Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource

College is a place of growth and community. We head to university to start our lives and find ourselves, but how do we decide whom to befriend as we hope to facilitate our growth instead of hinder it?

Learning how to foster healthy growth as you enter early adulthood happens at college, intentionally or not. Recent studies have shown platonic relationships can significantly reduce stress and increase happiness and may be just as important for health as good sleep and eating habits.

Making friends as adults, though, can be a curious experience.

In high school you are stuck with the same group of peers for four years of your life. It is an environment bound for dramatics. Regardless of the situation, you still have to show up for school and continue to interact with the same people.

College is a whole new ballgame where there are no more forced friendships. The struggle, however, is figuring out how to set boundaries within these relationships.

Mikayla Fritzemeier, a fourth-year communications major and fellow student at Sonoma State University, described a tense friendship she had to work through. In her first semester of college, she studied abroad in Italy with a friend she had recently met. “We lived in this small, one-bedroom apartment for three months. The stress of being in a new country and lack of boundaries ultimately resulted in us not being friends anymore.”

In situations like these, you find out what you value most in a friend. Fritzemeier went on to say that the friendships she has been able to maintain as an adult are bonds that she would like to keep forever.

When I was growing up, I felt that my friends at the time were going to stick with me through anything. You get caught up in this idea because you spend so much of your lives together. But before you know it, everyone is going down separate paths. My friends and I ended up at different colleges. We tried to stay in touch at first, but eventually, different schedules and interests got in the way.

What I’ve come to understand is that when you finally return home and see each other again, the hangouts can become less frequent and more awkward. You slowly begin to realize that the proximity you had when you were young is not enough to sustain adult relationships and that outgrowing childhood friendships is natural.

“As an adult, I’ve accepted that it’s OK to not be attached to a friend for the rest of your life,” Ana Fingerson, a fourth-year student at Sonoma State, told me. “As I transitioned from high school to college, I imagined my childhood friends and I would always be as close as we were then. As we all started to grow into our new lives and identities, it felt really scary growing apart, but it is so normal. We can’t all be on the same path; it’s important to have a separate life.”

In these moments it is beneficial to not put so much pressure on ourselves. We don’t have to force those connections with the people around us — especially when entering a new environment like a college campus. It’s perfectly OK to be content in your own company and set boundaries with other people to keep your peace. Remember that learning to live in a more adult way requires being able to speak your mind when needed. And when you’re ready to foster those friendships, going to college is a great way to meet new people.

A college campus is full of opportunities to interact with your peers and create those deep connections. Living in a dorm on campus can allow you to cultivate this community. You can also join clubs or go to organized events. Everyone is in the same boat: looking to find themselves and find people who will facilitate this development.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we talked about being very comfortable with one another. I told her that for the first time in a long time, I haven’t felt like I needed to put on a facade around her. And I think that is what we should all strive for. It can be so draining to not be our true, authentic selves. If you feel that you have to constantly alter yourself when hanging out with your peers then maybe those friendships need reevaluating.

Don’t get discouraged when friendships end or change. Our relationships evolve with us, and we meet new people every day. Lexi Schoonmaker, a third-year major in women and gender studies at Sonoma State, shared her take: “Friendships as an adult seem to be easier to come by. I found that you don’t have to have a lot in common and you can learn so much from people you would not normally befriend. It seems like when your mind ‘matures’ your friendships do too. I think it becomes less about shared interests, and more about a shared understanding of life.”


Rosie Padilla is a fourth-year communications major, and women and gender studies minor, at Sonoma State University and is a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.

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