Campus Life

The Mystery of Long-Term Friendships

What makes some last and others not?

Going back to Taiwan this summer was like going through old items in a drawer, brushing off dust from random objects from the past, and looking at old pictures. As mentioned in my previous article, the last time I was in Taiwan was when I was  thirteen. Although I drifted away from most of my friends in Taiwan, I reconnected with them because I couldn’t bear the idea of being in the same place as them without crossing paths. I didn’t want to have regrets before flying back to the U.S. To my knowledge, none of my childhood friends in the U.S. were nearby, and the only convenient place and time I could think of to meet them again was this summer in Taiwan.

I must admit, part of the reason I reconnected with so many of my former friends was out of boredom. While I had experiments to do and tasks to complete in the lab, I had a lot of free time, which meant trying to think of ways to occupy myself in the cubicle. It was around late July, and I realized that there were people I hadn’t contacted. I still had four weeks left in Taiwan, but the end of my stay felt much more tangible and real than before. As a result, I decided to draft emails for my former friends, offering to meet up in August.

Although writing emails to friends is not a difficult task per se, I questioned the point of reconnecting with them. The last time I contacted most of them was more than five years ago; so much time passed by over the years that I honestly did not have much in common with them anymore. I was worried that emailing them out of the blue would make things awkward. The nonzero chance of being ghosted also held me back. One side of me said to reconnect, while the other side of me said I wasn’t obligated to if I didn’t feel like it. These two conflicting sides of me weren’t wrong, as each had their point.

After overthinking the decision, I emailed my past friends, even the ones to whom I didn’t quite know what to say. I didn’t want to live in a world of hypotheticals, wondering what they would have said if I reconnected with them.

It was nice to reconnect with my friends via email, but I was sad that I couldn’t quite remember why I was such good friends with them in elementary school. Sure, I had some memories of our past, but none of them provided a clear reason as to why I connected with them. The more I think about this question, the more I wonder how I made the friends that I have, both past and present. It’s really not a hard question, yet there are some things I can’t quite pinpoint.

Ironically, reconnecting with my former friends this summer helped me come to terms with the fact that it is fine if friends drift away in the end. Becoming distant from my former friends didn’t mean that either of us was at fault, yet I couldn’t stop feeling slightly bad about it. I did nothing wrong, really. We simply grew apart and now have different lives. Of course, having a long-term friendship is valuable. At the same time, it is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain long-term friendships with everyone you meet.

Drifting away from people I have known for a long time isn’t that surprising, but I find the end of more recent friendships to be more troublesome. Reflecting on the short friendships I had at MIT saddens me, especially when I think about the first friends I made during my first few weeks on campus. I wonder why the spark I felt between some of my first MIT friends faded away so quickly. It probably has to do with the fact that we lived in different dorms, had different classes, and didn’t have much in common besides meeting each other at a REX event or being in the same FPOP. Saying hello was effortless and natural at first, but over time it felt more awkward and robotic. Eventually, there was no exchange of hellos.

Meanwhile,  I have maintained some long-term friendships (one for thirteen years, the other nine years) despite us moving away from each other. The contradiction made me wonder what made these friendships persist over time, while most of my other friendships ended after I moved elsewhere. I asked this question to a friend I met in sixth grade over a video call this summer. Although both of us couldn’t reach an exact conclusion, we agreed on some factors that made our friendship last to this day.

To begin with, there was a consistent effort from the both of us to keep in contact every so often. I don’t necessarily mean texting every day or every week. Even checking in on my friend once or twice a month was helpful, such as asking how her classes were going. By doing so, our conversations never felt out of place and the energy between us continued to flow. Our interests and personalities overlapped, but we still had our own quirks and differences. Perhaps it isn’t about how similar I am to someone, but rather how well I align with them emotionally.

Trying to making sense of successful friendships is futile, if not pointless. People are complex, relationships are complex, so why all the fuss in trying to assign weight to different factors like circumstance, fate, or logic? For every general statement I can make, there will always be some exceptions. At the end of the day, I think I can accept the fact that there will never be a definitive explanation for our long-lasting friendship we didn’t expect many years ago.

Luck doesn’t sound very scientific, but I believe that it plays a role in situations like these. Maybe fate is a more appropriate word, given that this friendship didn’t last out of sheer randomness. Despite this, I feel it is still luck that wins, as it contributed to every interaction over the years, eventually making the current state of our relationship the way that it is. In short, things just happened the way they turned out.

Even though I have maintained long-term friendships with a few people in my life, I don’t have a formula as to how I will keep in touch with high school and college friends, considering that people move, change jobs, and make new friends after graduation. Ten years later, some of my classmates may marry and have families. Besides obvious changes like these, some people adopt new lifestyles and beliefs, which may make them different from their former selves. Thinking about this nebulous future reminds me of a question my friend asked me and others in the French House kitchen late at night: if we were honest, how many friends would we keep in contact with after graduation?

My honest estimate is around five to ten. Even ten sounds generous, considering that my parents only keep in touch with a few college friends. All I hope is that I remain good friends with some people many years down the road. I don’t know for how long, but hopefully for a while. It’s too much for me to think about the possibility that I will drift away from people I am currently close with at MIT after I graduate. But what good comes out of thinking about the future, a future that I can’t predict? What I can do is live in the present, strengthen relationships that I care about, and when the time comes, it comes.

Actually, scratch what I just wrote. I am not ready to face the inevitable.