Stocker: Friendships are as valuable as degrees


Alexi Stocker, Columnist

As we hurtle toward the end of the academic year, each day flying by faster and faster, members of the class of 2016 chatter about how much we’ll miss our friends, our feelings about leaving Northwestern, and our hopes and fears for the future.

No matter how we feel about leaving NU, one thing remains true for just about every member of the class of 2016: Making close friends becomes a lot harder after college. Sociologists agree there are three crucial conditions for making close friends, many of which vanish once we leave college: proximity, repeated unplanned interactions and openness on the part of both parties. No matter where we’re heading after graduation — even graduate or professional school — those three categories are highly unlikely to be met again. Sure, we’ll have colleagues we can grab a drink with after work and casual friends we see on a regular basis, but the development of close friendships will become more difficult after college.

Close friendships are incredibly important. Strong interpersonal relationships are beneficial for mental and physical health. Close friends give us a sense of purpose and belonging, make us happier, increase our self-confidence and self-worth, provide support in times of personal crisis and often influence us in positive ways. Sadly, a growing percentage of American adults don’t have any close friends. Adults may have plenty of acquaintances and contacts, but genuine friendship falls by the wayside as we age.

The friendships we developed here at NU matter. College is a period of rapid personal growth and development, and our friends have been a part of our journeys into early adulthood. Many of my closest friends have inspired, influenced and guided me as I have grown. Our closest friends know us better than anybody else, largely because they’ve been with us as we’ve developed and changed.

What does it take to maintain strong friendships? Intensity of effort matters. We need to do more than occasionally text and message our friends. Regular phone calls, Skype sessions and in-person conversations are crucial for maintaining the openness, empathy and compassion that define genuinely strong friendships. Phone calls and Skype sessions are a greater time commitment than electronic messaging. They require coordinating busy schedules and actively setting aside time for our friends. Planning dinner or drinks with friends in the same city still carries the burden of figuring out transportation and coordinating schedules. Long workdays and heavy professional and graduate school course loads leave us tired at the end of each day, sapping motivation to meet our friends for an event or a relaxed evening out.

Traveling to visit friends, or hosting friends in our homes, is an even bigger commitment. We put countless other commitments on hold to spend time with a visiting friend, or spend money on bus, train or air travel to make the trip to someone else’s home. Simply finding or making time for an open weekend is difficult enough, not to mention the real financial costs of such visits.

I personally use, and suggest, an Excel spreadsheet for organizing friendships. It may not be difficult to keep in touch with our five to 10 closest friends at first, but as working weeks fly by we easily forget when we last spoke to them. Centralizing such data allows us to better manage our friendships. It may sound strange, and perhaps a little cold and calculated, but it works.

Committing to our friends requires effort. No matter how much we enjoy our friends’ company, no matter how much we love them, the realities of life after NU set in, and a myriad distractions take over our lives. Close friendships are a source of purpose, self-confidence, stability and happiness in our lives. As we move forward, let’s keep in touch. As life changes, remember that the friendships we made are as or more valuable than the degrees we earned.

Alexi Stocker is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.