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What It’s Really Like – Not Making Close Friends at University

When looking for a university, I feel like every one uses the same set of buzzwords in order to entice you into studying with them.

“Great Nightlife”

“X% were satisfied with their university experience”

“Employable skills and experience”

“Low crime rate”

And one of the most common ones:

“In the first week here, you’ll probably meet your friends for life!”

And looking on social media, it seems true in most places. People in university, be it flatmates, classmates, or the random people you met during freshers week, seem to form little groups and spend all their time together. They go to class, get lunch everyday, do university activities together, and go on nights out every week.

Girl on hilltop looking out to the sea, Isle of Skye, Scotland.

But me? In freshers year, I hardly went out. I ate lunch alone most days. I never settled into one particular group and the closest thing I had to “friends for life”, I cut off in my second year. As I’ve noticed a big trend of bloggers posting about their lack of a “girl group” or “squad”, I wanted to get involved. Because at uni, you’re under so much pressure to have a big group of friends to go out partying with, sit with in lectures, and spend all your spare time tagging in Facebook memes.

And I didn’t really do any of that.

Don’t get me wrong, things could’ve gone very differently. I’ve tried 101 times to write up my emotional abuse experience, and it was at the hands of my “best friend” that I made at university. One day, I’ll find the right words that make me feel stronger, not like I’m right back there, screaming in frustration at my treatment. But one big sign of emotional abuse is becoming increasingly reliant on your abuser, because they convince you that no one else cares or is good enough for you.

In first year, I started with a wide circle of friends. But despite being older than most people (I started at the age of 22), I was very naive. I wanted to please everyone. So I let people become increasingly reliant on me, but only when they needed me. When I wasn’t needed, I was largely ignored. Those that didn’t ignore me, didn’t come to my aid when my relationship started falling apart, and my mental health started suffering. One “friend” eventually made up a whole bunch of lies, claimed I’d bullied her, and went on a social media rant about how awful I was before dropping out to move nearer to the girlfriend she’d met online a few months prior. Basically, I was her excuse to leave. Through that, all the mutual friends we had took her side, and without giving me a chance to explain that I’d literally done nothing, abandoned me without a word. So, safe to say, I put up walls and stopped trusting people. A housemate that I quite close to was desperate to have a huge group of popular friends, and eventually ditched me for another group of people, before returning to cry to me about how awful they were when that went wrong. She then ditched me for the next group. My last good friend was my abuser. She convinced me I was too old to hang around with the 18 year old’s on my course, and that they didn’t take it as seriously as me. She talked me out of social gatherings, and slagged off anyone I made friends with that wasn’t her. So by the end of freshers, I had one friend who had seriously isolated me, and no one else.

Girl in pink jacket walking away from camera

In second year, my one remaining friend introduced me to her friends, and I ended up included in what I thought was my group of “friends for life”. We had a group chat, we hung out together, and we went out on nights out together. I didn’t notice until a few months later that everything revolved around the one friend – my abuser, who you could definitely define as the ringleader. I was the only one in that group that didn’t study history (or was a partner of someone who did), and for that I was pushed aside. My workloads were criticised, despite studying a science which demanded a lot more effort and contact time and had far more deadlines, and my achievements were belittled. A second group chat was started, which I wasn’t in, and I discovered that the ringleader of the group had been slagging me off non-stop to everyone else. The group became about knowing everyone’s business, and when one of my “friends” made a passing remark about my sex life that I had told one the other girls in confidence, I found out secrets were nothing more than darts to be used to keep everyone in line. Eventually, the abuse of the ringleader became too much and I left, cutting them all off. I have no regrets about that, but suddenly, I was alone.

Luckily, I did have my boyfriend. The damage of the experience went a lot deeper than I could put into words, and still affects me today, two years later. But throughout 3rd year I was completely alone. I had one good friend that I’d made in second year, but we lost contact as our classes began to diverge. I also had a sports club I threw myself into. But I never went out unless Tom and I went to the pub, and I sat in lectures alone. Tom and I had moved in together by this point, and although I didn’t miss having female flatmates, I did feel pretty lonely. Everyone else I knew had a solid group of friends, and I felt like it was too late to get involved, not to mention I had pretty thick walls up thanks to past experiences. So basically, I felt like a failure.

Girl on bench looking into the distance

At the end of 3rd year, everyone started planning for their dissertation, and I started speaking more to the girls in the same group as me. But even though I got on with them, and considered them friends, I never made a solid friendship with them or spent time with them outside of dissertation meetings. It didn’t help they were already part of a solid group. I still remember one painful experience where they spent an hour planning a ski trip, and didn’t even ask me if I skied. It was abundantly obvious I wasn’t part of the clique, and therefore I wasn’t invited. I put it down to a social faux par. But still, it hurt.

It wasn’t until the second term of 4th year I started to re-make friends. I finally made one close friend, and reconnected with a friend I’d made in first year on a different course. I started speaking more to other people on my course and as the marine biology people ended up in more classes specific to their interests, I found a group to sit with. But I’m not that close to any of them, and as uni finished, I haven’t really spoken to them since. I still feel like I’ve failed. But I’m 26 now. I have a select group of people that I’ve met throughout my life, be it from school, jobs I’ve worked, university, blogging, or through other people. I deal with virtually no drama, I’m super close to my family, and I have a very healthy relationship with a man that loves and respects me. I’m older now, I more mature and know I don’t need a “Sex in the City” or “Friends” esque clique to get by. I have friends I rely on that I only speak to once every couple of months. I have people I speak to regularly that I don’t see as often as I’d like to. I don’t have a “squad” anymore. And I guess I’m okay with that.

In life, and particularly when you’re young, the focus seems to be on having a big group of friends and seeming “cool”. I’ve had people shocked to the core when I admitted I sat in lectures alone, claiming a lecture wasn’t worth going to if you weren’t there to socialise. But a lecture is always worth going to. After all, they exist as a teaching tool. University is primarily about getting a degree. And if you make friends, great! But if not, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. No matter how hard society pushes on you that a social life is more important than anything else at that point.

I sometimes feel lonely. But there’s always a fresh start. Uni ends. You do a masters or you get a job. you find yourself surrounded by new people. Jobs change over time. People come and go. I do believe there’s a lesson to be learned from everyone you meet. I’m only leaving university with a handful of close friends, and we’re all moving on to different places now. Maybe I’ll still speak to them in five years. Maybe I won’t. But I’m not going to let that define me. They’ll always be people coming and going from your life. You drift apart, you lose touch. Life happens. Leaving one chapter without any specific friends from it making it to the next doesn’t mean I’ll never have friends again. Tomorrow’s another day. And I’ll welcome it with open arms.

Are you still in contact with university friends? Or did you leave uni with a very small handful of friendships?

Rachel

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2 Comments

  1. August 29, 2018 / 7:55 pm

    I totally know what you mean by this! I have one uni friend who I still stay in touch with quite a lot and I never had the big group of friends. I had about 4 good friends at uni, I wasn’t part of the “big” crowd.

    • September 3, 2018 / 9:18 am

      Thank you for your comment! You definitely don’t need to be part of the big crowd to enjoy university. I really wanted to illustrate that with this post.

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