Campus Life advice

Friendship formation fears

Auntie Matter on new beginnings and big transitions

If you have questions for Auntie Matter, please submit them at Questions have been edited for length, clarity, and content.

Dear Auntie Matter,

I want to join some clubs, but I’m worried about overcommitting and I’m also shy about just walking into the clubs. Should I join something my first semester or wait until I am a little more settled? How do I overcome the shyness?

— Fearful Frosh

Dear Auntie Matter,

I’m a senior and I’m really nervous because I’ll be in different cities than all my friends next year. What do I do?

— Senior, Soon Solo

Dear Frosh and Senior,

The advice Auntie would give to either of you individually is obvious and, frankly, cliche. Frosh, go out of your comfort zone and join some clubs. You can quit one or two later if you overcommit. It will be okay. Senior, learn to use a telephone, but also trust that you will make new friends wherever you relocate. Join local interest groups or sports leagues, talk to people in coffee shops, or maybe even try apps for finding friends. Be open to new things and people.

Auntie writes to you together because of the parallels in your situations. You both face major changes in your lives and new scenarios you aren’t sure how to navigate. The only way to get through is to keep moving forward. If you allow yourself to be paralyzed by dread, you won’t join any clubs and you won’t make new friends. You need to introduce yourself bravely to new people and embrace the unfamiliar for a time until you can create a new life for yourself, whether you’re just starting college or you’re venturing into real adult life.  

The truth in a larger sense is that we worry about things we can’t control or predict. We cannot control or predict how our friendships will change, or how they will form, or how we will adapt to a new environment. It is difficult to accept that you do not have full control over whether or not you get something you desperately want, be it friendship, love, or anything else. Auntie takes seriously the pain this sort of anxiety can cause, yet it is still better to go through life knowing this sort of deep yearning than to go without it. Your yearning is a demonstration of something characteristically human within you, something that connects you to everyone who has ever wanted a friend. Though wanting the good things is painful, it is still preferable to not knowing what the good things are. In your case, even though you cannot control your situation, the only way you will have a chance at a desirable outcome is to be proactive. Even if it goes terribly, you will have done your best, which is the only thing you can ever do.

Dear Auntie Matter,

I met this group of people I want to make friends with, but every time I hang out with them I feel like I’m always on the edge and don’t really belong there. What should I do?

— Waving through a Window

Dear Waving,

Auntie sees three possibilities here: this group is deliberately causing you discomfort, you need to allow time to become better friends with them, or you just don’t click with the group.

Your course of action if the group is deliberately causing you discomfort is fairly clear. You should leave. The difficult part is determining whether or not they are doing so. In most cases, you should assume they are not trying to make you uncomfortable, as it is the least likely of the three possibilities mentioned above, but if they do things like ceasing to talk when you enter or talking about you behind your back, you might want to bail.

Another possibility is that it can take time to get to know a new group of friends. Auntie suspects that you are a frosh, and it can be doubly difficult in that case. You are meeting many new people, and you are likely far away from most people that you knew before. It can take several months or more to develop entirely new circles of friends.

Lastly, you do not have to click with every group. Even if you thought they were cool initially, they might not actually have that much in common with you. This group was but one proverbial school of fish; there are more in the sea.

As in all things, Auntie believes that you will be okay. There are many people at MIT and beyond to befriend. Dear letter-writer, worry not what the outcome of this specific friend group will be. You will find your place here or elsewhere, or you will die alone. Either way, it will all be over in about 80 years. Give or take.