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Friendships in Transitions

Insights from the OUE Research Team

Having friends and having high-quality friendships (friendships characterized by higher levels of companionship, help, and emotional support; lower levels of conflict; and relative ease of conflict resolution) are key protective factors against loneliness. The transition to college is a challenging time for friendship, as many students go from having close friendships with people they’ve known for many years, to starting from scratch with a new group of strangers. In addition, because of where they are developmentally, students can feel like others have their new friendship groups figured out and that they are alone in feeling they have a lot of acquaintances but not any good friends yet, which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and not belonging. Experiencing feelings of loneliness from time to time is normal and appropriate, and in fact, serves an important function in helping push us to engage with others when we’re feeling disconnected. Unfortunately, loneliness can also make us want to withdraw and not reach out to others, so it’s important to work against that and keep reaching out even if sometimes we don’t feel like it.

A key message to share with students is that making new friends takes time. Researcher Jeffrey Hall (2018) followed young people across transitions, and found that it takes over 100 hours of time spent together to move from an acquaintanceship to a friendship, and another 100 hours or more to move from casual to close or best friendship. Importantly, this isn’t time spent together at work or in class, but rather time hanging out together and talking. It’s important to encourage students to calibrate their expectations for friendship to the situation they are in, and try not to feel too disappointed or discouraged when new acquaintanceships and potential friendships at college aren’t as close as the friendships they had (and likely still have) from home. Connecting with old friends while investing time in making new ones is the key to eventually developing rich and rewarding friendships in their new home at Duke.