The First Semester Friend

Friendships re-defined second semester

Duke Unfiltered | Catherine York | February 2, 2016

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You know what the worst feeling in the world is? Realizing the first week of the semester that the boy sitting across the table in your 18-person seminar is the boy you were swapping life secrets and spit with the night before in the corner of a Shooters booth (or at least you’re 80% sure he is). Oh wait, that’s not actually the worst feeling. Because you can pretend it never happened and tough it out for four months by strategically getting there before or after him and never actually making eye contact. The real worst feeling is spending years on years with the same people that you, your friends, and your siblings incestuously dated/broke up with/got back together with in classes the size of a stereotypical Catholic family.

Because that was my school experience prior to Duke. I went to a really small high school. Not one of those Northeastern prep schools that flaunt the individual attention their students get with the class sizes of 150 (looking at you, Deerfield). My graduating class had 38 people in it.

Needless to say, before I came to Duke I didn’t know what it was like to have the chance to have friends that didn’t know each other. In high school, my choices were slim, made even slimmer by the series of atrocious haircuts I had ages 5 to 17. I made five friends in kindergarten and since they had literally no escape, we stayed a “squad,” if you will, until graduation. I didn’t have “school friends” and “party friends” and “sports friends.” I had the same group of three boys and two girls who did everything together. (God forbid I’d move outside my comfort zone.)

I entered freshman year with the hopes of a finding a similar group at Duke. Considering my college class was roughly 43 times the size of my high school and I’d finally learned how to operate a hair straightener, (this is a lie inserted for the purpose of a full-circle story… I do not and will never learn how to use such a machine), I assumed I would have a few more options and maybe a slightly larger group. Too bad the last experience I had with making friends involved animal crackers, Legos, and getting high off the smell of Sharpies and rubber cement.

I was overwhelmed to say the least. I had friends from my pre-orientation program (PWUT!!), friends from my dorm, friends from my classes, and friends from the different clubs I was involved in, and none of them knew each other. It was a whole new world for me, having friends that didn’t know each other, didn’t date each other, and didn’t know that in sixth grade I’d called them the B-word behind their back.  

I think that’s how the “first semester friend” concept started for me. I would tell one friend I was going to get lunch with *insert name of friend from different social/academic/extracurricular sphere* and the question would follow: “Who is that?”

Natural progression led me to include context with every introduction:

“I’m going to lunch with a friend from my dorm.”

“I told my friend I’d sit with him in Perkins. He was on my P-Waves crew.”
*friendship ends because they realize I’m in a cult*

“I’m going out tonight with people from Investment Club.”
*no research has been done to confirm that a) Duke has an investment club or b) that they go out*
Then second semester happens and *drum roll* RUSH *squeals.*

Enter the “first semester friend.” Re: anyone who you’re friends with that is not in your living group.

Let’s skip the crap. Once rush happens, a lot of people leave the friends they made during their first four months at Duke in the dust.  

*Insert a rant against Greek life leading to a rant against social norms leading to a rant against racism/sexism/classism leading to a rant against American politics leading to a rant against the pilgrims.* 

You get the idea.

Dynamics across East Campus completely change after those first few weeks of second semester. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the freshman class joins a Greek organization and meets a whole new group of people. Time management is about to become a skill relevant not only to academics but also to social life, as choices are made of who to spend time with. Most of us aren’t good at it. We drop the ball or, in some cases, completely throw it out the window.

“I’m hanging out with my first semester friends tonight,” sorority girls tell their pledge class groupme in response to the oh-so-common “Who’s going out tonight?!?!” message.

“Sorry, we have a pledge class dinner,” new members tell the friend who didn’t rush or didn’t get a bid but ~surprisingly~ still wants to hang out.

I don’t know about you, but this seems a lot like an excuse to me. I’m doing XYZ with XYZ person from XYZ organization/experience which is why I can’t invite you to come along. Why else would we feel the need to put descriptor before the word friend? Why does it matter what semester you met? Why does it matter if you met them in a class or at Shooters or through a living group? Isn’t the idea of a friend consistent no matter the context?

Alternative explanation: maybe we’re all psycho about compartmentalizing and organizing our lives. We schedule out every minute of our lives: this is time for the library; this is time for socializing; this is time for working out; this is time for sleeping. So why not organize our friends? This is a friend for studying; this is a friend for drinking; this is a friend to help me when I’m stressed.

The real question is whether this defining and compartmentalization of friends is natural. Five best friends for 13 years is not the typical template for college relationships. Dynamics change and friendships shrink and grow. Is the compartmentalization of these friendships specific to Duke? Specific to colleges? Specific to our generation? Is it caused by Greek life and other exclusive social groups or just by our inherent social nature?

Maybe this “friend labeling” is Duke induced, maybe it isn’t. I don’t have the answer to any of those questions, nor the key of how to manage relationships across these Duke divides. But I know I’ll be a lot more aware of the effect my words and decisions have. Let’s face it, Duke can be a rough place and why not meet more people to help you navigate it? Why not eat dinner with friends from your class with friends from P Waves? Or why not introduce your new ~sisters/brothers~ to your freshman roommate? Maybe we can help bridge some of the divides that we/Duke have created.