One of my good friends didn’t come back this semester. We re-connected after running into each other a few times and hanging out during the very end of the semester. During finals, she suggested that we hang out later that week. I was swamped studying for exams, so I was vague and standoffish about making plans, and I never followed up. I just learned from a mutual friend that things had gotten too rough for her here. I knew she was thinking about transferring, but now I feel stupid because I feel like I missed her reaching out for a friend. I can’t help but think that if she knew she had had someone she could’ve counted on here, she would’ve come back.
I know there’s nothing I can do… but next time, what if I miss the signs of something more serious?
This is a great question, and I think that if you talk to a lot of people around you, you’ll find that they have the same fear you do. It’s super easy, especially at Barnard, to get caught up in your own bubble, staying focused only on your goals and struggles. And, of course, sometimes that can be a good thing. College is an important time for personal growth; you should be focusing on improving yourself and learning about what makes you happy. We are all really busy studying for exams, applying for internships, trying to get ahead – so much so that our own stories become so big, so all-encompassing that we forget that other people are experiencing their own similar (or unique) challenges.
How do we find the balance between looking out for ourselves and looking out for our friends? I think the first step is to really listen to what’s going on around us. It’s so easy to be caught up in the next destination, the next task on the to-do list, but you can make a conscious decision to break out of that! Next time you see a friend in the Diana, take a deep breath. Look her in the eye and remember that she’s got tasks and exams just like you, and that she deserves your full attention. Ask her how she is and stay long enough to hear her answer.
Meals are also a great way to catch up with friends, if you’re really swamped with work. After all, everyone has to eat right? Make plans to grab a quick lunch in Hewitt or coffee in the Diana. And when you decide to have lunch with someone, make an effort to focus the conversation on them. Ask them questions about their day, about what they like and dislike about their semester, and actually respond to what they say. Make it your goal to learn something new about them even if you’ve known them for what feels like ages. And if you find yourself trying to divert the conversation back to you, bite your tongue! At least a little. We’ve all had those conversations where we sit across from someone and just vent about our own issues. If a friend tells us they’ve got two papers due tomorrow that they’re really worried about, instead of offering them reassurances and confidence, we make their problems smaller: “Yeah? Well, I’ve got two papers AND and exam!” And sure, misery loves company, but how supportive are we actually being for our friend?
We’re not going to catch everything. We’re only human. Worse, we’re students with a million things to do, and we’re going to make mistakes and be forgetful and sometimes we won’t have the energy to think outside our own bubbles. And that’s okay! The important part is to try our best to be conscious of what’s going on around us. Not only will we become better friends to the people who count on us, but we’ll also gain the perspective we need to deal with the challenges of Barnard. And finally, don’t forget the wise words of Bill Withers: Lean on me, when you’re not strong / And I”ll be your friend / I’ll help you carry on / For it won’t be long / Till I’m gonna need / Somebody to lean on.
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