The myth of finding ‘my people’

I didn’t want to go to college. After growing up sheltered in a suburban town and attending the same tiny private school for 15 years, I was in no shape to venture off alone. My self-imposed bed time was 9 p.m., and if I ever saw a classmate drinking a beer, I automatically deemed them a bad person.

Freshman year, I picked a like-minded roommate from the UM Class of 2018 Facebook page and we shared a room on a substance-free floor. On Saturday mornings, I went running at 7 a.m. because the Wellness Center wasn’t open yet. Rebellion was an occasional bag of cinnamon chips from Lime. Continually, I found myself on the fringes of circles that were tight-knit and much more dedicated to an activity than I was, be it book club, the literary magazine, yoga, improv, the comedy show or salsa dancing. As a junior, I even joined the institution I’d spent two years down-talking: Greek Life. All in all, I made some good friends, but I never found who I deemed to be my people.

Despite nearly seven years of being in long-term, fulfilling romantic relationships, I couldn’t make my friendships stick. I was stuck on this mythological idea of my people – a fictional group of fashionable, hyper-intelligent, weightlifting music connoisseurs who would materialize and offer me their friendship. Truthfully, I didn’t need these so-called my people, with their vintage clothes and impeccable taste in poetry. I just needed people. I thought I just hadn’t found the right people, and that if I found ones who fit my made-up trope, they’d automatically like me.

Now, I realize I’m a jerk. Well, not actually, but I come off that way to some. When it comes to platonic relationships, I’m stoic and practical. I don’t initiate hugs. I don’t give compliments. I’ve made up equations in my head like “two lunches + one party sighting per week = friendship.”

Yet I’ve always been one to shower my significant others with an ungodly amount of pet names and physical affection, attend all the things that matter to them and listen with genuine interest. When we’re “an item,” it all feels easy.

The disconnect, for me, is that “friend” is not a binding label – nobody gets down on one knee and asks for your hand in holy camaraderie. That means that I could wildly misinterpret someone’s “friend” signals, like a smile or compliment. The average confident person takes these things as a suggestion that someone wants to befriend them or at least get to know them better. But when someone smiles at me, I’m internally screaming, “What if they were just being civil? What if they actually hate me?”

Friendships aren’t equations; they’re relationships, just like romantic ones – only now am I starting to accept this. Maybe it’s the fear of my impending graduation, but I’ve finally mustered the courage to tell people around me that I like them and I want to spend time with them. This has led to wine-fueled game nights, ice cream runs and thrifting trips with people I’ve longed to be close with and deep, heart-felt conversations with people I’ve always kept at arm’s length.

To everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in college and before – let’s be friends. I hope it’s not too late.

Haley Walker will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a creative writing concentration.