We’ve all seen the American sitcoms… Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory. Finding your friendship group is supposed to be like finding your family. A collective who experience your highs and lows alongside you. A group so secure you can hibernate in it as you would with a duvet on a rainy day.
Whilst many may have friendship groups at home, university is pitched as a unique place to find like-minded people that geography may have previously prevented. For lots of students, the transition to university is also a transition to a new city, a time to reinvent yourself as an adult away from your family. Being part of a group – finding ‘your’ group – is imagined as a sign that you have ‘made it’ and triumphed these changes.
Now in my second year, my first year of university was dominated by lockdowns. By necessity, many of my peers formed friendships with people in their close proximity, i.e. flatmates. Though online classes and Covid restrictions limited the prospect of alternative friendships, I found this urge to identify as part of a group still remained.
I spent the majority of my first year with some lovely girls I lived with. We were all quite different, but we got along and in a year that was honestly quite hard I managed to find some nice times with them. However, the group-mentality of our friendship dynamic sometimes felt forced. Matching cowboy hats, drinking games, and group chats – there was a sense of pressured closeness in which I too played a part.
I think our, or should I say my, anxieties pushed a desire to affirm our closeness. Plans started beginning with ‘we’, outsiders would ask about ‘our group’. Despite this seeming security, I still looked towards and envied other groups.
Instagram posts and Snapchat stories would recount the fun times these groups had together – from the outside it was very easy to assume their closeness, to perceive that they had ‘found their people’. Naively, I would sometimes think this is purely based on style. In seeing a group of stylish Y2K girls rummaging through the Withington charity shops I think I still interpret them as a collective. At times, I thought finding a group that perfectly represented you – in politics, interests, style, music, favourite activities – was key to happiness.
Heading to uni, my older sister’s advice was to explore friendships, not just settle with who you live with but to truly find your tribe. Though I attempted to carry this advice through my first year, arranging a series of walking dates with people from zoom seminars (current first years don’t know how good they’ve got it!), it goes without saying that the pandemic played havoc with my attempt to explore friendships.
But her mantra lived on in my mind. Like a meerkat, I stayed with my flatmates, yet constantly had my eyes peeled and ears twitching for other future best friends. By understanding friendships as an object or goal to be reached, I could never be truly present with those around me. For all my drunk protestations of love for my first-year girls or the funny memories we had, I didn’t always feel like myself. I probably wasn’t that close to them all, which today I know is okay.
Honestly, at least for me, I don’t think this perfect group exists. My current housemates sometimes describe me as ‘aggressively independent’, something I probably wasn’t always so aware of. For me, this means I’m naturally inclined to keep my feelings in and plan my days by myself, forgetting that I am surrounded by a network of lovely friends to live life with. But being more aware of this independence has led me to reflect on my misguided attempts to define myself through friendships or groups.
In trying to fit myself into groups or force friendships, I acted unlike myself – pushing myself to behave in a way that would allow me to fit in with a cookie-cutter group. Stripped from all the anxiety of first year, today I don’t want to be defined in relation to any one group, and I certainly don’t want all my friends to be just like me.
If anything, my uni experience has shown me how I can form friendships with a range of people from all walks of life, both similar and vastly different. To me, that’s a beautiful thing.
Just as I was in Secondary School and Sixth Form, I am now comfortable being situated in the ‘grey area’ of friendships. I am happy both being in and floating between different groups, settled with the individual close friendships I can have outside of them.
As cliché as it sounds, I would encourage future freshers and current first-years to focus on making themselves comfortable in a period of many changes. If you need to stay in and watch Bridgerton on a Saturday night in Oak House, that’s okay.
Equally, if you just feel like going out with some other mates whilst your flatmates are having a cute pamper sesh, that’s also fine! By prioritising what you need during this transition, I am sure a variety of friendships and relationships will follow.