Building networks of friendships

By Aiswarya Devi

GRAPHIC: EUGENE THAM

GRAPHIC: EUGENE THAM

As university students, one of the biggest adventures that awaits us in our final year is the graduation trip.

For most of us, the graduation trip is almost a rite of passage as we segue into life as a working adult. It is our one last attempt to bask in the joys of a carefree life.

As I was pondering on this momentous trip recently, something occurred to me.

I was unsure of who of the many students graduating with me I would like to travel with.

It is commonly acknowledged that travelling together requires mutual trust and the capacity to lean on one another. The Huffington Post even has a “travel compatibility” quiz that lets readers check if they are vacationing with the right friend.

In my four years of university, I have made many friends. Yet, there is not a single person that I could think of taking this momentous journey with.

And then it hit me.

From the moment we start out as freshmen, we are constantly seeking to build relationships that are beneficial. Relationships that could lend us a helping hand in tutorials, lead to great internships and land us the perfect job. We term this process “networking”.

My best friend and I met in secondary school. We bonded over a mutual love for chocolate. Since then, our friendship has seen us through acne, horrifying exam results, boys and so much more.

When I was in my second year of university, she went overseas to pursue further education. It was the loneliest I have ever felt.

Although I have been surrounded by many friends in university, I feel that I lack the companionship that my best friend could provide. My friendships in university have been part of “networking”.

Here, I do not mean to blame networking for my loneliness. Instead, I am simply observing a phenomenon that most of my friends have experienced too.

In our eagerness to make beneficial relationships, many of us overlook forging genuine, deep friendships. We hang out in large groups of friends. We share stories and laughter. However, these individuals are ultimately mere acquaintances.

Over the past four years, I have spent countless hours among large groups of strangers that I call friends. We take part in co-curricular activities together, working for a common cause. We even band together in cold tutorial rooms, to study for impending finals. We stick together in large groups until the end of the semester — until it is mutually beneficial to us.

And then we disperse.

We spend our semester breaks with minimal contact — other than the occasional likes on Facebook or Instagram. Social networking sites become the basis of our friendships.

As we mature from freshmen to seniors, how we use social networking sites also changes. These sites thus become less of a platform to keep in touch with one another, and more of a database of connections we turn to for favours.

Many people who write for online blogs, including my friends and I, often use Facebook to source for interviewees or other related information. It is not uncommon for me to come across Facebook statuses that read “Anyone who has used the latest iPhone, please PM. Writing a story”.

In the digital age, our networks have become one of our greatest resources. And we strive hard to build them. Four years of university seems to be barely enough to strengthen this resource.

So we do not waste time. We hesitate to spend time making friendships that are not beneficial — that do not help us forge a path to our future careers.

Friendships in university do not begin with mutual understanding, but mutual benefits.

And as I reflect, I wonder if I have lost out on making true friendships because of my overzealous attempts to network.

Perhaps, somewhere among the huge groups of friends that I was attempting to add to my growing network of acquaintances, I may have overlooked that one great friend that I could be travelling with for my graduation trip.