Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Cornell University has been exposing me to many different types of people. It’s interesting how many new personalities and character types you encounter in your later years of life than in your earliest years. I think it’s because, the younger you are, the more likely you’ve been blinded to just the people in your family, in your neighborhood, and in your school. When you’re older though–when you need other people more to accomplish things you want to do, like advancing your career or moving into a new lifestyle or organizing your finances–you’re forced to interact with more people. It may be shallow interactions, but they are quantitatively greater in occurrence. At least, that is what I am suspecting.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to deviate into a side-conversation about the nature of growing up and meeting new people. I was trying to set up a story about a recent experience I had with my boyfriend on his birthday. But now that I’ve started on this track, I think I’ll move forward on it. I can always revisit my original story in another post, anyway.
So, getting back to what I was thinking before about people, it’s interesting how the number of people you meet increases dramatically when you’re a young adult at college. At Cornell, you meet a lot of people every day in classes and other activities. However, only a few of them will interact with you regularly enough that you can consider them more than just classmates. They become…acquaintances. And if you’re fond of them, then you might go out of your way to meet with them at more social (rather than purely academic) events, at which point you’ll become friends. Not close friends; but friends, nevertheless. And with that friendship comes expectations and annoyances which–at least for me–is the most tedious element of socializing at college.
There will come a time when you know exactly who it is you really enjoy spending time with and who you just happen to spend time with because it is convenient for you and that other person. It becomes increasingly clear as that person who you don’t really want to spend all that much time with keeps contacting you and throwing opportunities your way to meet with them and, because all those suggestions are inconvenient for you, suddenly you begin to dread that person’s calls and messages. You don’t want to make the effort to see them; they’re just not worth it for you. Their company is not that enjoyable for you to tolerate them for long burst of time, and how dare they keep bothering you about the same things over and over? Can’t they see you’re not answering because you’re busy? Can’t they tell you don’t want to hang out with them this much? Can’t they get the hint? God, they’re so annoying.
And then you know that you don’t enjoy that person’s company. You can tolerate it, sure, but it doesn’t get you up in the morning. Now, you would think that the simplest solution to the problem would be to just burn the bridge; tell the person you’re not interested in being friends with them or hanging with them as often as they would like. If you read that and though “Yes, that is exactly what you should do, always, and there is never an excuse not to do those things,” then congratulations. You and I do not agree. At least, not in practice.
Because as you get older, you need people. When you’re young, your parents and the people around you take care of a lot of things for you and you don’t have many ambitious plans which would require you to enlist the help of others. As a young adult, you need to handle matters on your own and your plans will eventually lead you towards networking with new people in order to get the resources, knowledge, and connections you need to move forward. I’m not just talking about careers here. That friend you just casually blew off could have known someone who could have helped you and your student organization with a problem or application it’s handling right now. That person who you blew off may have had some experiences in their life that could have helped you get through some more emotional problems you’re having right now. That person might know some event you never thought about going to but would have ended up loving. But will they do that for you now? Not likely.
It becomes a question of how much you value what they can potentially do for you versus how much you value being honest with them about where your friendship stands. It’s not a selfless decision or an easy one, but it’s definitely a reoccurring problem in life and college may be the first time you have to face it. After all, in high school, the power other high school students had over you varied and is usually pretty low because other high school students don’t have a lot of new resources of their own to offer you. As you get older, though, people become much more valuable and the stakes are much higher. Upsetting a friend in high school could create drama, sure; but in college, upsetting a friend could mean losing out on important opportunities that could shape your college experience and your trajectory in life. The stakes only get higher as you move on and graduate college. Upsetting your coworker or boss, your friend or spouse, or even the shop owner from the store down the street from your house can having lasting impacts on you and your loved ones. I wish I could color all this preaching with specific examples of how these things could derail your life or with stories of people who were significantly affected by such decisions, but there are so many buzzing around my head that I can’t choose just one and to say all of them would make this post way too long for consumption. It’s something you will no doubt acknowledge on your own as you begin to come across these issues.
So, what do you do? You can’t just ignore the practical implications of burning bridges and cutting ties. As much as it may seem cruel to objectify people and see their value as equal to what they can do for you, it’s a perspective that can really hurt you in the long-run if you refuse to take it into consideration at least once in a while. However, it doesn’t do you any good either to be the bad guy and to string along or endure the friendships which you feel are weighing you down. I want to say that the best way to handle the situation is to cut off ties strategically. Weigh out their values and keep the people who’s practical values supersede their little flaws, insofar as that scale continue to tip in favor of the former. Cut off those toxic relationships whose power over your life is to weak to fight against the sheer hatred you have for them. But how do you figure that out? What criteria is best for weeding out good and bad acquaintances or good and bad friends?
I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure if I ever will. All I know is that these situations keep coming up in my life, with growing frequency, and it’s making me think about how we grow up to meet so many different types of people. I wonder if I’m learning that meeting lots of people isn’t as important as meeting people whose company you enjoy, or if I’m learning that I have a flaw in my character that makes me less appreciative of this diversity I’m encountering. At the very least, I’ve walked away with something interesting to think about.