This is a guest post for the Christian website The Rising. To read the article in its natural habitat, click here.
Oh, college. I miss you so much.
I miss the 13.7% chance of walking into any room and discovering free pizza. I miss the days when I only experienced the p.m. version of 8 o’clock. But most of all, I miss the friends.
I miss having 45 of every 50 Saturdays filled with Insta-worthy adventures. I miss the depth of conversation. I miss the opportunities to meet dozens of people with similar interests within a three-year age range. I miss that I never had to eat pizza alone.
This isn’t meant to be a sob story, but since college graduation, I have eaten more pizza by myself than with friends. A vulnerable conversation now requires months of preparation and patience. I’m lucky to go on four or five adventures (not 45!) every year.
Why is life post-college so lonely and boring?
Why don’t I have friends anymore?
Reason #1: My Friendship Muscles Have Atrophied
As a millennial, I would like to start by blaming someone other than myself. But I can’t. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of depth in my friendships is my own apathy. Sure, friendships are a two-way street, but my half of the street is crowded with excuses, entitlement, and Netflix. I simply suck at being a good friend.
But it makes sense. In college and high school I never had to take risks to develop friends. My life overlapped so tightly with so many people that meaningful, shared experiences were normal. All of the fulfilling friendships I had weren’t necessarily the result of my ability to be a good friend, but rather the product of my environment. Sure, I put in a little bit of effort, but because I was surrounded by so many similar people, not much effort was required. Schedules were the same, friend groups were the same, and commitments were low. Thanks to student groups in college, I rarely encountered a single person with whom I didn’t share a strong common interest.
Friendships were an underhanded softball thrown by my mom (who is not good at softball, to be clear).
I’m not discounting the meaningfulness or depth of those friendships; I’m just saying that school (especially college) is a friendship greenhouse. As an unfortunate consequence, all of the relevant skills needed to make friends outside of an educational context have shriveled.
My expectations are far too high. My tolerance for rejection is far too low. My patience is non-existent. My conversational skills are unsharpened. My ability to relate to someone a little older or with a dissimilar background is rusty.
Until now, I have falsely believed that the number of friends in my life was due to my incredible friendship skills. In reality, college and high school masked my weak friendship muscles and allowed them to atrophy.
I’m not saying you and I are terrible friends because we’re jerks. I’m saying we’re terrible friends because we’ve never had to try that hard.
Reason #2: The World Is A Friendship Desert
If college is a friendship greenhouse, life after college is a friendship desert. The frenetic pursuit of romantic relationships, professional success, and entertainment has left little to no space for friendships to grow in our culture. Friendship is so radically undervalued that it is considered weird (especially for men) to pursue it.
But the observation that friendship is undervalued is not new. The struggle is no more real than it has been throughout the centuries. C.S. Lewis described friendship as, “the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary…the least natural of loves.” Friendship has always played third fiddle to romantic and familial love.
Our culture’s friendship desert isn’t just the result of an overcrowded life, but competition from other loves. How many billions of dollars are spent using friendship as a key marketing tool? Zero. Zero billions. How many billions are spent leveraging our desire for marriage, sex, and a family (hopefully—but rarely—in that order)? All the billions.
Andrew Sullivan crushes it when he says,
“The great modern enemy of friendship has turned out to be love. By love, I don’t mean the principle of giving and mutual regard that lies at the heart of friendship [but] love in the banal, ubiquitous, compelling, and resilient modern meaning of love: the romantic love that obliterates all other goods, the love to which every life must apparently lead, the love that is consummated in sex and celebrated in every particle of our popular culture, the love that is institutionalized in marriage and instilled as a primary and ultimate good in every Western child. I mean eros, which is more than sex but is bound up with sex. I mean the longing for union with another being, the sense that such a union resolves the essential quandary of human existence, the belief that only such a union can abate the loneliness that seems to come with being human, and deter the march of time that threatens to trivialize our very existence.”
Romantic love. The “primary and ultimate good of every Western child.” The resolution to the “quandary of human existence.” The solution to loneliness. Man, we believe some dumb stuff! It’s no wonder life post-college is such a friendship desert. If we are conditioned to believe that romance is the key to human flourishing, why would we waste time on friendship? Why would I believe that the ache of loneliness is due to a lack of real friendship when the world tells me it’s because I don’t have a girlfriend?
Even if our friendship muscles have atrophied, the world isn’t a very suitable environment to help us get any stronger.
Reason #3: Like Every Good Thing, Real Friendship is Hard
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the three years since I graduated college it is that friendship is hard. This isn’t meant to be a sad observation, but most of my “friends” in college were actually just acquaintances with whom I was really comfortable. Now, that’s not a bad thing. C.S. Lewis would call them companions—fellow members of a group united around a common interest. But real friends… I probably have three. And those relationships took more than time and common interest. They took vulnerability, tears, law-breaking, and a willingness to watch each other’s stupid favorite movie enough times to actually like it.
But even though friendship is hard, it needs to be hard. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be precious and life-giving.
Sullivan’s words are again helpful:
“But friendship is different. Friendship uniquely requires mutual self-knowledge and will. It takes two competent, willing people to be friends. You cannot impose a friendship on someone, although you can impose a crush, a lawsuit, or an obsession. If friendship is not reciprocated, it simply ceases to exist or, rather, it never existed in the first place.”
And CS Lewis (twice):
“Hence (if you will not misunderstand me) the exquisite arbitrariness and irresponsibility of this love. I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
“The mark of Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.”
To move past acquaintanceship and into true friendship requires more than the passage of time. It requires more than common interest. It is far more than a simple contract of mutual back-scratching. It rests on no covenant or vow.
In short, friendship is hard.
The Takeaway: Pursue Friendship
Why don’t I have friends anymore?
Maybe it’s because I suck at friendship. Maybe it’s because no one actually values it. Maybe it’s because it’s too hard. The reason doesn’t necessarily matter. What does matter is whether or not I value friendship enough to pursue it.
Aristotle saw friendship as the cornerstone of human society and flourishing.
Lewis claimed that it is the “happiest and most fully human of all loves.”
Psychologist Rebecca Adams stated that “friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”
Oh, and Jesus: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”— John 15:13-14
Therefore, pursue friendship.