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Credit: Alana Shukovsky

Making friends — as a little kid, it was a breeze. Little me would spot another little girl or boy playing where I wanted to play. Maybe by the end of playtime, we'd dub each other best friends for life. Maybe we wouldn’t even remember each others’ names the next day. It didn’t matter. At the core, we were enjoying each other’s company and having fun.

In college, I still take the initiative of building a friendship. Sometimes, instead of genuine connection, the friendship grows from convenience. Urban Dictionary accurately defines a “convenience friend” as someone who’s only around when it’s easy and convenient for them. If they weren’t around you all the time, you wouldn’t be friends. They are friends who approach and use you when they need a favor and only spend time with you as a last resort. Most significantly, they never put you first.

I only realized recently that a friend I made at Penn, who I considered close to me, fell into this category. The past couple of weeks, I had been feeling anxious and lost about what to major in. I thought my friend could give me a sense of direction, so I told her some majors and minors I was considering.

“Maybe Engli–”

“Not English. Look, I’ve read your writing. It’s not good enough.”

She said she was telling me that for my own good, and I believed her.

While I did feel that it was convenient to have her alongside me at various events, she wasn’t a convenience friend to me — she mattered. I was always willing to lend a helping hand when she needed one, I wholeheartedly supported her with all her endeavors, and I often boasted about our friendship to other people. Even though I was the only one putting in the effort to maintain our dead-end conversations, and even though I would usually return to my room with negative feelings after being around her, I looked forward to going to more events with her. It’s because I genuinely regarded her as a good friend that it pained me even more to hear her say such discouraging comments. 

She knew how much I enjoyed writing, she knew the hard work I put into it, and she knew about my low self-esteem. Yet, she continued to pick at my insecurities. 

The conversation made me rethink our friendship. Was she even a friend? Boiled down, the elementary characteristic of a friend is a person who cares about you. I had ignored this basic trait with my convenience friend. 

Whether or not she was a friend was made crystal clear to me when I went back home for Thanksgiving break and saw my high school friends for the first time since starting college. Conversations flowed; empathy surged as we lamented over difficulties in our new college lives, and happiness flooded as we celebrated each other's new achievements. Early in the day, nonstop exchanges made us resort to eating and talking and squealing and laughing at the same time. Late at night, commotion bellowed from our booth at our favorite diner, where we had become regulars. These friends offered their unconditional support and made me feel loved.

I haven’t started to “ghost” this convenience friend. We’ll still occasionally react to each other’s posts on social media, and I’ll always reply nicely to her messages. Perhaps, I’ll see her at another event as a changed person, and we’ll rekindle our friendship, but in the meantime, my genuine friends will surround me with positive energy that I can’t attain anywhere else.

Finding the right friends at Penn early on is difficult. Some of us have been around the same people from elementary school to high school, and making new friends was unnecessary. It may be easier to make friends through convenience, and I do recognize that convenience friends can grow into friends who have your back even when things aren’t so convenient. However, making friends is a process, no matter how instantly a friendship develops. The process might not be as quick and simple as it was in preschool or kindergarten, but just like our days playing in the sandbox, our time spent with friends at college should stem from acceptance and understanding, not convenience.

CHRISTY QIU is a College freshman from Arcadia, Calif. studying architecture. Her email address is christyq@sas.upenn.edu.

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