The ceramic soup pot had a slight crack.
“No worries,” said Nancy, smiling at me. “Let’s fix it.”
She then explained how she would brush on a layer of rice and water and dry it using heat to seal the crack. I was amazed by her ingenuity.
My friend Nancy is significantly older than me. I didn’t foresee our intergenerational friendship blossoming during my gap year before college, but my peers were all occupied with acclimating to college, and it was easier to spend time with people outside of my age group.
When I finally started college in 2018, I was eager to make new friends.
The first step to nurturing friendship is to sow the seeds.
For the first three months of my freshman year, I sat with a new person each meal at the dining hall, making small talk. Some people returned my enthusiasm while others seemed uninterested. We’d usually end the conversations by exchanging our contacts, and I’d ruminate about when we’d see each other again.
I quickly learned that while I was good at conversing with people, making friends is a different skill that requires being consistent and following through.
After an especially rough day, I sat on the steps of our student union and called eight of my friends. Every call went to voicemail. The thought that nobody picked up stung, and I wept softly.
During sophomore year, my loneliness intensified. I was in limbo: My pre-college friendships had drifted, while my college friendships were still young seedlings, emergent and growing.
I was baffled. I felt that I was pouring so much energy into my friendships but didn’t feel sufficient reciprocity. My friend and I often talked about our worst fear: If we didn’t make that first step, would others reach out to us?
Water your plants, often and generously.
Everyone at UC Berkeley is so busy that even scheduling a hangout can be difficult. Meetups would get canceled or rescheduled repeatedly. Maintaining individual threads of relationships was proving unsustainable for me.
Instead of focusing on individual friendships, I decided to commit myself to communities. I realized that for friendships to thrive, there needs to be a third factor pulling you together, whether that’s a shared interest, project or commitment.
I took up leadership roles within my student clubs and joined committees to know other members more intimately. I hung out in the Student Environmental Resource Center with environmentally conscious students. I attended the same workshops, seminars and events.
Friendships weather different seasons.
The people in my life change every semester. I’m learning to accept that, outside of personal desire, circumstances will affect friendship. Sometimes, it’s not that we don’t want to be together, but simply the timing is off.
My friends and I sometimes discuss how certain friendships came about due to convenience or proximity, which is often cast in a negative light. Upon reflection, I feel that friendship shouldn’t feel strenuous. Convenience is not bad.
Sophomore spring came, and I vowed to follow my heart more authentically and spend more time with others. Things were looking up.
Then, the pandemic hit.
I scrambled to move back home to support my family while juggling school. Everyone else was going through a lot, too.
A counselor asked me, “What is your support system?” Shaking, I realized I didn’t know what mine looked like. Who can I call in times of urgent emotional vulnerability? I’m scared to hear the voicemail recording over and over again. When people say, “Call me anytime,” can I really?
A smaller garden is easier to maintain.
The pandemic naturally shrunk my social circles. Events were getting canceled, I had less free time and Zoom was not conducive to large meetups.
I began to find more routine in my life: I scheduled weekly coworking calls, talked to my long-distance friends once a month and started a book club that I tended to every Sunday. I also rekindled old connections by attending virtual meetups.
Routine was so comforting. I was happy to see the same faces and get to know other people deeply.
Spending time with the same people consistently led me beyond the catch-up trap: only sharing the significant life changes with friends. I realized a new form of intimacy that came with experiencing the small, mundane happenings of daily life together.
The plant gives through flowering and fruiting.
I started to cherish and notice who showed up in my life. Much of my loneliness stemmed from my feelings of imbalance that I reached out first more frequently than not. I didn’t realize my insecurity blinded me and that people were waiting for me.
I practiced communicating my needs. I told a friend that I wished I heard from them first more, that initiation affirms to me their care.
At the same time, I reframed my understanding of giving and receiving in friendship. While reaching out takes upfront energy, providing a thoughtful response and participating requires even more.
So the seeds have sprouted into a plant, rooted in soils of shared values, watered by mutual commitment and admiration.
Friendship is complicated, and there’s no step-to-step guidebook that works universally. But I now know that friendship is like growing plants, needing the right timing, nutrients, and love.