When I first came to Penn, I thought I would suddenly make a lot of friends.

As a kid, I didn’t have many. Almost everyone knows this about me because it’s one of the first things I tell people. When I speak, I stutter and trail off in bizarre, unnecessary ramblings, so I always try to explain it away with a nervous chuckle and a “I didn’t have many friends growing up!”

I expected Penn to be my haven. I would chatter to my parents, “Daddy, I’m going somewhere where people are nerdy like me!” and I would run and hug my mom out of sheer excitement flowing from my body.

Then came freshman year at Penn, and I had fewer friends than I did in high school.

People were outwardly more polite to me. We would gel more in terms of our sense of humor and our knowledge base. But they committed to hanging out with me even less than my high school classmates. Sometimes, I could have the most satisfying conversation with someone, and they wouldn’t even recognize me the next morning.                                   

I remember the counsel all the upperclassmen gave me when I complained of loneliness. “Join groups,” they said, “That’s where you make the most friends.” The dreaded rush-a-sorority dime advice came from older girls who swore they would “never have dreamt of being in a sorority until they came to Penn,” despite their obvious extraversion and concern for social status.

In my desperation, I did exactly what they recommended. I rushed sororities and joined many clubs I didn’t care for. None of them fit me, and they always required more energy than I was willing to give. I was bitterly disappointed when I found people who were too superficial or just plain abrasive, but I stuck with it because I was told this was how one makes friends at college. 

I’ve realized, though, that it’s okay to come out of Penn with few friends, because we might not find people here who suit our personalities. Just because Penn’s culture pressures us to create artificial friendships and make them out to be almost like homework, that doesn’t mean we have to buy into it.

At Penn, and perhaps college in general, two different cultures dominate the idea of friendship. The first is that we should have a lot of friends while we’re here. Instagrams and Snapchat Stories tell us that a quality college experience consists of Homecoming bus rides with your team and firsts at clubs with your bosom buddies. 

The second is that the only place you can find friends is in the organizations you join. Of course, it’s natural that, being drawn by the same interests and use of time, you’d have the greatest chance of finding friends there. Rather, outside of these groups, no true connection can be found. And further, you have to plan out what spaces and which people are the best for you like some business transaction and, if necessary, change yourself to accommodate premade molds.         

Friendship on these terms is worthless. I had those friends, and when I needed them, they weren’t there for me. The types of friends you have to force yourself to spend time with and that you have to perform for to please are unsustainable. They last only as long as you have something to offer them, and once you are spent, they are gone. 

Real friends are those we meet organically. Ones who bail us out of cancelled rowing sessions by volunteering to be the last seat, call us out and pursue us even when we are too shy to look them in the eye, or flock to us because we two are the outcasts of a backwards town.

Friends we meet organically are truer friends because they are better suited to who we are. 

When they take us by surprise, we act naturally, and if they like us, they like the real us. We don’t have to go out of our way to meet them and grasp at trying to stay friends. Chances are, we meet because we lead similar lives and thus have compatible personalities.

Curating our friend groups can be dangerous because we don’t always know ourselves enough to choose wisely. Friends aren’t those who conform to wishful projections of who we want to be. They are those who help us to understand who we really are. 

If we leave Penn with few friends, we can rest assured that there will likely be many more opportunities to make friends after this. College is only a small part of our lives, and the lifelong friends we do make don’t have to come from these fleeting four years.


AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. Her email address is chanamy@sas.upenn.edu. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.

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