Friends are the Family We Choose…Or Are They?

Personal choice is often described as an important factor in the formation of friendships, as evidenced by the popular adages “friends are the family you choose,” and the somewhat sillier “you can pick you friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” And although it’s nice to think of ourselves roaming the campus or the city or the world singling out the people we’d like to have as our friends, I’m convinced that most friendships don’t really work that way.

For most people, luck and convenience play a far greater role in the formation of our friendships than I think most of us would like to admit. We meet people and strike up conversations simply because we happen to be in the same place at the same time. For example, individuals’ paths can cross because they have independently chosen to take the same class, live in the same hall, or join the same club. While its true that people might choose to take a particular class or join a particular club because they hope to meet like minded people, they are still not directly choosing their friends. Rather, they are choosing an activity with expectation that they will, as an added benefit, meet people with whom they get along well.

If someone were to attempt to truly choose their friends, the process would seem painfully odd to the rest of us, and all their advances would probably be rebuffed immediately. Imagine if someone were to announce that they were currently accepting applications from potential friends. No one does this, but if they did, we would all be put off and perhaps a little bit offended by the process. Or, imagine if you received a Facebook message from a stranger, informing you that they had analyzed your profile and had decided that you should meet for coffee to discuss your potential friendship. Most of us would probably ignore the message, and later tell our friends how weird it was. For some reason, making these kinds of suggestions to strangers is only acceptable in the search for romantic or sexual relationships, not platonic ones. In this way, we actually exert more control over our loves lives than we do over the rest of our social lives, even though we all probably aspire to have more friends at any given moment than we do romantic partners.

It’s easy to get discouraged by how little control we have over our social lives, but I prefer to look at the situation from a different point of view. To me, it’s actually a relief to know that coincidence and luck often determine what friendships we form. It gives me license to simply sit back and live my life, without stressing about whether I’m putting enough effort into making friends. I have faith that I will make friends and have a fulfilling social life as long as I don’t spend every minute of every day alone in my room.

History has already proven me right in this regard. I consider myself to be friends with approximately fifteen individuals on campus, and I am profoundly thankful for every one of them. However, the only reason why we are friends is because we happened to live in the same hall freshman year, or because we decided to join the same club. I am sure that if I had been assigned to a different residence hall or if I had joined different clubs, I would now have a completely different, though equally wonderful, group of friends. In this way, the friendships we form are simply our way of making the best of whatever situation we’re in. For most people, when they are thrust into an unfamiliar situation, they are eventually able to make friends even if they feel uncomfortable at first. This ability is a testament to human adaptability and flexibility, and is a reason why the somewhat random nature of friendships should be celebrated, not lamented.

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