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First Semester Friendships: Redefining Meaningful Relationships Freshman Year

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Walking to my dorm from my philosophy lecture, I call my best friend 2,729 miles away to let her know that 1. I miss her, and 2. I'm lonely.

"I don't understand," I admit sheepishly over the phone. "There's a good amount of people here that I feel a real connection to, but it's just so hard to get close to them."

As I repeat this to my upperclassman mentor, he nods, empathizing with my first-semester freshman plight. After a long, heartfelt discussion about the social scene in the frenzied pressure cooker of the Ivy League, I emerge knowing what I need to change to be happy at Princeton.

I have to redefine what constitutes a meaningful friendship.

In September, I measured relationships by their persistence and proximity. I made a number of budding friendships, but was misguided by impatience for the potential in those relationships to grow.

I expected behaviors that become exponentially more difficult in the time-sapping environment of a college life. Well, difficult in the sense that late-night talks, silly Facebook chats, food excursions, and movie nights are just a lot more spaced out during the semester. It seems like crunch time is all the time, and everyone is struggling simultaneously.

Most people I sought out for advice told me I just needed to adapt. However, I realized it wasn't my behavior that needed changing, but my beliefs.

From conversations with college students about how they found their most meaningful friends, the following six points were the most common:

1. There is no set incubation period for a meaningful friendship. While everything in college seems to have a deadline (essays, applications, and breakfast if you're a late riser), friendships don't have milestones you need to reach by a certain date. You can actively pursue a friendship, but don't be slighted if someone let's your developing relationship simmer on the back burner when things get busy. However, know the difference between lack of time and lack of effort.

2. Don't let high school friendships prevent college friendships; instead, let them guide your search. If you've had highly impactful friendships in high school, it's good to stay connected. But college can't give you a carbon copy of those friends. Instead of looking for the same friendships, look for the qualities that made your past friendships great. There's bound to be someone with that mastery of sarcasm or someone who gives those warm, fuzzy hugs that reassure you that everything will be okay. They won't be your high school best friend's long-lost twin, but they'll be just as important if you let them.

3. Find an upperclassman mentor. Similar peers are great, but a differing, oft wiser opinion can challenge and reshape the way you perceive friendships and relationships.

4. Let people be there for you. If someone sincerely tells you, "I will be there for you if you need anything," don't let that promise go unheeded. Let people know you trust them and that they can play a serious role in your life, even if -- especially if -- that means being a shoulder to cry on.

5. Be vulnerable. Only after a whole semester of evening chats that became increasingly personal did one of my close friends share with me that he was in a relationship with another guy. His openness and vulnerability changed our friendship for the better. Now we're looking forward to getting to know and support one another even more, and it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't taken a risk.

6. Close relationships and meaningful relationships are not mutually inclusive. You don't have to see someone all the time for them to give your life new meaning. A one-time conversation with a former stranger can shed a whole sun's worth of new light on your existing beliefs. That doesn't mean you two are automatically besties, but that doesn't mean your relationship is meaningless either.

As freshmen, we can feel lost as we make sense of college life. Even so, while we navigate the storm of collegiate academics and extracurricular activities, we can still build relationships that will provide the same feelings of comfort, security, and joy we had in the past. We just need to learn the different sources those feelings can come from and how to find them.

That way, the next time we call our friends 2000+ miles away, or see them face to face after a long first four months of college, we can say, "I missed you, but I'm not alone anymore."