An ode to Freshers’ Week friendships
Everyone’s just so nice!!! Sigh
As Cambridge's Freshers' "Week" draws to a staggering halt, and in the wake of the looming insecurity that our post-results delusions of grandeur will be thoroughly exposed to in our first supervisions, it's important to remember that things could be worse. You could be at John's.
But it's probably important to have some kind of support system in place – friends.
To those who ridicule the sanctity of Freshers' Week, and the supposed mundanity of initial social interactions, I direct you to the exquisite succinctness of my first conversation as a Cantab:
"Sohum, Medicine, Hertfordshire."
"Marcus, HSPS, Surrey."
Ah, those three little words everyone longs to hear.
In such answers, two identities were distilled from a complex state of messy ambiguity to being streamlined and efficient. Beyond this, no-one has any delusions that the person they're talking to isn't rapidly evaluating and critiquing every word coming out of their own mouth, in an effort to filter out their schoolboy identity in real-time. After these three words, you can be whomever you want.
"It's just so easy to make friends- we've all got exactly the same personality!" – Jane Doe, 19, Bedfordshire.
Jane's words ring true, as it's almost impossible to disagree with anyone's assertion of their name, subject, and home-town. An easy recipe for lifelong kinship, surely?
"Mother did consider suing the College once I told her I'd lived here four days without having life-affirming existential chats over tea in the gyp with my future maid of honour" – Arabella Charleston, 18, North London (could perhaps be too edgy to say Hertfordshire).
Indeed breaking new research shows that the first Sunday Life of Michaelmas has an 87% chance of finding someone to semi-awkwardly nod and tight-lipped smile at when you pass them on the quad. The lead researcher, Emmanuel Cortega, 31, um… Hertfordshire (sigh), explains that "within milliseconds of dancing in close proximity, each interested party will inadvertently absorb one another's dripping VK-tinged sweat, creating an eternal bond which will see them making the walk to Van of Life together." Powerful stuff.
After all, if a neglected orphan living in a state of perpetual mental abuse with a limited history of social encounters can make mates for life on his first day of Freshers, surely there's hope for us all?
In truth, however, it's more than likely that your experiences were more mixed than you might like to admit to yourself. After a couple weeks in solitude spent replaying their Snapchat stories as all your mates went to Bristol, you may have expected that first kitchen meet to be one of the defining moments of your Michaelmas. Instead, for most people, those encounters were stifled by the natural self-consciousness that comes with the knowledge that reinvention is finally a possibility. In our efforts to hide our middle-class-ness, or to use it as a bedrock of our personality, or to finally seem edgy and mysterious to people who didn't see us keen out in Sixth Form, we overcompensate and mask our personalities. It's a natural consequence of our understandable social anxiety, with a conflict between our desires not to lose friends and our wish to make them. It takes time for personality to emerge, and so if for the first week the only thing you can tell your Mum is that "everyone's just so nice!" without divulging into any specifics, know that soon they'll come.
It's true that Freshers' has a great reputation for friendships, and many lifelong friends have been made in the caverns of Life. But to me, the words of F Scott Fitzgerald (much quoted on The Tab), hold the greatest relevance to this week: "The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath." Relationships are fleeting and ephemeral, but the more time goes on, the more people make little slips, revealing their true personality as opposed to their carefully curated one. It's these slips which will allow lasting friendships to form in Michaelmas, before eventually in Lent we'll all crumble to the pressures of academia, and resign to our destiny as a hermit with a university card.
If you can walk into the bar, and see nineteen people to whom you can only chat about some mutual friends in Herts, know that Freshers' Week has done its job. It may be mechanically contrived, and your enlightened knowledge of social structures will result in some casual dismissal of the more awkwardly obvious getting-to-know-you strategies (interesting fact about yourself, anyone???), but it all has a role. The sheer numbers involved make it ridiculously unlikely that you'll find any future soul mates in the queue to the inflatable assault course, but what Freshers' gives is a sense of comfort. That between the nods in the quads and the chats in the Hall, a community is slowly forming.