I am a third year, and at this time of year that means I am two things: smug and angry. The reasons are two-fold. I am smug because I already have a fairly established group of friends and I am angry because most Freshers seem to already have more than me. Now, I’m not going to say I feel old or past my time, but even with all my awareness of local pubs and prophetic knowledge of which books Freshers on my course will be studying, I am finding it more difficult than ever to strike up a conversation with a stranger- and I didn’t at all find it easy to begin with. So, after just a few days, it seems my dream of being seen as some sort of omniscient deity by these new people is over before it even began, and my chances of making some cool new friends is decreasing as my age goes up.
I remember arrival weekend two years ago, when I was in the same position of knowing no one and expecting the worst. I had spent half my Saturday sat in a cramped car trying not to cry, and the other half crying into my brand new pillowcase. Needless to say I wasn’t in the best state to meet new people, but when you’re faced with the fear of a year alone in a Runnymede basement you prioritise. Now, I wasn’t stupid, I had come prepared like everyone does: I had practiced my icebreakers, memorised my best jokes, and got my mum to make enough cupcakes for the whole flat to enjoy. I was all set to become the incontestable king of campus. But then of course I decided Doctor Who on iPlayer was a better comfort than strangers, and that even if I was by myself, at least I had plenty of cupcakes to eat. However, I did eventually realise that in order to survive the year I would have to meet people. Despite the many scenarios I had envisioned – most involving everyone I met sharing the same obscure hobby of boating or archery, therefore leaving me extricated from all future conversation- I did manage to actually leave my room, have a drink, get to know people and find enough that is mutually interesting with a number of them to become friends.
Of course ‘be yourself’ is probably the most common piece of advice that you are given, but I’ve found it just doesn’t work a lot of the time. That would be too easy. You can’t just go in all normal, there are sacrifices you must make, and the most vital is all those parts of you that people don’t usually like. I was recently asked by a Fresher which football team I supported. After admitting that I don’t follow football, I had to watch as someone else immediately swooped in and stole the conversation from me, leaving me emasculated and without my new friend. Now, if I had been a Fresher again that would have gone differently. When someone asked me if I liked football, I loved it; if they wondered whether I liked the dance music at the SU, I definitely did; when someone said: ‘would you like a wine-glass full of flaming absinthe?’ I said: ‘yes please’. Even though I almost immediately regretted these things, there did come a point when I had become good enough friends with these people to tell them that I actually don’t enjoy dance music and that I don’t think you should ever drink something that’s recently been on fire. But the process did work, and sometimes I even improved for it. After all, change can be a good thing. For example, I never liked coffee, but when a potential friend asked if wanted some, I couldn’t bring myself to say no – suddenly the friendship seemed to depend on coffee – so I ordered one, and now I can’t go a day without it.
Essentially, what I’m saying is, there are different rules at university. Making friends initially comes down to a mixture of personal compromise and the inability to escape from people when you know exactly where they live and that they are always free. But whether you’re intensely cool and have a load of funny stories and irresistible charm or, like me, you came here and resigned yourself to a few years of loneliness, repeating ‘It’s not about friends, it’s about education!’ to yourself, then you’ll be glad to hear that it’s damn near impossible not to meet like-minded people here. In fact, by the end you’ll probably know too many. Also, you’ll be glad to hear that third years aren’t all as cynical and bitter as I may have made them seem. I suppose the baby does take the attention from all the other siblings when it’s born, but we’ve all got to grow up some day.