I didn’t have many friends in elementary school. Back then, I was probably too oblivious to actually come to this realization. I enjoyed things like learning all of the words to “Gangnam Style” on the swing set outside of Ms. Long’s classroom, or creating the most elaborate home possible for my pet silkworm out of an old sour cream container.
My parents urged me to consider switching schools between fifth and sixth grade. To this day, I still don’t have a concrete answer as to where this urge came from. They probably realized what I didn’t: I had few friends and few extracurricular activities that gave my school life purpose outside of an education.
Looking back, I was more than happy to shake the constant pill-bug-hunting and acorn-collecting recesses that did little to spruce up my monotonous weekdays.
The new school I was starting at was located nearly 20 miles away from my house, which turned into a 45-minute commute due to Silicon Valley’s rush hour, which often swallows around half of the day. While in the grand scheme of things this distance isn’t too far, the entrance into middle school felt more like 20 million miles away from my life back home.
At this age, social media posts featuring poorly filtered ice cream hangouts at Pinkberry regularly flooded my feed. This was the first time I became acutely aware of my lack of Pinkberry outings to the point of insecurity. Being tagged in a post was like being awarded a ribbon that represented social success.
But I found my footing in this new environment and eventually even made the leap from the tart taste of frozen yogurt to Great America invites and San Francisco excursions. I bounced between my early morning choir friends to my after school Model United Nations friends with ease. For the first time in forever, my life contained hastily scribbled birth dates within nearly each week of the calendar year.
I graduated high school with a diploma and an expletively titled iMessage group chat that lives on to this day. Featured in this text string, are, quite frankly, the only three people I still consider myself to be close with from my hometown. Whether they are busy with early morning crew practices on the Schuylkill River, trying to sell as many pastries at their local bakery as possible or learning how to handstand between classes, I know these people fit the definition of true friends.
Once college began, Thanksgivings and spring breaks back home were filled with talks about mismatched roommates, current classes and not much more. Looking back at the tumultuous seven years I spent at the small school nestled between horse country and a tech metropolis, names and faces that I once spent immeasurable amounts of time with had faded beyond recognition at these scant get-togethers.
These awkward-silence-filled lunches felt like painful business meetings — sparse small talk until the clock showed a glowing 60 minutes had passed by. An hour. A perfect amount of time to claim the two of us had caught up and could still be considered friends by the conventional term.
I’ve always associated the failure of friendships as a personal shortcoming, like I was somehow less of a human being because I couldn’t grasp on to deep bonds in every corner of my life.
After over a hundred Instagram exchanges at the conclusion of annual summer camps and five-minute conversations to kickstart my college experience in the Crossroads dining hall, I’ve settled on the fact that the ever-winding road of life only allows a couple of passengers to stick with you along the way.
On this metaphorical road, there are most certainly places to stop. These are the stops where we cross paths with other travelers who are able to help us craft memories and life experiences. But ultimately, we cannot stay at these intermittent intersections forever; life pushes us to get back into the car and step on the gas.
Once in a blue moon, though, one of those passengers will end up joining you in the car for a long while. Some will angrily exit, never to be seen again. Others will naturally come to a shaded rest stop and promise to call in the coming months. And very rarely, some will still be bumping to the same Taylor Swift tunes with you nearly a decade later.
College has provided me with the ability to gain distance from my childhood community for an extended period of time. By (almost literally) gazing down across the Bay at my hometown bubble from Berkeley’s Campanile, I am finally able to gain a more realistic perspective on the transient nature of most friendships.
I reflect on my poor attempts to stimulate conversation over lukewarm Udon noodle soup.
I reflect on my limp offer to get brunch next Sunday, which I know I will end up canceling.
And finally, I reflect on a key question that plants itself at the forefront of my thoughts after each one of these tepid interactions.
“Are we still friends?” No — but I’m okay with that.