January 30, 2022

Olguín | Friendships of Proximity

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My high school English literature teacher still lives in my mind. Somewhere in between telling us what cocktail drink we most represent and breaking down Camus, he wiggled himself into my brain, and I haven’t been able to think the same since. He was the person who broke the news to everyone sitting in his senior English class that after graduating high school, we wouldn’t talk to the majority of our friends. 

“Most of your friends right now are friendships of proximity,” he said. “You won’t be friends with most of them after high school.” 

I hadn’t understood it at the time; I didn’t know the different ways life would get in the way of friendship. And I didn’t know that we were all just starting on our journey of learning and uncovering our own selves. 

I assumed he was wrong, but I also assumed that I knew more than I did. I thought it would be easy to keep in touch; I believed that all of my high school friendships would survive the passage of time, the distance of thousands of miles and the changes in our identities. I knew that my friendships were all genuine, deep and potentially lifelong. But I didn’t know that although they would last for a long time, they might not last forever. Because what does? 

In college, I’ve thought about those “friendships of proximity.” Those are the ones that can form in your classes or on your dorm floor. The people you meet may be cool and nice, but they aren’t necessarily “your people” at first. Friendships of proximity, I think, are essential to figuring out who you are as a friend and who you’d ultimately like to be friends with — especially within the variety of extraordinary people you’re bound to meet in college. Some turn into the closest friends, and others excitedly greet you as you pass in the hallway or on the quad. 

When I came to Cornell, the first friends I made eventually became some of my closest college friends. They introduced me to a world of variety and possibility that I didn’t know existed. With them, I found another level of vibing with someone so hard that you just can’t stop laughing when you’re around them. They were the reason why leaving for home at the end of freshman year felt so difficult. These people — these strangers who I didn’t know a year before — had seen me in my highest of highs and in my lowest of lows, all while navigating their own transformations. They had morphed into my people. 

Which is why it’s so difficult for me now to reflect back on my English teacher’s blunt realism. But I’m anxious, constantly thinking, and I hate uncertainty — to the point where I look up Wikipedia synopses of movies as I watch them. 

To think about this as a second semester senior — when all of the friendships I have now are the ones that have survived the trials and tribulations of college, a worldwide pandemic and social isolation — is de-stabilizing. Because my friends are my closest comforts, so I hope they aren’t friends of proximity. 

I mostly think about this now because I’m starting to reach a conclusion, which I’m honestly still convincing myself to believe. As much as I want to know the ending to the amazing, life changing friendships I’ve made in college, I don’t want them to end in indifference. I’m trying to learn to be okay with friendships ending after years of impacting my life. There’s no Wikipedia synopsis on this. 

So amidst my insecurity, I’m happy that I met my people and that they stuck by me this far. I’m grateful that they made me laugh so hard I fell on the slope, boiled me some country peach passion tea, taught me how to ski, challenged my preconceived notions and even knitted a balaclava for me. I’m touched that they saw me and my vulnerability, hunkered down and said, “Yup, I’ll stay.” I’m eternally grateful that they were there for me every step of the transformative way, before I could even figure out how to be there for myself. 

My sentimental self would dedicate a whole playlist to them, but it couldn’t possibly capture all my thoughts and feelings. If only there was a repeat button so that we could do it all over again.

Regardless of how we eventually end up, I hope they know how excited I am for all the time we have left. In my time here, they’ve been the best thing that ever happened to me.

Vanessa Olguín is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Long Story Short runs every other Friday this semester.