Mary Traina
September 16, 2014 6:00 am

Recently, I was asked what advice I’d give to college freshmen living with complete strangers for the first time in dorm rooms. It got me thinking. My first thought was that they should buy Febreze in bulk. Dorm rooms smell like toe jam. Second, I thought about my own freshman year experience and the pressure I felt to make a best friend for life immediately. It seemed like everyone but me was making BFF love connections. The whole thing felt like a test. After 18 years, had I grown up to be a likable person?

I thought if I didn’t become fast friends with my freshman roommate, I’d be doomed to be alone forever. When my roommate ended up being a member of the marching band with no spare time for mere mortals like myself, my worst fears were realized. I felt rejected.

Yet, amazingly, I did not end up alone forever—or even through Halloween. I just had to get over the idea that everybody else already had friends, spark up conversation, and be patient. It was uncomfortable, but worth the effort.

I’ve come to realize that the closest friendships spring from what my friends and I call “slow burn” relationships—the ones that grow on you slowly over time until you can no longer think of your life without them. While instant connections are glamorous—like love at first sight and unicorns—they are not something you can expect. After all, if friends were easy to meet and connect with, they wouldn’t be so special.

In retrospect, had I become instant besties with my college roommate, I may have found myself joined at the hip with someone I didn’t actually like that much after a while.

In reality, most friendships begin with a lot of slightly awkward conversations. Sometimes this awkward phase lasts a week, sometimes years, until one day the invisible wall between you shatters and you realize, with great joy, that you are capable of a deeper connection. My friends and I have no “meet-cute” stories to tell; only light, cordial conversations that kept us in each others’ lives long enough to get to the good stuff. You know, the I’m-in-the-fetal-position-and-need-to-talk-through-a-life-decision stuff.

Though it’s been proven to me time and time again that friendship takes time—and that slightly uncomfortable conversations with people I’ve just met can be fun in their own right—I never seem to accept these facts when I’m feeling lonely. When I’m in a funk, I just assume everyone else is out there making fast, lasting friendships the way I take down a bag of peanut butter M&Ms.

So if you’re in the midst of a big life change and feeling lost or disconnected, remember this: friendships take time. Whether you’re starting college or leaving college, keep your heart open. There is no reason to panic, should you find yourself alone on a Saturday night. Most friendships come with a waiting period and that’s all the more reason to cherish them. Life transitions are a struggle and no matter how lonely you may be feeling when you’re in the thick of it, remember that your future friends are all around you. They want new friends, too! You just have to be willing get the ball rolling with an awkward conversation.

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