Occasionally, in our efforts to be students, we forget to be friends. In a place as stressful as Princeton, we surround ourselves with difficult classes, meaningful extracurriculars, and abundant internship applications. But, beneath it all, so many people on campus have turned to me and said that they feel as if they haven’t really set aside time for their friends this year. One friend put it well when she said that “friendships are the one extracurricular they haven’t really focused on.”
We’ve probably had a friend text us to come have dinner, see a movie, or go to a show. And we’ve stared at the pile of work next to us and politely declined. It certainly doesn’t make us feel like good friends — but they’ll understand, right? Of course they will. A good friend understands that you’re up to your ears in work and that you’ll come next time. You’ll definitely come next time. But will you, really?
Chances are you’ll think about it. But the workload doesn’t change, and you’ll probably be too busy next time. We find ourselves in this cycle of “friendship” — where we continually promise each other to catch up and then don’t. In this kind of “friendship,” neither party feels valued.
Friendship has proven physical benefits. It has been linked to lower blood pressure later in life, and healthier weight among adolescents. Conversely, a lack of friends (social isolation) is associated with a 30% risk of early death. It’s even believed that socially integrated teens have stronger cardiovascular systems. And this is all in addition to the more obvious emotional benefits that come with having a friend: stress relief, social support, and so on.
Often, friendships are what you take with you out of college — more so, even, than classes and grades. The hope is always that the people you build relationships with are those who will follow you throughout your life. Knowing this, why do we neglect those people in favor of the grades and letters of recommendation which won’t help us out during breakups, be at our weddings, and have lunch with us when we need to see a friendly smile?
If an individual matters to you, make time for them. This is easier said than done, but having a meal — one where you really pay attention to what they say and don’t look at your watch every ten minutes — is a compromise you might consider making. Watching a movie together occasionally is a reasonable thing to do together, and isn’t considered procrastinating, even if you’ve done some work ahead of time and get to spend quality time with your friend.
There’s definitely a balance to be struck; almost no one can be as social they would like. In an effort to be more social earlier this semester, I was having very long lunches and dinners with friends every day and found myself drained. I was going to everyone’s events and inviting everyone over to my room to chat. It was too much; I couldn’t be everyone’s friend all the time. I had to be a student, too.
That said, quality time doesn’t even have to be limited to the non-academic; part of the beauty of collaboration is that you have the opportunity to work with people whom you like while lessening your workload. Working on problem sets with friends is often the only thing that makes work tolerable; or, more broadly, doing homework with friends is often the only thing that makes academic life itself tolerable.
If I want to retain the friendships I’ve already worked so hard to create, there are choices I have to make: to eat a quick lunch alone, or spend time with someone who ostensibly cares about and wants to spend with me? To do my problem sets alone, or work with a classmate? We each have to create our own work-social life balance and must then make our own decisions about how social integration and interaction plays a role in our lives. But we must also remember that friendship, if fostered and nurtured, will help keep us emotionally and physically healthy for years to come.
Leora Eisenberg is a sophomore from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.