I used to have 8234839234 million “friends.” And I put quotation marks around the word “friends” because I use that term so lightly.
College was a dream for me. While the school I went to wasn’t perfect, I was too enamored with it to notice it’s flaws while I was there, so I danced through those four years with a big fat smile on my face. Sure, I had plenty of tough times in college, namely some difficulty adjusting to the academic rigor of the school I went to and a couple of ugly relationships, but otherwise I was the girl who’d hijack the high school guests at your dinner party to convince them to think about applying to the place I loved so much.
And one of the things that made my college experience so spectacular were all the friends I had. Don’t get me wrong – that makes me sound really popular or something, and we all know that I’m a huge dork and a really big ball of anxiety who sometimes cares way too much about what other people think. Not really a picture of “cool.”
But in college, it was way easier to make friends and maintain them. That is, if you have the definition of friendship that I did.
College Amanda believed that a friend could be defined as such: any person I knew who I spoke to or hung out with on a regular basis and liked, and who I felt liked me in return.
That’s a pretty broad category! Anybody I spoke to or hung out with? Anybody that I liked? Anybody who liked me?
At a small school where most people lived on campus or nearby in the surrounding community, those are not hard qualifications to meet. If I talked to somebody in the same club as me pretty regularly at that club or it’s social functions, and if we generally had positive interactions, that’s all it took for me to consider him or her a friend.
And because I was involved in a relatively high number of organized social outlets throughout my time in undergrad, I had lots of these so-called friends.
I was a little social butterfly and I loved it. I was never bored, never alone unless I wanted to be. I had an infinite number of surface-level relationships, people I could call on for a fun night on the town, maybe vent a few frustrations or have heart-to-hearts with. And I felt good.
Fast forward to my first six months after moving to New York City to pursue a masters degree.
I remember calling a friend from home one night in tears. I was lonely. I was depressed. And I felt totally frustrated.
Grad school was nothing like undergrad. Going to school in New York City meant people were scattered throughout all the boroughs and it wasn’t likely that I’d run into someone I recognized from class at the grocery store. Even when I did see people I knew on campus, I was exhausted by small talk and often cut conversations short.
I was tired of the sort of relationships I’d had in the past, and yet I felt this hunger to replicate them, to have dozens of friends I could point to as evidence of my social life.
Why? Why was it so important to me have gazillions of friends? What did I get out of so many surface-level relationships? And why did I feel like going home and crawling into bed whenever I thought about sparking up a convo with the seemingly cool girl I sat next to in a few classes, who seemed like someone I might like?
And as I parsed through these thoughts with my buddy from back home, I came to a realization.
I didn’t actually want a million friends anymore. I was over it.
The reason I felt so tired whenever I had to talk to someone new was that I wasn’t ever actually fulfilled by having so many relationships. While maintaining a long list of friends made me feel extra cool and liked, it didn’t actually serve the purpose of true friendship.
Because my definition of friendship was changing. Instead viewing it how I had in college, I now counted true friendship as something entirely different.
To me, had become less about how many people I knew and more about the depth of the relationship I had formed.
Friendship was about two people who cared deeply for each other, who took the time to truly listen to each other without interruption or agenda, who dropped everything for one another when times got tough, and challenged each other to stay in-step with personally identified goals and mantras. Friendship was about creating a mutually safe space to put the other person first, knowing them intimately and caring for them thoroughly.
And the truth is, that’s a hefty order. The time and energy it takes to do these things is not something that comes easily and requires no small sacrifice. As human beings, we simply don’t have the capacity to do these things for a million people.
As I thought about this, I looked around and took inventory of the people in my life. And I realized I already had this.
In undergrad, I could list off endless names of folks I liked and spent time with. But hardly any of those relationships carried any depth to them. In fact, most were pretty shallow.
But in grad school, I’d finally become exhausted of this. I was at a place where I wanted meaningful relationships with people willing and able to know me and love me well, who I could know and love well in return.
I have that. I have a short list of probably 5 women I spend most of my time and emotional energy on. They’re my people.
They’re the girls I call at 2am in tears when life is spiraling out of control. They’re the ones I reach out to first when something exciting happens in my day. They’re the ones I check in on when I know something big is happening for them. And for them, I try to be the best friend I can be.
And while I have boundless other relationships with people I hang out with and enjoy, I’m okay at leaving it at the surface. I don’t stress about keeping these relationships afloat as much as I do about the few in my closest circle.
Now that I’m not stretched so thin, I feel infinitely better about my relationships. I can go deeper and love harder. I have more time and capacity to love. I have my few.
Who are your few? What do you look for in a friend? And do you prefer to have many relationships or a couple you go deeper with? I’d love to hear about it!