Founders Roundtable: How Students Navigate College Relationships In 2017
Our January theme for MTV Founders is Moving Forward. As the new year begins, we’ll be exploring how to find motivation and resolve within our self-improvement goals, mental health, activism, and relationships.
This week, we’re taking a look at how we can move forward specifically in terms of our personal relationships. Maintaining any kind of relationship requires work, but what happens once you move away to college? (Or choose to stay at home?) How does this affect dynamics with your family, friends, and romantic partners? Have they changed?
We opened up the conversation to our MTV Campus Ambassadors to discuss the challenges and surprises they've encountered when it comes to those they care about most. They also spoke about the power of forging connections with new people — especially during tough times.
Kamrin Baker, University of Nebraska Omaha: For the majority of my life, I have not been very social. I had a weird childhood full of family drama and, as an extremely high-strung, mentally worn-out kid, I experienced plenty of ups and downs. I had zero idea what was wrong with me until I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which I’ve written about before.
Working on my mental health and coming into my own really hasn’t changed my social life, though. I've always valued having time to myself and have seemed to follow the pattern of having one really close best friend every new grade of school. I lost my last really close female best friend when I started dating my boyfriend, though. She thought I chose him over her — although I actually hesitated to date him because I was worried she and I would not have as much time together. Anyway, her friendship was probably the hardest loss I had ever been through.
I have always been stuck on the idea of a best-best-best friend. You know, maid of honor, person you get bikini waxes with, your Instagram co-chair. I have just never found that in another woman. Tim (my boyfriend) is definitely my best friend, but since I have transitioned into college, I’ve seen the obvious need to grow and expand my relationships with other people.
I've made a lot of good friends since starting college, and I'm stoked to explore the possibilities in those relationships. But I recognize that my trust issues are still out of this world. I often have a hard time clicking with other people, and I still second-guess myself, the validity of those relationships, and my ability to maintain them. I admire so many people — especially cool, strong women — but I tend to fight the urge to compare myself to them more often than I am able to embrace them into my life.
This lack of connection has been annoyingly exacerbated by current events, which have made my standards for only hanging out with inclusive, open-minded people even higher. But I've also seen that recent events have highlighted the greatest, strongest, brightest people in the world, and I feel like my time to connect is coming. The many women lit with passion whom I marched beside on January 21 showed me that I wasn't alone — both in terms of political beliefs and otherwise. People seem to forget that all relationships are hard work, and, moving forward, I'll emphasize putting effort into making new relationships over wishful thinking.
Taylor Vidmar, Richland Community College: I have the benefit of going to college with two of my best friends from high school. We've all gotten so much closer this year, partially because we started such a huge chapter of our lives together, but also because the election (and the events that followed) somewhat united us. As first-time voters, the election made us so much more aware of current events and social issues. Whereas our friendship used to be based mostly on the fact that we grew up in the same town, we now discuss serious issues, confide in each other about our personal beliefs, and comfort each other when everything happening right now starts to feel disheartening. Moving forward, I'm going to continue turning to my friends for strength, hope, and comfort to remind myself that not everything happening right now is terrible and sad (female friendships FTW!).
But because I see these friends daily at school, I've found I've struggled to maintain friendships with people who don't attend college with me. Especially when I'm busy or overwhelmed with homework and other responsibilities, it's easy to not feel the need to reach out to other friends, and that makes seeing them regularly difficult. But I try to constantly remind myself that if I need to turn down an invitation to hang out so I can stay home and study or just relax, that's OK. Good friends shouldn't get mad at you for needing some time to yourself!
Peter Gonzalez, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo: I was afraid of being alone at the beginning of college — so afraid that I settled for being friends with people who were not the best, valuing quantity over quality. I look back and realize that I was treating friendship like The Bachelor: I was befriending a variety of people out of the hope that I'd find my one best friend. Being in a small major that's competitive and in which everyone wants to know everyone else's business hasn't helped me to make close friends because I can't bring myself to trust people who could one day use my truth for their own gain.
Now that I'm in my senior year, I'm coming to terms with the realization that I need to listen to my gut more when it comes to forging new relationships. I've learned that it's important to know what I want and don't want in relationships to move forward. It's OK that not everyone will want to be my friend, date me, or even say hi. I've stopped thinking that that's my fault and have realized that those people just aren't my people. I'm consciously making the effort to seek out quality friendships — people who ask questions, who live passionately, who are dreamers — and to not let the ghosts of shallow friendships past ruin potential for new friendships.
The other day, I was struck by the realization that the phrase "family is forever" isn't really true in a way. We really only have a limited amount of time with our parents and siblings before we set off to make our own families. I feel that college has really taught me to appreciate phone calls with my family and the days I put homework aside to sit on the bleachers and watch my sister play her last year of high school soccer. I have a new appreciation for them and for what "family" means, and my relationships with them are evolving into friendships that I couldn't appreciate before college. They keep me accountable in ways that my friends can't.
Gabriella Thompson, Amsterdam University College: Starting college was an eye-opening experience for me. I grew up in a very overprotective environment, and then all of a sudden I found that I had to do everything on my own, away from home. Traveling, buying groceries, cooking — you name it, I had never done it alone. I became very dependent on my friends during my first year. I tried to stick with people who had more experience living by themselves as much as possible, convinced that doing so would help me, too.
I also thought that, because my parents had forced me to go to college while all my high school peers got a gap year to travel, it was their fault that I felt so helpless. I started distancing myself from them, which led me to become even more dependent on other people — to the extent that even I realized how exhausting it must've been to be friends with me, let alone date me.
As a freshman, I went through two different friend groups and started a relationship. As someone who went to an international school all my life, I was used to friends coming and going. I knew the drill of friendship circles changing every few years, but going through two groups in one year made me feel like I had screwed up big time. Instead of learning how to do things on my own and focusing on myself for a while, I went from group to group, thinking that I needed to be part of a group in order to have purpose. In other words, because I was new to the country, I believed that being independent would make me a loner, and therefore I looked for people as a kind of validation. This only made it harder for me to grow up and become my own person away from home.
Before my second year, both my friend groups and my relationship began to deteriorate. As I fought the fear of being alone, I also convinced myself that I didn’t deserve friends and that I wasn’t strong enough to make new ones only to lose them again. But the more time I spent on my own, really thinking about the bigger picture, and started doing things for myself like extracurricular activities and focusing on my studies, I realized that not every relationship you make in college is meant to last. You learn something every step of the way, even if it doesn't seem like it at the time. I realized I could spend the entire year wishing I had done things differently, or I could accept the fact that what happened had happened — ups, downs, and all — and that I learned something with each step. I have come to be grateful for those experiences, to recognize that they have changed me for the better because now I know what I want out of life.
Since I figured that out, I’ve become far more independent and can now manage on my own. I no longer need a whole group in order to feel valued, and I am more mature in terms of which relationships I allow into my life. I’m finally focusing on good vibes and happy moments — and that's what counts.
Mariah Woods, Temple University: I had a very close-knit group of friends in high school, and we all said that college wouldn't change anything about our friendship except for the fact that we couldn't see each other five days a week anymore. We soon learned that that was far from the truth. Although we all kind of drifted apart and began to lead different lives, I don't believe it diminishes the very real friendship we had. But I do think our experience is telling as to how time can change relationships.
I'm still very close with my best friend from high school, but because college is a constant balancing act, even that takes work. Sometimes we'll go weeks without texting or talking on the phone, but then I'll get a text saying "Trevante Rhodes was ROBBED of an Oscar nomination, and I'm not just saying that because he's fine as hell," and everything is back to normal. I've never understood why people take it so personally when you don't call or text them every day. People are busy! I check in when I can, and the frequency of when I do (or lack thereof) doesn't mean that the strength of our friendship is diminishing — but rather that I still value it, considering that I did take time out of my busy day to try to reach you.
Ultimately, I've learned to put myself first sometimes and to absolutely let politics sway my opinions of people, because the political is always personal. But the most important thing I've learned is that sometimes people grow apart — and that's OK.
I'm still working on putting myself out there romantically, but I'm so busy lately that there's no time. I'm trying to make time because I do want some sort of substantial relationship, or even a non-substantial one. My DMs are open, guys.
Isabel Song, University of California, Berkeley: When I was a freshman, I was really conscious of not wanting all my friends to fit the same mold. I chose to come to Berkeley because I wanted to be constantly challenged and to have a variety of friends with different perspectives and experiences. I knew that would be hard to do if I just stuck to making friends in my classes; I didn't want to be friends with just biology majors. So over the past couple of years, I've joined a bunch of different student organizations, including a political group I now run. Every single day, I'm so grateful that I took a chance and put myself out there because I would otherwise have probably never met some of my closest friends today.
Going into college, I was afraid that it would be really hard to make friends, but I've found that in some ways, it's almost easier than it was in high school. There are so many people around me that I have an essentially unlimited pool of potential friends. My friends aren't limited to the people I have classes with; I've never had a single class with most of my friends today. I've learned that you don't really have to have a ton in common with someone to become their friend.
Join the conversation with #mtvmovingforward and let us know how you’re moving forward in 2017 at firstname.lastname@example.org.