The summer before my senior year of college, I worked as an orientation leader. So yes, I was that peppy girl yelling words of welcome to the scared, sometimes apathetic group of incoming freshman. It was a great job. I was able to encourage and support new students and also give advice on panels and one on one. A big question that I got throughout the summer was “how do I make friends in college?” I loved answering this question, because that was a big one I had going into college. How I was going to create a totally new community in a totally new place?
To answer their question, I would always remind the students of the one thing that I had to remember myself: “Everyone else is looking for friendship too.”
I remember that it actually was fairly easy to make friends in college, because of this fact. We were all freshmen together, and all in a new place. Everyone was desperate for a group of people who helped make them feel like they belonged. We didn’t have time to be stuck up and petty like you see in the cliquey high school movies. There wasn’t a “popular” table or the head cheerleader and head football player. At a school with 20,000 people, those distinctions just melted away. You could just be friends with people, simple and easy. Heck, some of my first friends in college, I made because they were playing euchre in the lounge and they needed a fourth player. Four years later, I was at one of their weddings.
See, lifelong friendships can be made just a simple as that.
You want to know what I think is a big secret of life? That whole “everyone else is looking for friendship too” thing, didn’t necessarily end in college. In fact, it travels with you throughout your 20s and beyond. (Disclaimer: I’m only 24, so I can really only speak to the experience up to this point of life, but I would imagine it travels beyond.)
I mean think about it. Life can get pretty lonely. I don’t care who you are or what your story is, at some point in your life, I’d venture a guess that you’ve felt lonely. And I don’t know about you, but to me, loneliness is not a super fun feeling.
Sometimes new a big life change can increase these feelings of loneliness. For me, it was moving away from home. For others, it could be staying somewhere when all your close friends move away. Or maybe it’s starting a new job where you really don’t know anyone yet. Or maybe it’s leaving a relationship that you know isn’t right for you anymore. Any of those “leap of faith” moments in life often are accompanied with twinges of loneliness here and there. But sometimes we have to hurt a little bit in order to grow.
Your 20s are such a weird time in life. You’re without the structure and securities you’ve always had. When you wanted to make friends in school, you just chatted with people in your classes. Or in college you would join clubs with other people who were interested in the same things you were. People your age were constantly surrounding you, so the potential to find friends was pretty vast. But in your 20s, without kids, in a new place, by yourself, you have to work harder.
Needless to say, I feel lonely more often down here in Orlando than I did when I was back at home surrounded by my family and old friends.
I am so eager to make new friends. And slowly, but surely, it’s happening.
And a lot of times, that requires me to be vulnerable and put myself out there. A few examples... today after an audition, I was talking with another girl who recently moved here from up north. We talked for a couple of minutes, and I ended up saying “hey, this may sound a little weird, but I just moved down here too, and I’m looking for friends, so if you ever wanted to hang out sometime, let me know.” And we exchanged numbers and went on our way. A few of my coworkers that have become some of my go-to friends down here and I started hanging out, because one day after work, I asked if I could join them for food. I had no shame when I literally told them that I just moved here and I needed friends. They took me in with open arms. Another new friend and I met during a mutual friend’s Christmas party. We were chatting about our life experience and found we had a lot in common when I just blurted out “can we be friends??” He happily agreed.
I know its not 2nd grade and you don’t make friends just because you sit next to each other or like to play on the swings together during recess. But sometimes it really can be that simple.
Everyone secretly wants more friends. Everyone wants people to support them and give them that sense of belonging that we all long for.
So what are we all so afraid of? Why is it so scary to put yourself out there and try to form new, meaningful friendships?
If you’re like me, you’re probably scared of rejection. Or you’re scared of people thinking you’re weird or desperate. But I keep reminding myself of two things: A) You’ll never know if you never try, and even though rejection is scary, it’s better than never trying something new at all. B) If people think you’re weird and desperate for trying to be friends with them, they aren’t the kind of friends you want to be making.
Being a human is a weird, crazy experience. But most of all it is a shared weird, crazy experience. And everyone just wants to be seen and valued for who they are.
But in order to find the people who love you unconditionally, you have to show up fully ready to share who you are. You have to allow yourself to be seen. You sometimes have to be vulnerable and ask a new friend if they want to get together sometime or approach the person who is also sitting alone at a coffee shop and see if they’d like some company.
Remember this, we are all just trying to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. And we are all trying to do that surrounded by people who we love and who lift us up. Everyone secretly wants more friends. And who knows maybe that next special person in your life is just one simple, friendly interaction away.