Campus Life

On sororities and the force of friendships

How I realized that choosing people is natural

I remember our first meeting. I felt a quiet kind of excitement — the same sort of emotion you have while watching a newborn turtle crawl towards the ocean in a nature documentary, and you root for the little guy, though they’re just an infant against the hugeness of the world. As I looked around McCormick’s east penthouse, at all the faces I didn’t know, I felt as though we were all crawling toward the ocean together, and I hoped we would make it.

Over time, these strangers would become my friends. We would find ourselves making (and eating) mountains of dumplings, playing aggressive rounds of Bananagrams, watching sappy movies, laughing, stressing, and demolishing chicken nuggets together. I couldn’t have foreseen this at our first meeting, though. If I had, my excitement would not have been so hushed.

Before I met this group of wonderful people, I was wary of “forced” communities. I defined this term as any group that threw strangers together under the premise of friendship — the people would bond, but in what I thought was a simulated way. Examples included frats, sororities, and so on.

I didn’t understand the mechanics of a community that was built with the premise of future rapport. Wasn’t that just faking until the pretense felt real, done at the risk of pretending forever? I looked sideways at those communities, so I avoided that part of campus life. I loved the friends I’d made already; I loved the closeness I felt with my floormates in my dorm. I was happy enough.

Yet, at the same time, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of incredible people at MIT. There were all these amazing peers that passed me every day, each a treasure trove of quirks, talents, and interesting thoughts. I felt that each person who passed me by was an open door slamming shut. On top of all this, those “forced” communities seemed to be doing just fine, and they were opening those doors to each other when I could not. I struggled to understand how.

As a result, when one of my close friends invited me to take part in the group she was helping to start — a sorority under MIT’s interfraternity council — I was dubious but open to the idea. This is how I found myself in McCormick’s east penthouse, seated on a couch by the window and thinking about baby turtles. Though I felt awkward at our meetings at first, I enjoyed talking with other members of the group each week. We came to know each other better, and I came to understand the specialness of a “forced” community.

When one of our sisters starred in two amazing plays, many of us went to both and cheered her on. When another member returned to meetings after a long period of stress and work, we welcomed her to the table as though she had never been absent. When we watched Clueless and screamed at the TV together, I felt connected by our shared affection for young Paul Rudd.

Having a group full of people I like and care about, who like and care about me, has made me appreciate the importance of intentional friendship. I couldn’t have foreseen these relationships, but I am now part of a supportive bunch of smart, weird (in the best way), funny, and kind people. I was mistaken before. A community is not forced. A community is chosen. Friends don’t just happen to us naturally in the way I’d previously imagined. Rather, friends choose each other. I’m glad I decided to choose this community, that we decided to choose one another. If we had to start over, I’m sure we’d all make the same choice, together.