Let’s Talk About It: Why Friendship is Special but So Complicated
Cait & Friends Episode #1: A discussion with my friend, April Ye about childhood vs. college friendships, what makes a good friend, and more
Series Intro: Every week or two, I will be chatting with one of my close friends, podcast-style to get their refreshing take on a relevant topic. Topics will focus on 5 main areas: identity, career, health, relationships, and current news. Occasionally, the friend will be anonymized. Most of my friends are either still in college or fresh grads (~ages 19–25), so this is meant to give insight into important aspects of our lives. The conversations are transcribed, edited for clarity, but unfiltered.
This week’s topic: Relationships, specifically friendships
A little on April: April and I have been friends for 12 years, since 4th grade at our small private school. We went to different high schools and attend different colleges but are always in touch. April’s a rising senior at Cornell majoring in CS, is a career powerhouse (FB SWE, quant trading, & law?!), and keeps me honest. She’s also incredibly reliable and fun.
What friendship means to us:
Caitlin: Starting off in the deep end straight away, what do you think is the meaning of friendship?
April: The meaning of friendship depends, because there is the superficial context where the person’s your friend but it can mean anything from a classmate to your most trusted homework study buddy. For me, when I truly consider someone my friend, it’s someone I can tell my secrets to and actually rely on. Usually it falls to two to three people max.
Caitlin: For me, I think the meaning has been how much it adds to our lives. From reading Lydia Denworth’s book Friendship, I know how much seeing a friend even among animals can biologically reduce stress levels, and I just cannot imagine my life without my friends. I am wondering what makes it so people have different standards for friends. I know that for some people, like me, it’s easy to trust 15 or 20 people but also for a lot of people, they only trust one or two. I guess it depends on your personality and your own definition.
“There is chemistry in friendship as there is in romantic relationships. We find it rewarding to learn that others like us and agree with us, and we tend to respond by liking those people back.”
-Lydia Denworth in her book Friendship
Why some friendships are stronger:
Caitlin: Why do you think we’ve been friends for as long as we have?
April: What you can’t skip over is how proactive you have been. [laughs] It’s part of your personality.
Caitlin: I guess it is rare though for us to have gone through our circumstances and still be friends. For a lot of childhood friends, they keep in contact because their parents also know each other or are family friends, which we do not have. I have also lost contact with a lot of other people.
Do you think there is some reason that some friendships last longer?
April: I think so. Sometimes I think friendships can grow stronger when you are not necessarily together all the time, because every time you regroup, you have more to discuss and share in your lives.
What causes us not to drift is we are on the same page about a lot of values.
You can have a lot of different experiences but our end goal, for example we are both career-driven, is similar. We can talk about that. We both have the same interests and want to better ourselves.
Caitlin: What’s interesting about that though is that in high school or even middle school we definitely were not talking about that.
April: Sometimes it’s the vibe. Some things are unspoken and you just gravitate towards each other.
Caitlin: I agree, because we can talk about anything. Anything from shopping, stocks, travel, or even things we cannot technically relate to each other on. I’ll tell you about my latest meditation, which you do not do. The important thing is I can still tell you about it.
April: If you agree on the same values (we’re in the same range between being idealistic and practical), that’s why no matter what we talk about, we know we are on the same wavelength. That’s what is needed to progress beyond being superficial friends.
Caitlin: Switching a bit, there were definitely periods of time over the years when we did not talk much because we got busy. I wonder if part of the reason we are still close is that our summers and the cities we did our internships in aligned. But I do remember in high school, we got to the point after we finally could drive on our own, we would go to each other’s schools during lunch.
“Friendship has real power for kids. These are really very, very close and emotionally intimate relationships. And even if that particular relationship doesn’t last it has ramifications on subsequent relationships.”
— Lydia Denworth
Maybe in a friendship, someone has to take that extra step, and those extra steps get easier each time.
We also have quite a few mutual childhood friends from our private school. A lot of them, like us, are also career-driven. Why are we not as close to them as between us?
April: You are definitely closer to them than I am, which can be attributed to your pro-activeness and the strength of our friendships while we were in school. At the end of middle school, I was looking forward to the next chapter so it was easy for me to go forward without looking too much back. From what I have been observing, a lot of them are also passive like me. If no one reaches out, then you lose touch.
How we pick our friends:
Caitlin: I know we talk a lot about values, and for some people, values like religion or shared experiences like a similar upbringing (like ours of being Asian American girls raised in the Bay Area) make it easier to be friends.
Is there one quality at the end of the day that is most important for two people to be friends?
April: It’s often something intangible — a “click.” The click is the mutual instant liking of each other. But overall, the friendship is a combination of the click and all the other factors, like your values, background, etc.
Ever since going to college, there have been two types of friendships.
One is where you are in the same field and clubs, essentially out of convenience. That group has people who you seek help from and friendships can develop from that initial superficial motive. The second is you are not in the same field and you are purely bonding because you like each other. If you are in the same major, you might feel like you have to tip toe around each other.
Caitlin: I’m unsure why the major matters so much. In real friendships, shouldn’t you be genuinely happy for their successes even if you are in the same major? I feel like I would be happy if I consider them my friend.
April: Especially when you have only met 1–2 years in college, you naturally won’t be genuinely happy for someone, unless they are not in a competing field. It is a lot easier for me to be happy for someone going for a med school interview than someone who got a Google offer when I did not. This is definitely prevalent among a lot of college students.
Caitlin: I can definitely see that. Back to the question of the qualities we look for in friends, this is something I have thought about quite a bit lately. I have diverse friend groups, and I do wonder why I vibe with certain people who seem to be very different. I think the people I vibe with are more open and vulnerable about their faults. I definitely look for genuineness.
It goes both ways — I don’t like to pretend to be someone I’m not. I reach out because I genuinely care about my friends. If someone presents an opportunity where I can help, I will take that extra step even if I’m busy to help them.
April: What makes me think this person is a friend and not an acquaintance is if they are dependable or loyal. I want to know for sure they will not be bad-talking me behind my back. I look for in people who I also try to be. Not to toot my horn too much, but I think that I am very loyal. (Caitlin agrees)
Caitlin: I almost forgot about the not bad-talking when you’re not around because it feels very high school to me but in college and throughout, is something I still see frequently in “friendships.” I’d like to think anyone I consider close at least thinks pretty highly of me. For me, mutual respect is a first step, along with being trustworthy and reliable. It’s similar to a romantic relationship.
What role do friendships play / Why should we care:
Caitlin: From what I see in our society, friendships are not valued as much as romantic relationships or family. It explains why some people disappear into their romantic relationships.
What do you think is the importance of friendships? Do you think they are more important now that we are in college than before?
April: It’s a case by case basis. For me personally growing up, friendships were a huge thing for me in middle and high school. High school me felt like I needed to be a social butterfly to survive and wanted to be seen with a clique. Friendship was important to me then because it helped me root myself in high school society. After I moved into college, my true instincts for friendship kicked in. I had to see who I vibed with. In college, people move quickly into different parts of their lives and naturally drift away. With people you meet at internships, you can also rebrand and create a new version of yourself.
Caitlin: It almost feels like the reverse for me. In high school, I never felt like I needed to be seen with one group for social stability, because I honestly could not vibe with all 20 people in any of the groups. In college, my friendships came mostly from clubs so I had large friend groups, at least my first two years. They became really important for me to find out what I wanted to do and who I could be.
With the impending doom of having to make money for ourselves, we just have so much more on our plates now. Letting go of some friendships is a lot less dramatic now. We only have so much energy to invest.
“For most of us, friendships are voluntary, personal, positive, and persistent, and they usually assume some measure of equality. Although friendship can encompass betrayal, jealousy, and other negative emotions, if we call a spouse or relative a friend, we do so to signal the quality of that relationship, its extra special character.”
— Lydia Denworth
Why it is harder to make friends as adults:
Caitlin: It will be harder to make friends later on in our adult lives. Everyone has a lot more going on. This is something I’m scared about especially because I’m moving to a new city post-grad, as you know. It is a lot less of people’s focus to make friends. When you’re little and even when you are in college, one of your main goals is to make friends. That is why people are more open to meeting each other.
April: It is true. It’s sad but as we grow older, we have more things going on, like our career becoming a number one priority. A lot of people make friends for ulterior motives. I think our childhood motive to make friends is a lot more pure, like who you want to play with.
Caitlin: It is also interesting that when we are younger, I see a lot of us have more same gender friends, but in college that tends to even out, at least in my experience. I remember reading in Denworth’s book about how shifts in friendship with age are called “turnings” of life. In our twenties, friends are really important but then between ages 30–50 when friendships can become mismatched with different life priorities, friendships fall away more.
Why friendship is special & worth it:
April: Every single friend is special, even if you are no longer friends with them. Every person has helped shape the way your life has been up until this point.
There is no cookie cutter formula for why you became friends with someone.
Maybe you clicked because you have the same background, proximity, or another factor. And then you are friends until this day, sharing your perspectives on your lives. Bottom line: talking to each other and being in each other lives makes you happy, and that’s what friendships are about.
Caitlin: It really is special to think back about how I met each person and how we became friends. My long-lasting friendships have shown me that even if you have seen me at my worst, we have still supported each other through all of those bad times. And that we had some really good times.
Friendships are relationships almost everyone has in their lives. At some point, friends feel like family. Even more than that, I feel like I can talk about things with friends I cannot even talk about with my family. So it makes it that much more important. Good friendships really do make life better and more worthwhile.
Thank you to my friend for sharing her thoughts, and to all my friends for being there for me. Next Cait & Friends: media and beauty.