Rachel del Valle | Freshman friends are not forever
Duly Noted | It’s hard to get everything right the first time around when you’re settling into college
September 16, 2013, 2:07 am · Updated September 16, 2013, 11:17 pm·
Rachel del Valle
The other day I was flipping through a notebook that I’ve had for a few years now. On one of the back pages was a list titled “Things to Pack for College.”
Underneath were two columns tightly filled with detailed items such as “Burt’s Bees lip balm” and “deodorant (Dove cucumber).” Other, more generic things like “cork board” and “Swiffer” also made the cut.
As I skimmed over the sheet, I tried to imagine what the person who wrote that list was like. Was that really only three years ago? I was so inexperienced then — I still had bangs and had never written a paper longer than 10 pages.
I spent most of the summer before my freshman year of college sitting around with my high school friends, being in awe of our oldness. I was trying to bank their affection, thinking I’d soon find new friends who’d substitute but not replace their roles in my life.
I also mined my older sister for any of kind of wisdom I could take along with my luggage.
She was surprisingly unhelpful considering she was a senior in college. In retrospect, I think her LSAT prep and job experience meant she’d lost touch with what it was like to be a teenager. I know, because I can feel that happening to myself now.
The one crumb of perspective she offered, delivered matter-of-factly, was this: “You will not have the same friends you had freshman year by senior year.”
I turned this idea over in my head, struck by how defeatist it seemed to me. All the friends I’d be making in the next few months didn’t matter? They were just disposable, like those stupid magazine clippings on my dorm wall?
As I look around at the people I spend my time with now, I see that, for the most part, she was right.
Friends, real friends who you can and want to hang out with sober, are harder to find than anyone lets on. Unless you join a pre-orientation program or a club or have the luck of a good hall, finding friends at a school like Penn in your first year takes some effort.
Sometimes, the people you do find are more a matter of geography and seat choice than anything else.
I have a theory that the student body of Penn is composed of maybe 30 percent introverts, and of that 30 percent, about half of those spend their first few years trying to pretend they’re extroverts like everyone else.
I don’t really know what I expected from social life at Penn as a freshman, but I expected to like it.
At first, I didn’t. I really, really didn’t. I talk to the friends I’ve made since freshman year about their first few semesters and it’s weird how similar our sob stories are.
It’s not that I didn’t have friends, I just didn’t find anyone that I felt like I could show my Gollum impression to. After years of being surrounded by people who let me be as weird as I wanted to be from 8:10 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., five days a week, not having that outlet was tough.
Maybe I just wasn’t ready to “let people in,” or whatever other therapy jargon expression there is for being open. I think I just expected that I’d find people that I connected with because that had never been something I had to work for before.
But you do have to work for it. There’s a lot of putting yourself out there and all that — this isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. And it certainly doesn’t come second nature to someone who’s just started buying their own groceries and using a communal shower.
The post-high school adjustment period is long, and it can feel very lonely. Some people find people to commiserate with earlier than others. If you haven’t found yours yet, remember that the one positive that comes from being surrounded by 10,000 other people is the possibility that you haven’t met them all yet.
Rachel del Valle is a College senior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.