Welcome to the sixth installment of Ask Wesleying, an advice column about any and all things Wes! Have a question about life at Wes? Submit it to get it answered in Ask Wesleying! You can find all of the Ask Wesleying columns here.
This week’s question is about intimacy of the emotional variety:
I feel like Wesleyan’s culture encourages shallow relationships. I find little emotional intimacy in my relationships here. Is this a Wesleyan thing or a me thing?
You can read the answer to this week’s question below the jump!
Dear Feeling Isolated,
In typical millennial fashion (yes I had to look up how to correctly spell “millennial,” fight me), my first response to this is just: big mood. I’ve had this thought many times during my 3.5 years here, and definitely talked to my friends about it as well.
I think part of why this happens is people don’t have the same expectations within their relationships. I’ve already talked about the sexual/romantic aspect of this in a previous column, but I think this manifests differently when in the context friend/acquaintance relationships.
When I’m making friends, I don’t necessarily think about “defining the relationship,” but I think this could be a good first step to addressing the frustration you’re feeling. If you’re looking for emotional intimacy, but your classmate is looking for a study buddy who sometimes gets a meal together, of course you’re not going to be satisfied.
I especially find myself feeling isolated when I try to make friends within the context of activities/groups/classes I’m a part of. This kind of goes against every friend-making piece of advice you get when you go to college (“Find people in your classes to be friends with!”; “Join a club!”), but it’s been the case for me, personally, and I bet I’m not alone in feeling this way. While there are certainly people who do find their closest friends through a sport, club, or major, these tend to be the people who mostly just do that thing, whatever it is that they have in common with those friends. It’s hard not to form emotionally intimate friendships with people when you spend all your time with them—in practice, at meals, at parties, doing homework, etc. I’m not knocking this kind of relationship (I’m honestly kind of envious), but it’s never one that has made sense to me.
I’m one of those Wesleyan students who is always busy. I have tried (and often failed) to trim down my activities/responsibilities/obligations down to a manageable load, but even when I have my life under control, I have too many irons in too many different fires. This doesn’t lend itself to forming time-intensive friendships—there aren’t many people who do all the same things as me, and that’s okay!—but I’ve still managed to form close, intimate friendships, just often not with the people in the same activities as me.
Some of my closest friends at Wes are people who do entirely different things than me. Because we don’t spend a lot of time together in clubs or class, we don’t fall into the pattern of just talking about intra-group drama or work or whatever. This leaves space for us to talk about more intimate things, like feelings and such.
I also love hearing about what other people care about. Part of being busy is not having time to do all the things I want to do. Having friends who do things I’m interested in but don’t have time for lets me live vicariously through them (but not in a creepy dad trying to relive his glory days through his son kinda way). By not sharing all the same interests, these friendships also allow us to learn from one another and broaden our perspectives. When your friend cares a lot about something, and you are genuinely excited to hear about it because of how passionate they are, it fosters empathy and listening, which are two key elements of emotionally intimate friendships.
I can’t speak to whether this is a Wesleyan problem or a you problem (because I don’t know you, and I haven’t taken any kind of survey of the student body—QAC project anyone?), but my guess is it’s probably a mixture of both. Wesleyan’s busy-culture (which I’ve also written about in a previous column) certainly doesn’t help people make quality time for forming emotionally intimate friendships, but even if Wesleyan was a totally friendly haven, friendships still take a lot of work to build and maintain.
So, Feeling Isolated, I hope that this helps give you some perspective on how to find emotional intimacy, but I’m certainly no expert. I’ve been asking guidance counselors/therapists pretty much my whole life why I feel so isolated all the time/have such a hard time making the kind of friendships I’m looking for, and so far, no one has been able to give me a good answer or a magical fix. All I can say is you’re certainly not alone, and I hope you find a way to build the kind of meaningful relationships you want in your life.