I used to be a high maintenance friend; I thought frequency of communication or proximity were markers of depth of friendship. When I thought that way, I was also younger, and I believe thinking that way is a normal part of development and our understanding of friendship. However, I’ve grown in my understanding of friendship, and I am thankful for not only the examples of friendship I see in the lives of my loved ones, but also my friends who have taught me how to be a friend. The purpose of this post is to speak to the importance of low maintenance friendships especially when one of you has a career in Student Affairs.
Well firstly, what do I mean when I say “low maintenance friend”? In my opinion, a low maintenance friend is a person with whom your relationship remains intact without you having to “do a whole lot”. These are the people you don’t talk to every day or week, and most likely don’t see often either. To give you an idea, I will give some details about 3/6 of my low maintenance friends.
- Lives 2 hours away, we talk on the phone maybe every 2 months. We send long text updates monthly. Full time student with a full time job.
- Lives 15 minutes away. Travels often. Married. We talk on the phone maybe once a month.
- Lives 1.5 hours way. Full time student. Part time job. We never talk on the phone. Bump into each other at random/ call each other for important events, needs or crises.
If you asked me to name my best or dearest friends, those three would make the cut every time.
So, why are people like this important when you have a career in Student Affairs?
Because our schedules are weird.
When I look at my calendar, my supervisors’ calendars or even my classmates/colleagues, they never look the same, and they often look overwhelming. There are always a few random weeknights, Sunday mornings, or consecutive days that don’t align with the “traditional” 9-5 M-F job that many people associate with full-time employment. What does this mean for you as a friend? Well, maybe you friend has to be at a program until 8:30pm after working 9-5, so no hanging out that night. Or, is your friend completing a degree program on top of their career? They might be in class til 10p a few nights a week. Is it the beginning or end of a semester? There might be some extra programming happening for students that your friend has to go to. In many functional areas, there is no such thing as a “typical day” or “typical week”; the ever-changing nature of the work is something many of us enjoy, but can be a hard concept to grasp for those close to us. I hope this helps you understand the level of grace that is necessary when in friendships with people who work in Student Affairs, and also those who are students while working in the field.
Because our work is also hard and important.
I know, not many people know what Student Affairs is, and sometimes the importance is diminished. We are educators, counselors, administrators, event planners, supervisors, advisors and more all wrapped up into one. We engage with college students on a daily basis, and life is always happening. The students with whom we work are real people going through real life on top of their studies or campus involvement, and sometimes (oftentimes) we are the ones rolling up our sleeves to guide them through their emotional work. This can be draining, and sometimes we don’t have the energy it takes to connect with you after a day at work. Sometimes, all we want to do at the end of a day is relax, and that might not always include other people. Truth be told, sometimes it may include people other than you (family, roommates, significant others etc.) In the same vein, sometimes what we want to do is listen to a podcast or music or practice self-care, and with our limited free time, we may be choosing to do those things instead of talking to or spending time with you. That does not mean that we don’t value you or the friendship we have with you, but that we also value ourselves, our mental, emotional and physical health and our inner lives.
Because friendship is not about frequency or proximity, but intentionality, presence and quality.
Sometimes, we feel like people aren’t our friends if they don’t like every social media post, respond to every text message or come out to every happy hour, but is this really all friendship is? I’d dare to say no. For me, I measure my friendships on the love and support we provide for each other, the substance of our conversations/interactions (however limited they may be) and the places we hold in each other’s hearts. Can I share the deepest parts of my soul with you? Will you still be my friend when I am in a pit of darkness? Do you encourage me? Can I trust you? If those answers are yes but you can’t come to brunch or don’t talk to me every day, does that mean you aren’t really my friend? Of course not, because it is clear that our friendship extends so far beyond those social interactions. I’d pose that against the backdrop of a career in Student Affairs, brunch and drinks may be pushed to the wayside, but your support and love as a friend will be noticed. Why? One is a requirement in friendship and the other isn’t. I can go to drinks and brunch with coworkers and classmates or anyone else, but everyone won’t love and support me like my friends.
Although there are so many other things that makes friendship important and difficult with a career in Student Affairs, I hope that something above resonated with you. Friendship is such a beautiful and necessary part of life, and it often gets tricky. In any relationship there will be times to sit down and be honest about what’s working and what isn’t, so maybe this will serve as a conversation starter if you’re feeling some of those pressures in your current friendships.