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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Reaching out or growing deep: the different ways we make and keep our friends

I came home for Thanksgiving very eager to shut myself inside the house and relax; my sister came home very eager to get out of the house and see all the friends she had left behind. It’s not that I don’t have friends in my hometown. It’s just that one of them doesn’t come home for that short break, and the others I see in Gainesville anyway. I didn’t really keep in contact with all the people I was friendly with in high school. Maybe in the beginning I did, but in the end, only the really strong relationships lasted.

A few years ago, I accepted the inevitability that I would never have a large social group. Instead, I have little spheres of friends that sometimes overlap but most of the time represent very distinct areas of my life. If I am part of a large social group, I’m usually on the fringe — the friend of someone more solidified within it. I’m sure there are many people out there who feel the same way. We don’t have that Hollywood, social-media-famous circle of friends.

I believe that there are two broad categories for how people make friends — spread out and deep in. One form is not more valid than the other; it’s more of a person-by-person situation.

Spread-out people make friends easily and quickly and are more likely to have that large circle of friends. My sister, for instance, spent the last few weekends of high school at the lifeguard tower on the beach with the same sets of people. My mother has monthly potlucks with her group.

Friends are never lacking for these people; if someone is busy, they simply turn to the next person in their circle. There is a catch, however. From watching both my mom and my sister, I’ve noticed that there are very few, if any, people they stay close with for more than a certain time period. My mom has more close, intimate friendships, which is the result of being older. But I notice new names pop up in their conversations as old ones fade away. I went to one of my mom’s potlucks over break and recognized maybe three people from her original group. The rest were new.

That’s not to say that they don’t still have those long-lasting friendships; they just go through fringe friends. They understand how to adapt. When people grow and change, it’s only natural they lose some friends along the way. Spread-out people are familiar with this, and they know how to accept it. They do have friends who will grow with them, but they know there’s so many people out there to meet that they don’t have to cling onto relationships that don’t work.

Deep-in people don’t have many friends. It’s just a fact. As someone who is definitely a deep-in person, I know it can be lonely at times. If you only have a few friends, there’s no one to turn to when they are all busy. Some deep-in people don’t mind this at all, but some of us do feel it set in. We don’t always have weekend plans, and someone in our little sphere is not always planning a hangout. We meet up when we can. But, there is a hidden upside.

As my mom went out to her potluck dinner with her circle of friends, my dad was at home barbecuing for our family friends who had visited us — one of his close friends from high school and his family. That’s right. High school, which was more than three decades ago for my father. I’ve known one of my closest friends since we were in sixth grade. My best friend, whom I have known since freshman year of high school, doesn’t even go to school in Florida, yet I know she will always answer my calls. See, we deep-in people may not have a lot of friends, but the ones we have are rooted and firm — though we may change, we know that our friends will grow with us.

The way people make and maintain friends is not a universal experience. Not everyone will make friends the same way, but there is some reassurance in the fact that other people have approaches similar to your own. There’s pressure on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve already talked about feeling left out for not having a huge circle of friends, but with a lot of emphasis in television and media on “finding your person” and lasting-friendship coming-of-age stories, some spread-out people may feel lacking. But, the thing is that no way is right and no way is wrong — what’s important is figuring out what matters to you and understanding whatever that is, it is valid.

Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science senior. Her columns appear on Thursdays.

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