How can I rebuild my college social life?
February 10, 2013 11:47 AM   Subscribe

College freshman here. Friend from high school has, for lack of a better word, ruined my college social life. Looking for outside opinions on the situation in general. I'd truly appreciate any insight, advice, anecdotes, etc. Thank you!

Hello, all. I’m a college freshman and I would like to optimize my college social life after some crappy experiences. Background info: I have found a major that engages and excites me, have been in a quasi-LDR for the past few years with an amazing guy, have engaged in interesting extracurricular activities, and feel otherwise fulfilled! I didn’t have an ideal first semester: I was in a major totally unfit for my needs and strengths, so I felt confused and stressed out, struggled in my classes, and had little time to explore outside interests (or so I felt.)

For my early high school years, I had a wonderful friendship circle – it was a varied group and we had fun doing anything with each other. We began growing apart in later years and many of our older friends had graduated, which sucked. I tried to rekindle these relationships, but they just weren’t meant to be. I understood that, as sad as it was, it was a natural process. By my senior year, I felt pretty alone and unable to relate to my peers. So I began hanging out with my “best friend,” a member of the old group, and we grew really close.

Said best friend attends the same university as I do and we live close to each other. For the first month, I wanted to distance myself from her because I felt like she was holding me back – she didn’t want to do the activities that I did nor meet as many people – and because I wanted to break away from the friendship. This was why I had chosen not to live with her. She has irritated me on several occasions (e.g. disrespecting my boyfriend, making fun of my family, not supporting an important decision of mine), but I kept her around because in high school, I felt like I didn’t have any options and her, I guess, bullying was snarky and subtle, so I thought maybe I was just overreacting (though others noticed her behavior). She had her better qualities but overall, I hoped to find a new group in college that had as much fun as I did in my early high school years. I thought college would be the prime time for this.

So at the start of the semester my best friend and I did not spend time with each other. She later told me she missed me and I figured we’d both had made friends at that point so we could come together and have a great, diverse group. I learned that she hadn’t met anyone outside of her roommates, so she hung out with my friends often. My friends were very welcoming to her and all was well… until she never wanted to invite them to hang out. So, mid-semester, I felt very stressed and isolated by my work, so I’d hang out with my best friend, typically in her room because she lives so close by. Our other friends would text me, but whenever I asked my friend if it was ok to invite them over (because we were in her room), she would decline because they “annoyed” and “drained” her.

Ok. I was tired of abandoning my other friends and I found my best friend to be very condescending, boring, and rude… I’d felt this way about her in high school, but seeing her so often exacerbated these feelings. One night, she acted patronizingly to me in front of our friends and I decided that I’d had enough. I thought the mature thing to do (given our level of friendship) would be to confront her and just make her aware of how I was feeling – nothing serious, from my perspective. Well, I did just that and felt proud, but she was totally offended. We “worked it out” a few days later, but I kept my distance over our month-long winter break. Our “fight” was a bit of a blessing in disguise because I had a great break, only seeing her twice for events that involved mutual friends and that she initiated. Now, back at school, we rarely talk.

I prefer this minimal contact because she just didn’t treat me like a friend should and I didn’t have fun with her. The problem lies in the fact that she has now resorted to hanging out with all of my other friends – the ones who “drained” her before – and she does exactly what she did to me, which is hang out alone with them without inviting anyone else (i.e. me). I have hung out with her and other friends a couple of times and it was almost sickening to see her treating my friend the way she treated me, despite the fact that they weren’t good enough for her when she had me.

I was supposed to live with a fun group of girls next year, but I applied to be a Resident Assistant. Housing applications are due before I find out if I got the position, so my friends were hesitant about putting me down because they didn’t want a random person to live with them if I got the position, though they would have put me down if they couldn’t find another person. So my housing replacement? My best friend. (Back when my best friend was looking for housing options, I’d suggested that she lived with these girls because they were so nice and needed an extra person. Her response: “They’re a little… too much for me. They annoy me. I don’t know if I can be around them if you’re not there to mediate.” She wanted to live alone in an apartment, but couldn’t afford it. So now she’s living with them.) I know that I have no right to be upset by this, but now I feel like it’s set up so that even next year, I will have to see her all the time when I visit my friends.

In a sense, I feel like I’m competing with my “best friend” for what used to be my group of friends, though I know it would be totally immature to tell my friends the truth because they don’t really understand what she and I “fought” in the first place. I feel that I just have to make new friends so I don’t have to spend so much/any time with her. As mentioned earlier, she’s the only person, besides my boyfriend, whom I remained very close to since high school. I have quite a few acquaintances and I tried to regenerate some of these old friendships over break, but we just had too little in common.

I realized how pathetic I felt when I thought about marriage: I have no one in my life whom I’d want in my bridal party.

For the record, I am extremely close with my family and have an awesome, fulfilling relationship with my boyfriend. However, my family and boyfriend certainly can’t be everything to me, especially now that I’m away from home… I find it very easy to make acquaintances: I am a friendly, outgoing, confident, and fun person and people seem to like me. However, come the weekend, if I am not visiting my boyfriend, I have few people to call. In high school, I thought, “Oh, college will be better.” Well, now I don’t want to think, “Oh, the ‘real world’ will be better.” I don’t want to wish for a new environment – I just want to live in the one I’m in and have functional, fun friendships.

So if you read that, I thank you very much.

I am doing my best to remedy this by joining clubs and being proactive about hanging out with people. I just feel so awkward about all of this… I’m not sure whom to turn to anymore because everyone significant in my life has heard this story. I am here for opinions, advice, anecdotes… anything really.
posted by metacognition to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you need to consider how many friends is the golden number that you need and want.

You seem to want lots, but do well with one on one too.

I'd be looking at building more genuine friendships with fewer people....slowly, and one at a time, not adopting a whole pre-formed group.

University is often where you make lifelong friends. Make the quality count.
posted by taff at 11:57 AM on February 10, 2013

She hasn't ruined anything. Take a deep breath, hang out with people you want to hang out with, and be okay with them being friends with her too, and with you being friends with other people.

Competing for friend groups is a big waste of time. None of them care as much as you do, and you end up obsessing over someone you don't even like.

Also, college is a great time to make friends, but it's not the last time you can make friends. Nor is the first semester of the first year your only friend-making time in college! It's gonna be okay.

Focus on doing fun activities, enjoying your life and being open to new things and people. Be positive and kind. Keep really good snacks around. You'll do fine, friend-wise.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:03 PM on February 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

Oh and I had a "friend" like this--always weird and negative about people behind their backs and then cozying up to them in person; "hated" someone one day and then rooming with them the next. Everyone realized this eventually on their own. Your friends will probably figure this out themselves. In the meantime, be polite and don't make your friendships with these girls about your ex-friend. She can dig her own grave.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Are you getting married this spring? No? Then don't pressure yourself to forge immediate, deep bonds with people to fill out your bridal party. Instead, make conscious decisions about your social life. Be intentional about spending time with different people/groups.

Your best friend hasn't ruined your college social life. You've learned that when you get close to this person, you tend to exclude/turn down other friends. But! You're only halfway through freshman year! You have plenty of time to reach out to your new friends. This is easy: "Hey, [New friend], sorry for the radio silence lately. Want to take a study break some evening this week and catch up?" or "[New friend 1], [New friend 2], and [New friend 3]--hey guys, I miss you! It's my own doing for being a hermit last semester. Want to get dinner this Friday?"

With regard to your best friend, it may make sense to avoid a lot of hours-long hanging out in her room--unless, that is, you're comfortable getting a text from other friends and leaving to go hang out with them. In other words, don't put yourself in a position where you're going to feel like you need to get your best friend's approval or buy-in before you can spend time with others.
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:11 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

tl:dr You have a best friend who is largely someone who was conveniently located, has known you for a longish time, and now you want to distance yourself from her, but she's insinuated herself into a group that you thought were your pals.

So, go find new people to hang with. Not everyone has to get together in 1 huge friend coven (see # 4 on this list.) You can have different groups for different interests. She's not your friend (and you're not really hers.)

Use your weekends for exploring new groups, sports, parts of town.

And you have a long time to worry about your bridal party.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:11 PM on February 10, 2013

Oh, first year housing dramas. They're so common, there's got to be memes for them. Plus people are still figuring themselves out in first year. I made much closer, intimate friends later on in college.

Anyway, be patient when developing new friends. It takes a while. Your ex-bff didn't steal or sabotage your relationship with any of those other gals: who says you always have to visit them at their house? Go out on friend dates for coffee, or a walk to the park, or dinner. Call up your pals to do this one-on-one. Work on slowly building up good friends.

And hey, you said you applied as an RA? You'll meet tons of people that way! All of my friends who became RAs really bonded with each other. Dealing with freshman drama as mediators has a way of maturing people and bringing them together.
posted by Paper rabies at 12:14 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pick your favorite friend of out the group that your 'best' friend is moving in with and start hanging out with her individually. If you make lunch/coffee plans in between classes, it's natural to not worry about including the whole group.

Of course, you can do this with more than one of that group, and you should be looking elsewhere too. You'll probably go through training with other new RAs, and that's a natural activity/friend-making time. Sports, volunteering, academic clubs, gaming or other hobbies...if you take any language classes you could see who's interested in meeting up weekly for conversation practice over dinner...
posted by ecsh at 12:15 PM on February 10, 2013

I would suggest trying a bunch of different campus activities, they're a great way to meet people. Also, having friends in different circles can prevent some of the drama you've discussed above, as your improv troupe friends won't poach your dorm friends won't poach your student government friends won't poach your rock-climbing friends. Building a heterogenous social network gives you access to more diverse and interesting perspectives and simultaneously ensures one bad actor won't ruin your social life.

Also, I'd think carefully about your relationship. A long distance relationship entails investing a lot of time one person at the expense of broadening your social network. Unless you plan on marrying this guy as soon as you're done with school, you could miss out on a lot of valuable connections in college and end up with only a broken heart to show for it.
posted by charlemangy at 12:18 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I struggled my first semester of college and felt isolated, and decided to drop out to pursue other goals. Despite the different circumstances, I thing how I felt is very similar to how you feel, and is factually exceedingly common.

Well, several years later, I ended up back in school. I made some friends, but none were super close.

And then I found my major. It was my 3rd major, and I declared it between my sophomore and junior years. But it made me realize that in college, when you find the right major, it's kind of like finding "home." I don't hang out with a ton of people outside of class, but I've found some people I'm close to. There's some sense of camaraderie that you might just not find until you get into smaller, more advanced classes. I've heard this from my friends who are now grad students as well -- the lasting friendships are often with people who shared a major with them. It makes sense, because you have the same core interests and goals and will be pursuing jobs in the same sector as a lot of these people -- they become your future networking group.

I've seen this with sororities and fraternities as well -- both social and academic. My ex was in a music fraternity, and his core group of friends now are all from that fraternity (because it wasn't social, it was men and women).

So don't worry about this evolving social circle -- it's ridiculously common, and frankly, to be expected. Keep going to activities you like, join clubs, and make friends with people in your classes. You can still hang out with the friends you made first semester, but no need for them to be your only friends, or even your core group of friends.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:36 PM on February 10, 2013

First I would stop thinking of her as your best friend. She isn't even a great friend let alone best friend material. Secondly, why not invite who you want to be with to your room or wherever you hang out? Always being the one that goes over is not a good position to be in. Lastly you will make lots of friends in college and some will remain friends past this time but most will pass through your life.

Ok this is really my last comment. Get all this out of your head...let it go...invite others to do the things you are interested in and have fun.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2013

honestly, it sounds like you might be growing up faster than your friend... embrace this.

don't over think it, just get involved in a few campus activities, participate with some kindness, energy and enthusiasm and new people will flock to you.

the world is full of assholes, who really are just people that are stuck in a stage of their growth and are taking their anger out on everybody else. All you can do is treat them with compassion and move on.

Anger is frustration caused by unrequited desire. i.e. we are all big babies mad about the world not working our way... we need to get over ourselves.

AND, we are all different and we all become more whole in our own ways... life is awesome when you find a few kindred spirits and stay open to the ways other people are figuring their shit out while you figure yours out.

Shun idols, resist being a follower. Find your own path. Laugh about it.

Your former best friend will probably reenter your life at some point, maybe looking for help, maybe to reconnect on a deeper level, or maybe to just be an asshole. it happens.

You've already had the big thought here... now it's time to act on it and fill your life with people that like you, are interested in friendships that have a 2 way flow in them.

I paid a shrink a lot of money to learn these lessons, I am passing them on to you for free.
posted by bobdow at 1:07 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Join a sorority? This made my life in college a 1000% better and those are still some of my best friends some 20 years later.
posted by bananafish at 4:02 PM on February 10, 2013

One thing it took most of college for me to learn was that you don't have to be friends with someone, if you don't want to be. Even if that person is in your basic social circle. You can let them be, and they can let you be, and you can go to the same parties and make polite small talk and just... never really go beyond that. And that's fine.

It's not a binary between BESTIES and ENEMIES.

My advice to you is to become aware of that. You can be polite on the surface, and share mutual friends, and not be Super Duper Besties 4 Evah. If you don't like spending time with her, don't. Let her be friends with your friends. Continue to be friends with your friends. Be gracious.

I'm 31. Right now my entire circle of "besties" from college and the city we all lived in post-college are on a Girls Weekend In Vegas as a bachelorette party for the one girl in the group I've never been close to. Since it's her wedding, we've never been close, travel is involved, and I live in a different city now anyway, I kind of don't care. I've had plenty of fun times with all those people that Not Friends Girl wasn't involved in, and I doubt she was sitting at home crying that Everyone Was Hanging Out Without Her.
posted by Sara C. at 4:55 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your ex-bff is an introvert. That doesn't excuse a lot of things that she did, but understanding how introverts work might help you find some inner peace about some of her behavior. Like why she wanted to only have one-on-one time. Or why she said your friends were too overwhelming but is buddy-buddy now that she knows them better. It's very possible that she was completely honest when she said they were too draining and annoying to be around (because she didn't know them) and she's also being completely honest when she says she wants to spend time just hanging out one on one with the same people (now that she knows them and also because one on one is much easier for introverts). Most introverts still need to socialize, they would just rather spend a lot of time with a very small number of people, and it's OK for them to be that way.
posted by anaelith at 6:41 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

You didn't like this girl but pretended to because she was convenient. She said and did things that annoyed you but you let her believe all was well for years until you no longer needed to rely on her socially, and then confronted her and essentially cut her off cold. And now you're bothered that she's become friends with the people you introduced her to.

Your plan was for your friends to also find her "boring condescending and rude" and neither she nor they are acting like you'd planned for them to act. I can see why you'd be confused and upset.

Luckily you make friends easily. Universities are populous places and you'll be there several more years. Find people whose company you actually enjoy and appreciate them for who they are. The more you are an honest friend to others, the more friends you'll have.
posted by headnsouth at 7:56 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses! I am so grateful for your insight.

I admire your honesty, headnsouth. However, I'd like to clarify that I wasn't just her friend because I "relied on her socially" (nor did I "plan" for my friends to feel the same way that I did - I hope my post did not give that malicious impression!) As with most human beings, she had positive qualities and we had great times together; I looked past the disrespect from her because of such times, but now I'm not sure that I want to do that, especially when I have access to so many more people who will respect me. Thank you for your reply!
posted by metacognition at 6:33 AM on February 11, 2013

Hi, since you are just looking for opinions and anecdotes, I'll share.

My first semester of college was pretty terrible, friend-wise. A high school friend who annoyed me wanted to room with me in college. I didn't want to, because I suspected she'd never want to meet anyone new, but I couldn't get out of it. I did get her to compromise and we chose freshman housing that consisted of 5-person apartments. Ultimately, that was the wrong decision, because each apartment was very insular and I never really met my neighbors, and I didn't much like or connect with my other roommates. Her long-term HS boyfriend was also at our school, a year ahead of us, and she was quite happy to just spend time with me and him and didn't want to invite other potential friends to hang out with us. I ended up being very jealous of the girls in dorms who seemed to form tight friendships with all their hall-mates.

I also remember having those depressing thoughts about how I wouldn't be able to field a bridal party if I were to get married tomorrow, and how college was supposed to be better than high school, but it wasn't, and now I had to drag myself through 4 more years of school before, hopefully, things would finally look up in the "real world". I'm sorry you feel that way, I know how that feels, and I also know that when people told me to not worry about it, it would get better, that I didn't really believe that would be true for me. So I hope you are able to believe me when I say, it will get better. First term freshman year is when EVERYONE is testing everything out, and everything will be so different by the time you graduate.

I did end up with the close friends I had always wanted, and 5 of them were my bridesmaids when I got married. If you had told me that on February 11th of my freshman year, I would not have believed you for a second. These were the girls that I was jealous of because they had so many dorm hall-mate friends. But those friends weren't lasting friendships for them, for the most part, because they were friendships of circumstance. We even call these type of circumstantial friendships "First Year Friends" in my group.

Anyway, you sound like a person who has no trouble making friends, and all you need is time. Good luck and stay positive! You have my permission to forget about your old friend- she sounds like she was dragging you down. Let her do her thing, you do yours, you're gonna be fine.
posted by coupdefoudre at 10:19 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add that I had a bad first semester of college too. I also had a "best friend" (not saying your bf isn't your bf but this girl was not bf material). In high school, she did annoying things like call me up to tell me she was fighting with a mutual friend just to see how I'd react. Well, she actually poisoned the well in my friend group by telling our mutual friends that her boyfriend had cheated on her with me. While I knew a lot of people at my university, they wouldn't talk to me out of solidarity with her.

It was very isolating but it also gave me some freedom to do things differently, to attempt to be someone other than the person they thought I was. Things were never the same with that friend group but I have moved on. I made a good friend my first semester at college. She's now my best friend. I lived with random people. It was fine. Former best friend sent me a card after my mother died where she wrote about her suicide attempts and bipolar diagnosis. She lives in Denver and is married with three kids. I don't think we've spoken in 10 years and that is 110% fine with me.

Also, I understand the future bridal party anxiety. I once said to my best friend, soon after we found out she was going to be a single mom, OMG I wanted you to be my maid of honor. She said, I will still be your maid of honor. While the title eventually went to my sister, my best friend was in my wedding with her amazing daughter. When we met, I had no idea things would work out like that but I feel like it's so incredible that they did.

TL; DR - things like this seem really charged when you're in the moment but that doesn't last. Take things one day at a time. You don't need to decide your bridal party today. You don't need a long-term strategy for dealing with this girl. Think about the things that are immediately in front of you - who can you live with if you're not an RA? What do you want to say to this girl the next time you see her?
posted by kat518 at 4:34 PM on February 11, 2013

I hear you on this--the rooming situation really stings. And having a high school friend in college thing is rough too, because they're anchoring you to an old part of yourself that you've outgrown, whether they mean to or not.

(High school friends are sometimes friends with whom you share values in common, but more likely, they're friends of circumstance--you were all there at the same time, and maybe at the time you could bond over stuff, but when you start growing and changing, you sometimes find that all that you have to talk about is stuff you used to do, back then.)

It will get better though. I promise.

And, this is all totally normal.

Some of the best advice I've ever been given about this stuff is, 'The truth will out.' It's really awkward now, but your friends group will eventually either see how annoying she is and phase her out, or being exposed to their good natures will help her learn to chill.

This kind of stuff can be weird and fraught with drama, so try to rise above it. (Some more adages that apply: kill with kindness. Living well is the best revenge.)

In other words, the only thing you can do is to behave normally, by texting and hanging out with your friends the way you usually would, maybe while pretending there's absolutely no weirdness at all.

My advice? Do what you're already doing--join clubs and student groups on campus. For most of my first year of college, I barely spoke to anyone outside of a very tiny circle. Then, towards the end of the year, I joined the student newspaper, and bam! Friends for life.

It sort of depends on the size of your campus, but generally, the thing about student organizations is that there's a smallish group of people who participate in most of them, with varying degrees of overlapping membership. These are the people who know everything that's going on, they're motivated, and they're generally outgoing. That's a good group to be in, and if nothing else, you're more likely to be out there, meeting people who could eventually become your new group of friends.
posted by lhall at 6:03 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences. Knowing I'm not the only one has certainly comforted me.

I finally realize the underlying issue: I have outgrown the friendship, as some of you have mentioned. Just because we were once good friends (and she is now friends with some of my current friends), that does not mean that I have an obligation to the friendship! That feeling, I believe, was what caused frustration on my part. We had good times, but I feel differently now, perhaps for no reason other than my own growth... and that's perfectly ok and valid!

Thank you again, everyone.
posted by metacognition at 10:02 AM on February 13, 2013

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