An Honest Look at Friendship in College

I still remember the day I met Jessica. We were college freshman, only a few weeks into the school year. We’d just finished choir rehearsal, where we both sang alto and sat a few seats away from each other. A comment was made about checking our mail and we somehow discovered we’d each received care packages from our moms that day with strangely similar contents, including the exact brand of granola bar we both loved. It felt like a strange sort of “destiny” and we’ve been friends ever since!

Lifelong friendships are often born out of college life. Those four years with all their newness, intensity, communal living and identity-shaping seem to bond us together in unique ways. Amidst the challenges of leaving home, paying enormous tuition prices and rigorous study we find out we desperately need one other and we draw near, as much for survival as for companionship. However, one thing should be noted and that is the fact that quality friendships take time. Never (or at least rarely) do they occur spontaneously and overnight. While the initial ingredients of potential friendship may exist, as they did for Jessica and myself, the friendship itself takes time to percolate and grow stronger—just like the coffee in my French press. We set ourselves up for disappointment if we expect to gain those “lifelong” friendships in the first semester, or even the first year. Let me be truthful: sometimes college is a lonely place. If you’re finding yourself in a bit of a solitary spot, either from lack of friendship, or discouragement regarding the depth found in your college friendships thus far, take heart and read on for some encouragement.

Commit it to Prayer. James 4:2 says, “You have not because you ask not.” And Jesus Himself says over and over, “Ask and you shall receive.” It seems obvious that we can and should ask the Lord to provide for our needs when it comes to daily provision and finances. But when was the last time you talked to Him about your need for friendship? Be careful not to undermine it by saying it’s not a need! God created us relational beings and its part of how we reflect His nature and image as a triune, relational God. Everyone has a longing for that David-Jonathon type friendship that is closer than even a brother. Even those of us who struggle with trust issues have a desire deep inside for someone to “get us.” We desire to be “sharpened like iron” (Prov. 27:17) by someone who fully sees, knows us and loves us enough to challenge us in meaningful ways. Your needs are not unknown to God. Take the risk and ask Him to provide you with the kind of friendship for which your heart is longing. Then watch to see what happens next.

Practice Patience. As has already been stated, good things take time. Don’t be frustrated or disappointed if you don’t make amazing friends right away. Sometimes our expectations are high because we’ve been told these will be the best four years of our life that are just bursting with lasting relationships. This may be true, but it’s easier said by someone looking back, who forgets the amount of time and effort invested before the friendships really took off! Be patient with the process.

Become an Initiator. This instruction applies to many areas. First of all, initiate going out. You can’t stay in your dorm room and wonder why great friendships aren’t falling into your lap. Look for places to get involved! This may be a campus club, an intermural team, a study group, a part-time job in the cafeteria or a game night hosted by your floor. So often we make excuses for not saying “yes” to activities and events that are all around us. I’m too tired. I’m too introverted. I went last time and didn’t meet anyone. If the first time doesn’t work, keep going! Press outward into new areas and keep your “relational antennae” up for people who are similar to you. Though it may be a stretch, initiate conversation. If you sit down at a table and don’t know someone there’s absolutely no shame in saying, “You look familiar but I don’t think I’ve met you yet.”  Once introductions are made, show genuine interest by asking “get-to-know-you questions” like “what’s your major?” or “where are you from?” or “what are some of your hobbies?”  Practice undistracted eye contact and reflective listening. Offer information about yourself in equal proportions to what’s being shared. And when you find good commonality, don’t hesitate to initiate further contact. It’s fine to ask for someone’s number and see if they’d like to grab coffee or go to a movie sometime. That’s how friendships get started. Invite someone into a group activity you’re already a part of, such as a campus Bible study.

Jessica and I ended up going to an all-school bonfire and hanging out. Later that semester we listened to Christmas music in her dorm room and talked. Once we went for a weekend trip with a mutual friend and got the tour of her quaint, adorable hometown. After graduation we stayed in touch and have now been friends for years. When vacationing, we go out of our way to see each other and have been there for each other through substantial loss as well as the joys of weddings and arrival of babies. Often, lifelong friendships begin with a single conversation. Reach out and connect to someone new today, because you never know what lifelong friendships might be brewing!