Last weekend, I went to a fraternity date function. As I perused the overly packed venue, I spotted a boy I’d wanted to hook up with for a few weeks. Feeling confident from a surge of alcohol, I prepared to approach him.
You can imagine my disappointment as just upon my greeting, another girl in a tight black dress slid in front of him and aggressively began grinding on him. Alas, as I began to turn and accept my defeat, my mind couldn’t erase the image of the mystery girl’s face. I’d seen her before, I just had no idea where. I shrugged it off and played out the rest of my night as one always should: ubered home early, met up with friends in my apartment, and ordered 80 dollars worth of Dominoes.
That Monday, I went to my 3:05 class. Waiting for me upon my arrival was the face I’d been shocked by on Saturday, the girl who had unknowingly gyrated on the target of my affection. She sat two seats away from me. In the three minutes leading up to the class’s commencement, my face turned bright red and my eyes shot downward at any mention of the weekend’s activities. I didn’t really care about her dancing with a guy I’d admired from afar, but was for some reason beyond embarrassed that I’d seen her wasted at a party, aggressively grinding on a boy who I associated with drugs and partying. It just didn’t add up. The illusion of my class friend–who I believe in my mind should only exist in my class–was shattered by my discovery that she had a social life and she too drank a little too much every now and then. I just couldn’t unsee it. She was borderline no longer just a class friend.
What I’ve noticed in my year and a half at Duke is that class friends are an inexplicable phenomenon. My class friends are the people who I engage in small talk with at the beginning and end of each class, awkwardly walk to Perkins with until we diverge to study with other people, and those with whom my brain can only associate academics. They’re the people whose numbers I feel like I should have, but I don’t, so I awkwardly send them Facebook DMs when I forget the due date of an assignment or need someone to motivate me to do an important reading.
Class friends remind me of friendships I have with family friends at home, people who I see only through obligation, but interact with because there’s no other option. The funny thing is, though, I often end up really enjoying my class friends. Then the semester ends, and they disappear as mysteriously as they arrived. I like to categorize my class friends into two groups: those who I sit next to in my unofficial assigned seat and must engage in small talk with, and everyone else—the faces I recognize around campus, but could never connect to a name.
My close class friends, the people I regularly DM on any form of social media, are often really dope people. Some of my class friends are just like me, causing me to wonder why I hadn’t met them sooner, and others are people I’d never usually approach in a social context. Relationships with class friends are often pretty uncomfortable and forced; conversations on Monday about the weekend usually teeter the line of wanting to ask about a class friend’s social life but not being sure if that’s acceptable. With my class friends, I have inside jokes about professors, class material, projects, and my weird academic habits. In a sense, some of my class friends know more about how I live my life everyday than my closest friends with whom I’ve never had class. With class friends, there’s a weird, inherent connection that manifests itself in group project meetings and lulls in class time. This seemingly contradictory relationship has shown me that if one takes the time to (definitely awkwardly) overcome the uncomfortable first few stages of class friendships, some amazing real friendships can emerge.
What’s significantly less amazing, however, is awkwardly crossing the line with a class friend. This year, for example, during a frat party, I ran into a class friend who, like myself, was a little bit tipsy. My first reaction upon seeing and greeting him with an overly enthusiastic hug was to take a selfie. The next logical step was, of course, to make a group message on “What’s App” with every member of our class. This was no easy feat; my class friend and I stood outside of the party for approximately ten minutes making sure we’d included everyone and tracked down some means of contacting them. Finally, I sent the picture, with a very classy caption that read, “Miss you guys!!!!” I included a few tasteful emojis (cat with heart eyes, hearts in every color available, etc.) and called it a day. No one responded. My first sober interactions with these classmates were more uncomfortable than the human mind can even conceive.
I do understand, though, that I’m not the typical Duke student; most people, perhaps, wouldn’t find themselves in such a conundrum. People like me are sometimes the problem when dealing with class friends; it’s quite obvious that I don’t totally understand the boundaries that all class friends naturally, but silently, establish.
Therein lies the next struggle with class friends: how much do you engage with a class friend who doesn’t quite get it? Last semester, one of my more unique class friends, a 25 year-old German graduate student, struggled more than I do with understanding the limitations class friends carry. He was a nice guy, and always related with me and other classmates as we complained about endless readings, but was hell bent on bringing the friendships of outside the classroom.
I was his first target. Evidently he thought I would be the most interested in a class friends gathering at his off campus home. Weirdly enough, I was super down to chill with Jonas and his foreign friends outside of class. My other class friends, however, weren’t so easily convinced. I took it upon myself individually, then, to perform a little experiment and see what happened—I, for some strange reason, was as equally determined as Jonas to take the class friendship to the next level. Sure, it was a little extremist of me; Jonas was a German adult who spoke English that sounded straight out of research databases, and didn’t really understand my humor, but what the hell did I have to lose?
One day, as Jonas and I awkwardly walked to Perkins in typical fashion post-class fashion, he told me he was going to the Nasher. “Oh, perfect!” I exclaimed, “I’ll give you a ride there! It’s on the way home for me, it’s not a big deal at all.” It certainly wasn’t, but alas—the things we do for class friends. I drove Jonas to the Nasher, and the conversation in the car was dominated by me awkwardly spewing out questions about Europe and Berlin, telling him the long-winded story of how I couldn’t decide where to go abroad, and every so often trying (and failing) to make jokes about the state of my messy car. Jonas handled it like a champ.
Jonas, though, being an adult who probably realizes that trivial things like class friendships need not be awkward, was the only class friend I’ve ever had who seemed to have a genuine interest in getting to know me. Most class friendships, like sad stories, end just as they seem to be gaining some momentum. Our friendships aren’t determined by the types of people we encounter in class, but rather by the semesters that confine them.
I’ve had my fair share of class friendship rejections, too, though. Jokingly (but also seriously) promising to get meals with members of a group project, or trying to steer academic conversations toward the personal. Most people find my genuine interest to be too strong, or quite frankly, creepy—it’s certainly not typical class friend ritual to ask people how drunk they got last weekend, or how their fling with a random boy that you probably shouldn’t know about, but do, because it’s obviously class-friend etiquette to follow a close class friend on Instagram.
Then, there are the run-ins, the unpreventable and cringe-worthy moments where class friends run into each other outside the context of academia. When I saw my class friend dancing on my love interest, or when I finally see a class friend sober in class after having drunkenly spent hours with them at Shooters the weekend before. A senior whom I spoke to recalled a time where she ran into a class friend at Harris Teeter buying condoms with the girl he was sleeping with—who also happened to already have a boyfriend. In my opinion, both parties played this run-in perfectly: they all made eye contact, held it for a second to ensure what they were seeing was real, then pretended it never happened. That’s a pretty awkward scenario period, and when you factor in the weird vibes all class friends share, it’s actually a nightmare.
What I keep wondering, though, in light of these stories that are pretty entertaining, is why we’re all so scared to establish real friendships from these class ones. Logistically, class friends are difficult; to really get to know them and see them outside of class, there’s no denying you need to put in some effort and understand the uncomfortable moments that may ensue. But why should they even be so uncomfortable in the first place?
I’ve realized that I often convince myself I understand everyone in my class. If someone consistently makes annoying comments, they must be annoying, and if someone constantly whispers in a class where I’m already confused, they automatically become my mortal enemy. These assumptions, though, while unavoidable, are part of the process that makes class friendships so taboo. It becomes dangerous terrain to claim to understand someone’s vibe and personality based solely off of how they are in a classroom—yet, we all seem to do this anyway.
Maybe, though, the one thing we’re all forgetting about class friendships is the potential they hold. A group from one of my classes last semester that used to communicate solely through Facebook chat regularly plans dinners and meals to catch up. One member even suggested we see the new “Fifty Shades of Gray” movie together. Maybe she’s taking our continuation of the class friendships a little too lightly, but that’s certainly one hell of a way to get comfortable with class friends. Either way, these class-friends-turned-real-friends are amazing, and without my Germany Confronts the Holocaust class discussions, I would’ve never met them.
The phenomenon of class friends is weird, and intriguing, and doesn’t quite make sense, but maybe we’re all overthinking it. We go to Duke University; we are all intelligent, thoughtful, entertaining, interesting, and most importantly, different. Rather than staying in our comfortable social bubbles and leaving only a bit of wiggle room for friendly interactions limited to classrooms, we should open our minds to the possibility of making class friendships into real friendships.
Either way, drunken class-friend run-ins will, at one point or another, simultaneously be awkward, amazing, and cringe-worthy—it would be wrong for that to change.