On Companionship: A Message to Me and You

A few days after I moved into the dorms, during that fateful first week at Berkeley, I listened to the first message I ever received from Pastor Ed. It was the New Student Welcome Night that everyone was raving about, and I wanted to start my college years off on the right moral and religious foot, given that the event was planned by the largest religious group on campus.

Little did I know his message would contain the most toxic piece of advice I have ever received in college. It went something like this: it is dangerous to be alone. Prioritize finding good, fulfilling, lifelong friends as soon as possible.

This struck a resonance within me, because I had never been good at making friends, and I was ready to reinvent myself in college. I was going to be good at making friends. And indeed, four years later, I am much better at making friends. I’m much less socially awkward, and much more open about my quirky eccentricities. But I have yet to find a fulfilling, lifelong friend.

I read once on a Thought Catalog article that the deepest loneliness comes not from being alone, but from not being alone, expecting not to be alone, but feeling alone. Think about it. And as it follows, for the last two years, I’ve had more friends than I’ve ever had in my life, but I’m more lonely than ever. Now I’m graduating, and this sentiment continues to intensify. For two years later, all my friends will be gone with the wind. It won’t be their fault, it won’t be mine. But they’ll have a bunch of other people in their life, I may have mine; they’ll have their plans and aspirations, and I will have mine. And people just gently leave your life.

What I looked for, and never found, was a friendship whose bond did not depend on space, time, what I said, what I did, how busy either party was, or distance from each other. I have had many good friends, and I am fortunate that they were in my life. But they all had the unconscious conditionals. The space of friendship occupies this continuous spectrum from which I have only sampled a limited, non-satisfying subset. Maybe I just have bougie tastes for companions.

Or maybe, that piece of advice that Pastor Ed  gave me in my first week was wrong. Because nobody told me that it was okay not to find life-long companions in college, that you can’t go out and search for these things — they will simply come to you, and sometimes that takes time. And nobody told me that it was okay to be lonely, by yourself. And nobody told me that the density of friends in the spectrum exponentially decays with closeness, and so your sampling probability decreases accordingly, and that’s fine.

So I am writing this to tell me and you, it’s okay if your college friends drift away, or if they aren’t bffs.

But the most terrible thing about this toxic advice I received, was that it excluded everything else that is beautiful about life here. The privilege of being at the top public university in the world. Success, money… that you can get it easier than anyone else. That you’re in the 1%. The unmatched beauty that is the juxtaposition of the San Francisco Bay, redwood trees, tall hills, and the culmination of thousands of years of architecture in those high-rise buildings. Free food. Expensive but good food. Expensive but available and rent-controlled apartments. Why waste your years in college worrying about how your friends are not as close as everyone else’s. There is just so much more to life. Live it, and stop worrying about friends.


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