a personal elevation of one’s own major. This system of friend selection requires a level of narcissism that most people find boring. Finding true friends on campus is not impossible – you just have to look in the right places.
In my case, which doesn’t seem unique, I’ve been more successful making friends through clubs or off-campus club and social events.
Many clubs and get togethers are, by nature, less structured than the classroom. They give members the freedom to openly discuss any topic at any time without fear of reprisal from an authority figure. Since most clubs rely on bonds made between members to survive, they have to allow people chances to socialize.
Though clubs are founded around a central interest, many times they’re broad enough to attract people of different academic and personal backgrounds—and such diversity allows for promising interactions. When I’ve tried talking to classmates outside of class, we seem to only be able to talk about class. When I talk to people in clubs or off-campus events, conversation is unchoked and long. These conversations have no time limit. They can easily be carried away from the club meeting, they can transform and evolve into different topics.
This to me is friendship. The truest and best of friends are those with whom one has moments of intimate recognition of one another. It involves having night-long conversations that makes the sacrifice of the following day trivial.
These types of conversation and these types of friendships seem only possible if they’re allowed to germinate in an environment that the classroom cannot offer.