Auntie SparkNotes: The Great Big Guide To College Socializing
Every single college freshman in the world is REQUIRED to read this post. Thank you. —Sparkitors
So I'm headed off to college in a couple of weeks, and I'm getting extremely anxious. I chose a college that was very, very far away from home on purpose, but now I'm getting worried. See, I've always had a really hard time making friends.
In elementary and middle school I always sort of skated by on the fringe of the crowd, and my first two years of high school were pure friendless hell that ended with a suicide attempt. I made some wonderful friends as a junior, so the last two years have been very good. But I'm terrified that I won't make any friends at college. I know that no one will know any one else either, but I'm still afraid. I'm a big nerd, and I'm more interested in academics and books than in parties and drinking. My idea of fun is watching Doctor Who and debating the merits of Harry Potter, not rocking out to Lady Gaga. I really don't want to return to that awful friendless period of my life. What can I do to make this easier?
Okay, y'all, here's what we're going to do. If you're going to college soon—or if you know someone who's going to college soon—and you're wondering what it'll be like, and you're feeling nervous about making friends, then here: gather round, sit down, and get ready to receive a nice, enormous dose of It's Going To Be Okay.
Because guys, it's going to be okay.
I've got so many letters from Sparklers just like this one—people who don't make friends super-easily, or whose high school social lives were crap, or who are afraid that being self-professed nerds will make them incapable of ever truly connecting with the hard-drinking, hard-partying social scenesters at their colleges. And all these Sparklers—every single one—are managing to ignore one glaringly obvious fact: that just as you, a nerd, are preparing to attend college, so too are many, many other nerds. Some of whom will be your classmates, and others of whom will be your dorm mates, and all of whom will be looking for like-minded people to befriend upon their arrival at college.
Likeminded people OF WHOM YOU ARE ONE.
And this is true whether you're a nerd, or a drama geek, or a science freak, or a person whose primary passion in life is dressing up like a Templar Knight and staging mock sword tournaments on the campus lawns. Whichever school you've chosen to attend, you will find people there who are like you, and who like you, and whom you like. The only kids who don't make friends at college—as far as I can tell—are the ones who either a) don't try, or b) make themselves unfriendable by committing egregious errors when it comes time to socialize.
And don't worry, because we're going to tell you exactly what those errors are. So here, Sparklers, is a discreet list of Dos and Don'ts for every incoming freshman who wants to make friends.
Join things. Not everything, but the things where you're likely to meet people who share your interests. Student government, a cappella groups, volunteering, campus clubs—pick at least one activity that meets regularly, and sign up your first week.
Let people know who you are. Logic: if you want to meet people like you, then you have to let them know what you're like. Decorate your dorm room with things that speak to your personality. Carry a keychain that looks like the Tardis. Make yourself visible, and keep an eye out for people who are sporting similar signs of a common interest. Therein lie your future friendships.
Meet your neighbors. You may not love the people on your hall—it can be hit or miss—but at the beginning, they're your easiest source of companionship. So, say hi in the hallways, keep your door open, and every so often, make a habit of saying, "I'm heading to dinner, anyone want to come?"
Be proactive. People who make friends easily have three things in common: they don't mind starting a conversation, they're interested in what people have to say, and they never seem scared of rejection (even if inside, they're petrified.) So before you move in, practice the following move: smile easily, offer a handshake if appropriate, and say, "Hey, I'm [your name]. Where are you from?"—and then use it on your neighbors, your fellow club members, and the people sitting next to you in class. Ask questions about where they're from, what they're majoring in, whether they know a possibly-mutual acquaintance. Even if you feel stupid—and the first few times you do this, you probably will—you'll be firmly cemented in that person's mind as a friendly, outgoing, interesting dude. (Or lady, as the case may be.)
Keep an open mind. When it comes to making friends, snap judgments are your enemy. So be willing to talk to anyone, and avoid automatically dismissing people as friends for superficial reasons. Just because they're party people, or Republicans, or Yankees fans, that doesn't mean they can't also be awesome to know.
Be creepy. Obviously, creepy means different things to different people, but generally: don't stare and grin at people without speaking. Don't lurk silently at the fringes of crowds and then laugh at jokes you're not in on. Don't pass the same person in your hallway three times without making eye contact, smiling, and saying hi. And don't rant, confess, or tell your super-personal life story unless somebody has asked to hear it.
Be a leech. Nothing kills a social life like the scent of desperation, and once the stench is on you, it's hard to get rid of. So, don't latch on to one person as your insta-BFF and follow her everywhere. Don't force yourself on groups of people who send clear signals that they'd rather not have you there. And if you've been spending time with someone, don't always be the one to suggest hanging out.
Hate yourself. Again, desperation stinks. Make sure you like yourself, and never act like people are doing you a favor by talking to you. If you don't think you're worth being friends with, then nobody else will, either.
Be afraid to be alone. Being a grownup means being alone sometimes, even a lot of the time, and being okay with that. So if you find yourself by yourself—for dinner, for a day, even for a whole weekend—then embrace it. Take yourself out to eat with a good book; listen to music your roommate would hate; go for a long walk in the woods; do whatever you want, and relish the opportunity. And when people ask what you were up to, tell 'em with pride that you thoroughly enjoyed some downtime.
Go home. Since you're attending school far from your hometown, this won't be hard for you. But for everyone else: stay. On. CAMPUS. If you want to have a social life at college, then you have to be at college. So cry if you must, and call your mom twice a week if you want, but please try to hold off on going home until Thanksgiving break.
Does this mean you'll make insta-friends, that you'll never be left out, and that you'll never feel alone or lonely? Of course not. You're heading to college, not Xanadu. But when you know that you've got the tools for social survival, you can see those dark periods for the temporary (and fixable) glitches that they are. And by sophomore year, they should be few and far between. Promise.
Do you have your own tips, tricks, or awesome personal anecdotes on making friends at college? Share 'em in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.