Upperclassmen like to joke that it’s always easy to distinguish freshmen from the rest of the student body. Stereotypically, they travel in packs and routinely use their Tufts lanyards. But there are many less superficial ways in which upperclassmen often differ from freshmen. Whereas freshman usually have their doors open and are always armed with compliments and smiles, upperclassman are much more reserved. Upperclassmen are, in my opinion, less likely to invite a random hall-mate to Dewick, and more likely to go to Carm with their usual group of friends. They are less likely to initiate a conversation with a stranger, and more likely to be engaged with their phones. In short, they behave as though they are done making friends.
That does not mean that they are no longer friendly, or that the friendliness they displayed as freshman was feigned. Indeed, most people remain receptive to conversations and invitations that others initiate, even as the invitations they extend become less frequent. But it does mean that making friends becomes much less of a mutual process after freshman year. The burden will inevitably fall on one person to extend invitations, without a realistic hope of receiving one until much later.
Although this situation might not pose a problem for extroverted people who find it easy to speak with strangers, it represents a significant difficulty for introverted people. Often, it can feel incredibly awkward to us to start a conversation with no prior interactions upon which to base that conversation.
Luckily, in this context, it doesn’t require much to constitute a “prior interaction.” We all have those people in our lives whom we seem to constantly run into in random places. We may or may not acknowledge them, and we may or may not know their names. We might know them from class or through a mutual friend. Or, we might have no idea how we know them. Whatever the case, we seem bizarrely content with residing in this state of limbo between strangers and acquaintances. Rarely do we make any effort to get to learn more about them, but we should. These people are prime subjects for post-freshman friend making. An introduction is virtually built in to the relationship: “Hey, I feel like I see you around all the time. Do I know you from somewhere?”
And while that opening line will not lead directly to friendship, it does pave the road acquaintanceship. I once made that leap, albeit in my own, unnecessarily awkward way, and with positive results.
“You know those people in your life who you see all the time but have know idea how you know them?” I said to a large group of people.
“Yeah, I totally know what you’re talking about,” said one guy.
“Well, for me, that’s you,” I said to him.
Luckily, he wasn’t offended. Instead, he told me that we had first met during Homecoming Weekend of our freshman year, an interaction that I had long since forgotten. We also discovered that we had many mutual friends.
Although he and I aren’t necessarily friends now, that simple interaction gave me the social permission I felt like I needed to feel comfortable saying hello to him around campus or having a conversation with him in the Hodgdon line. Whether that small degree of intimacy will ever develop any further, I can’t say. But I do know that even a new acquaintance is valuable, and that those seemingly random people in our lives merit more attention than we give them. There is no risk in saying hello, and no potential downside to starting a conversation. But the payoff has the potential to be great, and it’s up to all of us to reach for it.