Yes. This happens. As I write this post I am still chewing on how to write it. Hmm..
I am social person, but I am also shy. I love my friends, my family, seeing, and doing new things. I am an introvert at times and just want to be with myself, or with my closest people. I don’t talk a lot, and sometimes I do. I am a listener. I love the outdoors, traveling, eating, and all that good stuff. I love people, and sometimes I don’t. I am a loyal friend, and maintain my friendships.
Before doing my Ph.D., friendships were natural, and easy. I had a fantastic experience and transition from my undergraduate life to my professional life. I also lived in a fantastic city, which was the icing on the cake. My circle of friends grew, my existing friendships were strengthened, and new ones were fun. From quantity, I found quality. Quality friendships, and quality life. When I did my Masters I again found great, deep friends. We helped each other through the stresses of our programs, the bullshits you encounter everyday, and even the terrible professors who attack you personally. They got me through shit. These friendships and conversations were no longer around buying your first home, starting a family, or starting the weekend on Thursdays, like they were before. They were now around the things I mentioned above.
I also learned about friends and acquaintances. I never fucking knew that acquaintances were actually something. I learned about this phenomenon in my Masters. I always wondered, “Who the fuck is an acquaintance?!” Well I found out. I realized that an acquaintance – at least to me – was someone who only knew you when they needed something, or wanted to find out what you were doing. Someone who uses you to advance their politics, or their agenda. Someone who always asks you about your stuff, but is very vague in telling you stuff. Someone who takes, but never gives. I started seeing how strategic people were (I only realized this years later) in what they did. I was now apparently in a world where friendships were no longer what I knew them to be. Apparently, you had to be careful.
Making new friends as an adult is tough. Most people already have their close circle of friends. I too have my close circle of friends, but most of us are on different paths. Most have families, and are actually doing adult stuff like buying homes, cars, and/ or having kids, and getting married. I realized how small my circle of friends were when one day something happened to me. I can’t remember what it was, but I was taking a walk and wanted to talk with someone. I could not think of one person to call. My friends were either far away, or at work, or doing their own shit. Other Ph.Ds had their own families, and other shit to deal with, plus, because of the cutthroat and back-stabbing nature of academia – it’s worst than fucking Game of Thrones – you have to be careful who you tell what, because it can come back to stab you. It was at that moment – and many more since then – that I realized I didn’t feel like I had someone I could call on at 3am if needed to. That did not feel good, since it is not who I am.
Everyone might have a different definition of friendship. I have my definition and currently, I feel like I have many openings for friends. The Ph.D. process is a lonely one, and this decreasing circle of friends adds to the fuckedupness of it. It can also be where you forge very tight friendships with your colleagues since you all hopefully help each other through the arduous, exhausting, and emotional toll a Ph.D. can take on you. Many of your life-long friends have no idea what you do so you can’t talk about your work with them. This I actually see as a plus, because I can talk about all the other bullshit I love to talk about with them. They take me out of the stifling academic bubble. This is definitely a plus. The question for me over the past few months have been, how do I make new friends? Not acquaintances, but friends.
This problem, which I have read about in other places, such as here and here, is pushing me to take action. To try to make time to focus on finding, making, and developing existing and new friendships. True friendships that are not solely around work. In fact, in my Masters and PhD, I have always sought out friendships with people OUTSIDE my program. This way our conversations would never be about our specific area of work, plus I really learn something new and get new perspectives. My goal is to GET A LIFE. I would hate to finish this Ph.D. and feel alone. Because that will be Phase two of the real shit in trying to get an academic position where things will be even worst.