Our needs for social interaction, however, can be fraught with doubt, anxiety, depression, and awkwardness. We may want to hang out with someone, but who do we ask? How do we ask? Is it bad that I only have one or two friends? How come I am not as popular as my peers, who seem to have crowds of friends? First, I want to discuss the Friendship Triangle, and then break down this topic by age group, as age, situation, and maturity play a large role in how we interact with and make friends.
What is a friend?
Friendship is a broad term to describe differing levels of [platonic] intimacy, from the person you just met to your best friend you’ve known for years. The people on the street you smile at are not friends, but are your classmates? Where is the line drawn? In the diagram below, we see that it takes time and trust to actually be considered a true friend. As you move up the triangle, the number next to how many of each you have decreases. As much as we might want to be popular or look at the kids in class with envy who seem to always be making plans, it is simply unrealistic to expect to have more than ten friends. A friend is someone who you make plans with outside of school, who you trust to a certain level, who you’ve known for a while. The people at school who seem to have fifty friends really do not have fifty friends by definition of the friend, and if they do, it would be near impossible to actually be close to all of them. However, not having ten friends does not mean you are less than those who do. This series is about comparing ourselves to others, afterall. I can say that even as a neurotypical lass, I never had more than five or six true friends, and one best friend. I had quite a few acquaintances, sure, and some that I still talk to a few years later, but in the nature of acquaintances, as we grow apart and move on, I find myself acquiring new acquaintances from my new classes or work. I am an introvert and have social anxiety, so it often takes me a while to open up and make these friends and acquaintances when I change schools (high school to university), or jobs, or locations. That is completely natural.
In elementary school, kids are still very young and developing. Empathy and social adeptness develop the older you get, so you get situations where kids have no friends, a ton of friends, or encounter a lot of bullying. It is both easy and rough-- you’re still a bit too young to make the kinds of deep friendships that occur later on, but you, along with your peers, are starting to practice.
Puberty typically starts around middle school, making it (typically) a hard time for everyone. School is just starting to be more serious, but you are meeting more people than you knew before, as each hour is a new set of students. This is where the idea of popularity really starts to develop, but oftentimes this has no direct translation to life outside of K-12.
High school is both like and very unlike what is caricatured in the media. People are starting to get older and more focused on school, and are starting to think about who they are and might want to be. High school is where we can get “cliques” (band kids, athletes, AP/IB kids, etc). As you develop your style and interests, you can start joining groups or making friends based on interests. Who is considered the most popular or coolest person, however, can differ based on your school culture. For me, it was whoever was in the running for highest GPA/ranking were the names most gossiped about and spread; for some it is who is doing drugs, who is having sex, who is the “prettiest.” It can be very easy to be caught up in wanting others to like you by changing to fit these characteristics, but once those four years are up and you move to college or the workforce, these things no longer matter, and if you put too much stock into it, you can find yourself feeling lost and unhappy.
Here we see how futile being “popular” really is-- there are simply too many people. It becomes more important to make actual connections, to find out who you are and what kind of person you get along best with. It can start out with only knowing a roommate, but the more you become active in clubs, jobs, class, etc., the more people with similar interests you can meet.
It can be hard to make friends when you are no longer surrounded by 20+ people in one or more classrooms every day. It really becomes important to put yourself out there to be connected to others. Join the groups you are interested in, engage on social media, and simply saying hi to coworkers can help build friendships.
Written by Katy Evans