How do great friendships form, exactly? Sometime between laughing hysterically at a joke about lizard sex and walking home together as the sun goes up. Sometime after you make an embarrassing purchase together at 7-Eleven. Sometime after you share a near-death experience. Somewhere down the line when your texts to each other loose all grammatical correctness and you start addressing each other solely with either pet names or crude profanities.
That’s how many of my closest friendships took on the intimacy that they know now. As far as friends go, all my friends at Princeton are still new. The differences between these freshly minted relationships and all my old friendships from home are marked. The way we act around each other and the things we deem worthy to reveal are different. Friendships are not built in a day, but there are promising beginnings. After all, it seems logical that to avoid being betrayed or hurt in any way we must be careful in whom we place our trust.
All of that took time and a lot of hours together until we deemed each other worthy of being vulnerable and truly ourselves with each other. And with Andy, the pace towards that is for some reason accelerated. The pace is irrelevant, of course, because I know many I’ll form many other great friendships in due time, but I mention him in particular because Andy and I had a curious way of going from “strangers” to friends.
After being accepted to Princeton last December, I excitedly visited the page for accepted students and flipped through a few pages of the newly created profiles of my potential classmates. One of them was Andy’s. It wasn’t because we shared all the items on our “interests/hobbies/music” boxes that the profile was remarkable. We shared some but not all. Instead, it was because under “additional comments” he had written, “I’m excited to be friends! Feel free to send me an email!”
And that is how I found myself writing out an email to someone I had never met and how an email correspondence discussing everything from music tastes to hidden talents, quickly confirming my suspicion that we’d get along, began, and we promptly decided that we’d be “best of friends.” So after a spontaneous introduction and through a perfectly aligned chain of events, we’ve now come to be friends in real life.
It’s fascinating, in effect, because of how the formation of a good friendship was dependent on two people willing to reach out and talk to a complete stranger. Much in the same way, the entire freshman class participated in this practice when we first moved in.
We shook countless hands, learned how to pronounce names we would immediately forget, and ask a few pithy questions hundreds of times. We sat at tables with people we’d never seen and made jokes with the stranger next to us at dance auditions, religious meetings, and orientations for clubs we weren’t interested in but had lured us in with free food.
More than about forced interactions, this was about an environment in which there was nearly no stigma assigned to assuming friendliness with everyone. The fear of being turned away or scoffed at by people for randomly saying hello was minimized and a lot of strangers were introduced. Everyone was a friend to everyone; we just hadn’t all met properly.
Now, as we settle in our new routines and find a solid group of friends, the frantic introductions have ceased. Yes, we are still meeting our fellow students, but constrains on what is considered socially acceptable have reemerged. We are most comfortable being introduced to someone by a mutual friend, waving hello at someone in our classes, or striking up a conversation with that person you met at a club meeting. However, many of us now probably flinch at the thought of going up to a complete stranger and saying hello. It’s certainly a scary thought, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great idea. I just can’t pretend that when it comes to actually doing it, I am struck with an inexplicable fear that most of the time leads me to just eat my meal with people I already know.
It’s certainly not logical that we should aim to friends with everyone; after all, many shallow connections are not preferable to a few meaningful ones. Even still, it’s good to acknowledge the possibility of making a great connection through a brave introduction and the limitations of not branching out. It would seem an even better combination to find good friends but somehow keep a spirit of friendliness.
I’m not saying every stranger you meet will be a fantastic person you’ll be lifelong friends with. Andy wasn’t the only person I talked with through email or Facebook before school started. When I see most of those people around campus, all I do is wave and say hello. But each friendship begins with an introduction, and that’s the beauty of strangers. You don’t know, when you first meet, whether you’ll find you share a love for yarn crafts or laugh at the same corny pick up lines.
Most people probably cannot pinpoint the exact moments their best friendships were born. In a lot of cases, it feels largely due to chance that it happened. There was that play, that school project, that camping trip that led you to spend so much time together, and now you’re inseparable. Some people have to tolerate each other before they grow to like each other. Others have to go through awkward icebreakers or be introduced by a mutual friend. In a lot of cases, it was about being at the right place at the right time that transformed that stranger into a friend. It makes me wonder at how many people I’ve walked by that could’ve been great friends, if once chance had allowed it.
Chances are, however, most strangers you meet won’t end up being your closest friends, or even just friends. Maybe you’ll end up disliking them or find them boring. I find that hard to believe, though, since everybody, especially everyone here, seems to have something that makes him or her interesting and unique. But if you do find them boring, so what? All you’ve lost is a bit of time.
Maybe you won’t find them boring, but you’ll find their views are different from yours. Or, you’ll find that someone who seems completely different from you is actually a great match as a friend. Maybe you’ll hear a new joke and spend the rest of the day sharing it and taking the credit. Maybe you’ll see them walking across campus sometime later, smile and wave. Maybe you won’t.
But there’s always the possibility of them becoming one of those people you couldn’t imagine life without.