CHAPTER 2 BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR FRIENDSHIP BUT STINGY WITH YOUR TRUST
An exclusive excerpt from The Freshman Survival Guide…
Tens of thousands of readers have benefited from our Guide online in these last few years (and many more have downloaded and handed out our one-sheet PDF). We’ve provided an exclusive chapter excerpt below from our Freshman Survival Guide book (published by Center Street Press). The book represents the culmination of years of research, interviews and surveys with hundreds of students, administrators, professors, education experts, psychologists and campus ministers from across the country. The reactions to advance copies of the book from some of the nation’s top experts in the field have been nothing short of incredible — you can read them here.
Be Generous with Your Friendship but Stingy with your Trust
Survival Strategy #1: Making good friends in college is important, but it takes time. Be patient, be smart, and stay connected to your support network — the friends and family who helped get you this far.
The friends you have back home didn’t get to be your friends overnight. It took months — or more likely, years — to establish those relationships. If you’re like 97 percent of freshmen entering a four-year college, you’re either eighteen or nineteen years old.1 The fact is you already have years of experience under your belt building the kinds of relationships you’ll need in the next few months and years. You’ve been through tough times with your old friends and have learned their strengths and weaknesses. You trust them because they’ve proven themselves trustworthy. They know and keep your secrets and you know and keep theirs.
At college new people can feel like your old friends. You’re eating together, studying together, crashing in each other’s rooms, and sometimes spending more time with them than you ever could with your friends from back home. The relationships feels familiar, comfortable.
Be aware that there can also be a kind of artificial intimacy early on in freshman year. These new friends need to earn your trust. Don’t just give it to them. The people you meet in your first few weeks of school may be great, some of them may turn out to be the best friends of your life, and some of them may turn out to be criminals (seriously). Every freshman class has its gems and its jerks. Which are which will become clear over the next few months. Remain open to new friendships, but wait until you get to know people a little before you loan them your car, give them all your passwords, or share your deepest secrets with them.
The first couple of weeks on campus Danielle and Laurie had really connected; they had a lot in common, shared a major, came from similar backgrounds, and just enjoyed each other’s company. When Danielle wanted to borrow her sweater, Laurie was really pleased. She felt as if she was back home with her old friends. Lately, though, Laurie had been having second thoughts about the friendship. It seemed Danielle was always in crisis and half of Laurie’s wardrobe was now missing from all the “borrowing.” When Laurie wanted to go out, Danielle wanted her to stay in and talk about her latest problem.
The last straw was the night Laurie had a paper to finish but spent the night with Danielle crying on her shoulder instead. Laurie was feeling isolated and overwhelmed. It wasn’t terribly surprising; Laurie had always been the one her friends turned to in high school. She was a good listener and a patient friend, but she also had a tendency to be the one people took advantage of.
SEEK → FIND
On a big campus, look for smaller groups, clubs, and activities to get involved with (including the campus parish or Newman Center!). On a small campus, look for larger things to be involved with outside your campus community (church, Habitat for Humanity, volunteer tutoring, etc.). DO NOT PUT THIS OFF. Get involved right away, even though it’s hard when you’re the new one. Jump in when *everyone’s* new, and it’s easier.
— Reverend Larry Rice, CSP, Director, St. Thomas More Newman Center at the Ohio State University
Look for companions who are positive, who have healthy lifestyles, who are exploring wellness or healthy alternatives in how they approach various things, whether it’s their physical bodies or their religious seeking or their relationships. Seek people who have a positive approach as opposed to a negative, self-centered, extremely individualistic one. When you surround yourself with companions who have something deeper, something healthier, then you yourself are protected from the negative influences that are out there and so endemic.
— Reverend Bonnie Hazel Shoultz, Buddhist chaplain, Syracuse University
Laurie thought about other places on campus that Danielle could get support: their RA, the counseling center, even other friends in their dorm who might be willing to invite Danielle out and helped her make some of those connections. For her part, Laurie began to seek out some friends that could offer her support instead.
As you make friends, don’t let the relationships become limited or isolating. Remain open to new friendships and as a matter of habit check the pulse of the ones you’re in. After your first week, reassess your new friendships. Do it again after your first month. If the friends you connected with initially don’t seem to be a good fit, keep looking. Think of your entire first semester, not just the first two weeks, as a chance to keep meeting new people. It can get tiring, especially if you’re a less outgoing person, but the benefit of finding the right friends for you is really worth the effort.
There’s a tendency to settle in with the first group of people you meet. It feels safer somehow when everything else is suddenly different to have at least that part of life handled. But the people you choose to be friends with can make a huge difference in nearly every aspect of college life: study habits, interactions with other groups of people, how you spend your free time. Choose carefully and remember you can make a new choice anytime.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are”? If all your buddies are always on you to come out with them when you’ve got work to do, it’s going to take superhuman strength to keep saying no. If you’re struggling to work more and party less, look for friends who are doing okay academically and imitate their habits. Conversely, if you feel as if you’re spending all your time in the library, find some friends who are involved in campus activities and get out there a little yourself. Need help sorting through all that? Check out the Toxic Friendships section at the end of this Chapter.
Don’t just hang out with the people on your floor, or in your major. Not only is that boring after a while, it will drive you crazy because with groups of friends comes drama! Instead, join a few great clubs, talk to people in your classes, and meet your friends’ friends. Just be a friendly person, and in time you’ll get close to some people from all over campus. I met my closest college friend because we had been making small talk on a bus home. I asked her to dinner that night. Be yourself. People like that.
— Becky, Providence College
Be careful who you make friends with, have thick skin, because those friends might not last for four years, but there will be some special ones that do.
— Senior, Dominican University