I finalised the perfect friend group at the age of 12. A mouth full of braces, bright-eyed, acne-scarred and I still believed friendships to last further than the following school year. I devoted my afternoons and morning text messages to this ambitious plan, and scheduled group picnics, tree climbing endeavours and afternoon ice creams through the development of a new group chat. Snapchat became my career; lunch time was an opportunity to network for the most like-minded individuals. This group chat, made most humbly by myself, was a sign of an everlasting bond. Three months later — I had cut my hair, one member became an active lover of musicals and another started skipping afternoon classes to hang around the local park— the group chat was all but dead. My dream of an unchanging group of friends, people that were entirely mine, disappeared.
In university, we are just as quick to idealise our friendships as we are the charismatic boy we spoke to at a sports social, or the sweet girl we met in the Pret queue. Gone is my cynicism in secondary school, because the university experience is real life: the friends we make will follow us far past the day we graduate, and it is imperative they remain a part of our lives throughout our 20s. You don’t speak to your two close friends from school? Well, in the race for the long-lasting friend — university is your second chance.
“You will never have as many friends as you have in university.” Midway through my first year of university and speaking with a late-20s friend, I took this statement as gospel. It was an excuse to retreat from the artificial friendships I had made my first week of the year, in a search for the elusive life-long friend. Someone who can finish a sentence, suggest the most nefarious, deathly version of a Friday night out, and reply to the group chat with wit. But by this time the friendship bracelets which defined two children as platonically-engaged have died out. Instead, they are replaced by the beginnings of long-term romances, and an impossible balance between academia and arduous extracurriculars. I had finalised this attempt at a prosperous university social life with only one, cynical belief: your friendships (probably) will not last.
Regardless of close friendships — long-term flatmates, or childhood friends that become both a part of your past and future — few higher education connections will stay in touch for the coming decades. As students transition from the undergraduate experience to that of a young adult early in their career, moving to a new city is enough to make any friendship decay.
The “loneliness epidemic” which fills media headlines is centred around the 20-something. Fresh out of university, a 1-bed and a corporate environment is a ruthless jump into cold water. The social institutions which define our school years are gone, and the manic energy that follows students through their undergraduate degree dies out . Inasmuch as the fresh start is an opportunity for growth, it makes clear the impermanence of relationships. Loneliness, which is compared to the physical harm of 15 cigarettes a day, is pervasive to the post-university environment. Regrettably, most early 20s would faster develop a nicotine habit than uphold a stable social environment.
A fear that I had first adopted as a preteen disbeliever, that the modern friendship is one that is temporary, has not changed in university. It is still a time period of transition. The symptoms of a personality change are less clear: the daily switch from skater-chique to emo, which defines one’s preteen years, is all but gone. Friendships fail because two flatmates have incompatible descriptions of the word “clean”, or a convoluted conversation occurs between a friend and their friend’s date, ending a prospective marriage with “maybe we should be friends”. Sometimes, even, these dramas display ethical conflicts. Other times, they are rip-offs of yesterday’s 3pm soap opera.
It does not help that friendships have a shorter life span than in past decades. The perception of a global world, where it does not matter whether a person lives a mile away or across the ocean from their closest friend, does not acknowledge that an online friendship lacks the intimacy and spontaneity of one that is local. In primary school friendships end because Sally, your year 3 best friend, has started tap dancing rather than ballet, or Michael, year 5, has decided he’d rather spend his breaks on the field in a group of boys, than learn to skip rope with the girls.
Ironically, just as children propose an everlasting bond to each other they are the quickest to jump ship when convenience fails. The same is true when we enter a university life that is both alien and homage to the trials of pre-teen drama. I prefer to accept that friendships will deteriorate: luckily, the ability to connect socially does not terminate when we step off the graduation stage, diploma in hand. I would rather enter early adulthood geared for a decade of fluctuating relationships, than mourn a collection of friends who are expected to drift apart.
Illustration: Sarah Knight