On the first day of high school, my entire grade was split into groups to take campus tours. The groups were split alphabetically, by last name. Two girls had the same last name, and instantly bonded over it. I happened to be standing next to them. What happened next? The three of us became friends. And though 1 of those girls ultimately transferred away from our high school, the 2nd girl and I are still friends today, over a decade later.
Fast forward several years and I’m standing in Madrid’s Puerta de Sol. It’s my second or so week studying abroad in Spain. As one of the centers of Madrileno life, the town square was bustling. I was there that day to to take a “welcome to Madrid” tour with students from ERASMUS, a European exchange student network. I didn’t know anyone else on the tour, and started talking to the people who happened to be standing next to me. They soon became some of the most important people in my study abroad experience.
I’ve always found it funny how friendships can be born of convenience and logistics. We want to think that all of our friends become our friends because we share values and interests. And sure, I have lots of friends like that- friends I met through extracurriculars, or people that I got to know over time. But I often find it sort of funny that many of my good friends popped up into my life simply because at some point, they were standing right there, next to me. The fact we stayed friends was our own doing, of course. But the initial “meeting” wasn’t.
College students in the U.S. will relate to the “Freshman Floor” scenario, where you become really close to people on your freshman floor. You may have filled out a housing survey before you go to college, but I guarantee you that your university didn’t make you all take a personality quiz, then match you up based on moral codes, religious beliefs, etc. Many of those assignments were probably quite random. And yet, freshman floormates bond instantly, because of proximity and because of being together in a new environment. Many freshman floormates live together throughout college, even when they don’t “have” to. I didn’t live with any freshman floormates beyond my first year, but that’s largely because my best friends from my freshman floor were male. And guess what? We’re still friends today.
It’s not that I think my friends and I SHOULDN’T be friends, or that we’re only friends by default. I just find it interesting that many of my friendships grew out of who I happened to be next to at some particular moment in time. I notice these social dynamics most when it’s a group of people who are all new to each other, and there’s no preexisting social grouping. It seems like people gravitate to one group or another, and stick it out.
Does this mean that you should strategically choose your seat the next time you enter a room of new people? Probably not- unless you’re someone who chooses friends based on appearance alone (in which case, shame on you!). Until you talk to someone, you really won’t know if you’re destined to be friends, and you won’t know whether you’ll want to put in the effort and nurture good friendships need. But the next time you go to a conference or something else with a group dynamic and a bunch of unfamiliar people- keep an eye on how social groups form. It may very well be that like people gravitate to like people… or it may be that it’s simply easiest to get to know someone who is put right in your path.