In with the New (and Keep Up with the Old)

One of the biggest challenges is worrying about all kinds of new issues at the same time you’re building a new support network — the friends and mentors who will help you navigate this new situation. Make sure you take time to tend your relationships, the old ones and the new ones.

You may get along great with your parents, or maybe not. Either way, parents can be one of your most important supports right now; in many ways they know you better than anyone else. “You have to make your own decisions about when to talk to your parents and how much to tell them about your life,” says Dr. Richard Kadison, chief of Harvard University Mental Health Services.” But when making that decision, remember that being an independent adult doesn’t mean going it alone. Part of being mature is learning when to share problems and concerns and when to ask for help. Even if your parents can’t understand exactly what you’re going through, their love goes a long way — what they don’t get, they’ll usually try to understand and work with you to get through it.”

Take time with new friends to really get to know each other and keep in touch with friends from back home. When the chips are down and you need some encouragement to keep moving forward, you’ll be glad you invested in your relationships. Whether or not you’ve been great about keeping in touch, an old friend or mentor is usually thrilled to hear from you, even if it’s just so you can whine for a little while.

Don’t let guilt or worry about work to be done keep you from tending these life-sustaining relationships. When stress or loneliness starts to get the best of you, fight back by reaching out. You won’t always need this kind of support, but especially during the first few weeks of college you’re entitled to it.

The 6 Best Ways to Meet New People in College (According to Students)

  • Get involved. We’ve all heard it a million times, but it is true. You’re not going to meet people by sitting in your room watching TV — you have to get out there. Try going to smaller events that allow for more one-on-one interaction
  • Live in a dorm. There are all sorts of great reasons to live off campus, depending on the university, but when you first get there you’ll find no better way to meet people than to live in the dorms.
  • Keep an open door. Keeping your dorm room door open when you’re there increases your opportunities to connect with other people on your floor. “On my hallway people were always in and out of each others’ rooms getting to know everyone.”
  • Take classes with strangers. Definitely. “Don’t take classes with friends; take one with completely new people. Trust me, it’s better. Why? Because if you hang out with someone random from your one random class in the dining hall, then you’ll meet their friends and your social network just increased threefold.”
  • Eat in the dining hall. A ton of people are always there, and you can almost always find someone sitting alone. It’s easy to find people to eat with, and there is always something to talk about (the food and how good or, more accurately, how bad it is). Also, if you can’t find someone new, there is almost always someone you know to sit with.
  • A Table That Fits
    • Chat with people in the dining hall line who seem interesting, and ask to sit with them when you all get your food. That way you’re all at the same part of the meal. There is nothing worse than sitting down when everyone else is about to get up.
    • Ask someone you recognize — from class, orientation, extracurricular activity, etc. — someone you’d like to get to know better if you can join them, even if you don’t know anyone else at the table.
    • Stick to the big tables. Much of the time people who sit at the small tables do so for a reason. Go to the big tables and try to sit with a diverse group of people who look like they’re all having a good time.

I called my parents. I would fight with them a lot during my senior year [in high school]; I didn’t have a good relationship with them. I wanted to leave! But once I came to college, it was different. I would call my parents, and the next thing I knew, our relationship had changed. It was more mature, trusting, and more of a friendship. Granted, they still are my parents and the “authoritarian” figures, but being able to communicate with them on another level and having a different level of trust improved my relationship with them. I came to realize that they will always be there for me!
— Junior, UCLA

I got involved in a lot of clubs and things and made some great friends just by being myself. This kept me too busy to really think about how homesick I might have been. Also, I called my family on the phone every day for the first few weeks. There is nothing wrong with that.
— Sophomore, Stonehill College

Six Kinds of Toxic Friendships

Just as there are really great people on every campus, there are also creeps. The selfish, the dishonest, the bullies, the social climbers — they got into college too and they’ll be living in your dorm and sitting next to you in class. Here are six types to watch out for:

  • The Constant Crisis: Friendship is give and take. If you find you’re always listening to other people’s troubles but they never listen to yours, or your friends are in a constant state of crisis, do your best to connect them with help while you’re connecting with some new friends.
  • The Joker: Teasing in a friendship is okay, but if you find you’re always on the wrong end of the joke or your friends can dish it out but can’t take it, ditch those friendships and find people who are nice to you
  • The Furious Friend: Don’t remain in friendships with people who throw things or throw punches. Violent people often escalate their level of violence when they’re under stress, and college is a stressful environment; it will only get worse as the semester wears on.
  • The Liability (aka: you’re not their mother!): If you always find yourself searching the room for these friends when it’s time to go home or cleaning up after them in the wee hours of the morning (if you haven’t had any experience with this yet, trust me, it’s not a pretty sight), move on to slightly more responsible friends. A lot of people are going to screw up or go too far but if it’s a habit, stop hanging out with these people and let somebody else be their mother.
  • The “No” Friend: Are you always having to do what they want to do, go where they’ve decided to go, hang out with the people they choose to? Or maybe these friends just never want to do anything. Either way, there are enough people on campus who do have the capacity for compromise that you don’t have to hang with people who are pushy or inflexible.
  • The Arm-Twister: Not the friends who get you to try a new sport, but the friends who press you, sometimes by nagging, other times by mocking, to do things that are against your values or leave you feeling guilty afterward.

Some of these relationships are just annoying and others can really be poisonous. You’ll have a lot on your plate as a new college student, so if you find yourself in a friendship that takes away more emotional energy than it gives you, don’t be afraid to let that friendship fade and replace it with more life-giving ones. Check in with your old friends and talk it through, or if you’re really struggling to get free of a toxic friendship — and if 3 Ways to Disengage (below) doesn’t work for you — check out Chapter 18 on finding help on campus.

3 Ways to Disengage

  1. Get busy. Join a new activity. This will give you the opportunity to make new friends and get away from the ones you may be having problems with. People can’t get mad at you, or at least they can’t reasonably be angry, if you have a practice, meeting, or rehearsal. And if they do get mad, point out that they should try joining something.
  2. Branch out together. In most cases toxic relationships are isolating, so instead of finding yourself in a situation where you’re stuck again with needy friends, invite others along. This takes the pressure off and allows you, and possibly the toxic friends, to meet new people. If they don’t want to join in with others then go ahead and have fun yourself. You are not responsible for making others happy.
  3. Let your feelings be known. Reveal what you feel to the one you want to disengage from, not to others. Don’t talk about people behind their backs — that’s the easiest way to hurt feelings and to be a pretty bad friend. But if the friends you’re trying to distance yourself from confront you, tell them the truth — in the way you’d want to be told. Try using statements like “I came to college to expand my horizons and networks, and right now it seems like this is the best way for me to achieve that.”

The TakeawayTakeaway Icon_Containter_FINAL

Friendship is one of the most important aspects of college life and one of the most challenging. Stick up for yourself and find people to hang with who will also stick up for you. A recent college graduate really summed it up well: “Your friends have an enormous influence on the person you are and the person you’ll become. Choose them carefully, and choose friends that are like the person you hope to be.”