One of the things that happens in college (especially in the later years) is you start to realize the difference between friends and acquaintances. At least I think the people who successfully make it through college do. You realize that you had a lot more acquaintances in high school than you did actual friends. You realize you hung out with some people in the dorms, not because you were great friends, but because you both liked to play video games and they were right down the hall.
That’s not to say friendships haven’t been formed this way. You’ll find out the next year when you move off campus and they move off campus out of walking distance from where you moved… and either you built a meaningful enough relationship to make the effort to stay in touch, or you didn’t.
If you didn’t, you’ll come to a few realizations on why you don’t hangout anymore: you’ll probably realize that neither of you ever really learned about each other’s families. You didn’t ever talk about a truly difficult time in your life. And though there’s probably more, the last one I’m adding to this list is the epiphany I’ve had about friendships in the last month— you’ll realize that you hardly ever– if not never– disagreed with each other.
The more I think about it, the more it rings truth. Good relationships are built on honesty right? So let’s be honest: we humans disagree on things constantly; most of the time we’re simply too frightened to voice our disagreement, but tell ourselves we’re just being polite.
Take my friend David for example—he is the friend at college I’d say I just flat out have the most in common with: we’re both the youngest children of big families. We’ve both lost a parent at a young age. We both like sports and competing. We both have hauntingly similar taste in music (even the stuff we listened to in high school when we didn’t know each other). We both like good beer and cocktails, economically feasible fashion and have similar approaches to the way we approach dating. Most importantly we both have the same beliefs about Jesus.
Yet even with all that in common, it seems like David and I have disagreements all, the, time! Sure we both like the same music, but we gripe about which song in particular should be played during a particular mood and moment.
David and I didn’t start seriously hanging out till last semester, yet he’s become one of my closest companions, and will be one my lasting friends from college. Why? Because we can be honest with each other. We can disagree. We know each other’s major character flaws (and everyone, everyone has major character flaws) and we feel comfortable calling those flaws out when they’re out of control.
You see, I think my generation, in the culture we grew up in, thinks that good friends live their own lives and only help each other up when the other is hurting. I’ve definitely done and thought this. And though the intentions are good, I don’t think it makes for a truly good friendship.
In college and your mid-twenties especially, it’s hard to flourish if you live separate lives. You have to do life together. It’s a scary, but exhilarating truth that in college, your friends really become your family. It’s a unique opportunity in your life, because it’s the time in between your actual families.
So is it better to have friends/family that will warn you when you’re going down a road that will end up in you hurting yourself and others, or to have a friend that will stand by and watch you go down that road, and then be there to tell you everything will be alright when you get to the end of it and you’re not alright?
Why is marriage the most intimate human relationship we have? Because it holds you accountable. You have to work through disagreements. You constantly have to sacrifice your selfish desires for the greater good of your relationship. I know this not because I’m married, but because I’ve been around good marriages (my parents and my siblings).
The same goes for a good friendship. My friend Brendon—who happens to co-administer this website with me—is a lock to be in my wedding party. The reason I have such confidence in that is because when we have to, we will have the tough conversation. We’re planning on moving to Portland next year to try and make a living as writers.
But over Christmas break, as we drove back from Denver after our New Years fun, Brendon confronted me on some of my deepest issues—mainly my desire for life to be all fun all the time, even if it came before a time when I needed to be more practical and disciplined.
Neither of us our confrontational people, so I know the last thing he wanted to tell me was that if we were going to go out in the world together next year, I was going to have to make a few major changes in my life.
It was the last thing he wanted to tell me, and it was the last thing I wanted to hear. But the conversation was necessary for a couple reasons: One, it was what I needed to hear for the benefit of my overall long-term happiness—and though I didn’t want to hear it, I did, because I knew Brendon was coming from a place of love. Two, if we hadn’t talked through the issue, it would’ve come up in our apartment in Portland and it would’ve been a bigger, stinkier, angrier issue that might have seriously jeopardized our friendship.
So I’d encourage you to take stock of the friendships/acquaintances in your life. Are there tough conversations you need to have with a person you consider a close friend? Are there acquaintances you’d like to become friends with and you need to make the effort to have a few vulnerable, breakthrough conversations? Are their relationships in your life that are meaningless and unproductive? Do you need to do the unpleasant, but beneficial thing and cut them out of your life?
Don’t make snap-decisions about these questions. Reflect on them, pray about them, think about what you really want to say before you have the hard talk. Ask God for courage if you’re into that sort of thing. We all have beautiful, but incomplete personalities, (only Jesus’ had the whole package) and they all need to be balanced out with honest, sometimes polar-opposite viewpoints. It’s why God gave us this unexplainable desire to not be alone. To crave community. He wants us to do life together. To be accountable to each other in order to find his perfect balance of truth and grace.