We meet a lot of people at Duke simply by chance: perhaps you sat next to each other on FDOC, or both lived in Pegram, or ended up on the same RA team together. You met because of chance, but you become friends because of what you had in common.
When my sophomore fall came around, I started to wonder: will we still be friends now that we’re apart? What’s going to keep us together?
Losing that sense of commonality is a pitfall that many friendships face, even beyond Duke. When I left for college, I faced the same question with my friends from home. Upon returning for winter break, my home friends hit me with the “We have to get lunch soon!”
An unfortunate part of our social experience is the friend category titled “We have to get lunch soon!” Friends in this category didn’t do anything wrong, but the loss of what we initially had in common indirectly pushes us our separate ways. The only way to spend meaningful time with this type of friend is to devote time to a catch-up lunch. We have good intentions when we tell people we want to do this, but it becomes so easy to let your other, immediate commitments take over. Without even meaning it, months have passed without the promised shared meal.
Sometimes, a friendship just can’t survive without what initially brought you together. Maybe we were only meant to be Chemistry 101 lab partners, and nothing more. And that might hurt to realize.
But other times, you come back the next semester wanting to see that friendship grow in a new direction. I took two semesters of Italian while sitting next to the same girl, and we really got to know each other. At first it was through required warm-up exercises, where I’d struggle to communicate in a new language that the ABP oatmeal I’d eaten that morning wasn’t the consistency I wanted. By the end of those classes, we’d really gotten used to seeing each other at the same time four days a week. We didn’t really want to just drop the friendship we’d built.
So we decided not to. In the following semester, I’d sometimes find her sitting on a deflated couche by CaFe. We’d end up having lunch together, and we’d fill each other in on the latest in our lives. We’d gossip about how our new class schedule just wasn’t the same, how living in Edens really upped her step count, or how cold the room got every time the large Brodhead Center doors would swoop open behind us.
Even this semester, in which she chose not to return to campus, we still check up on each other. Little text conversations here and there, making sure we both stayed afloat. It really made a difference.
I really thought we’d get one last chance to sit together in class my senior year.
Among the many ways that COVID affects how we interact with people on a day-to-day basis, it’s become a lot harder to see our friends. We’re seeing fewer friends than before, and we’re seeing them in different ways. While it limits our ability to see most people, it also adds a greater meaning to the people we still choose to see.
Reaching out to see the people you care about can mean a lot to them.
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Last week, I got dinner with a friend I met during my first year at Duke. It had been years since she and I shared something in common. We had lived in the same dorm, and had watched all of the Sharknado movies together. We didn’t pick the same major, or join the same clubs, or even live close to each other in the years that followed. We had fallen into the “We have to get lunch sometime” category—but the difference is we actually followed through with it.
I had been meaning to check on her, and it turned out, she had been meaning to check on me. I couldn’t have been more excited when we sat down outside ABP, took our masks off, and chatted over our soy nuggets.
The reason we still choose to hang out isn’t that “Once a Pegrammite, always a Pegrammite.” We hang out because through all of that time together in our first year here, we really cared about each other. That care hasn’t gone away just because she doesn’t live upstairs anymore. It’s actually grown stronger because it’s clear we both want to invest time in each other. And we don’t have a lot of time these days.
Senior year has this sense of urgency behind it—urgency to start a career, urgency to find someone to settle down with, and more immediately, urgency to spend each of our remaining Duke days right. For me, senior year comes with a ticking clock, a tab always open in the back of my brain reminding me that “Today is the last October 5th you’ll have at Duke. Now it’s the last October 6th. And the 7th.” There’s pressure to do the most with the days I have left.
My solution to the pressure? Take the time I do have and share it with the people I care about. That sometimes means reaching out to a friend I haven’t spoken to in quite some time and showing them that I’m here. Let’s get lunch sometime; it’s been awhile.
Jake Malone is a Trinity senior who wants you to text that friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. His column runs on alternate Fridays.