Being Popular In School

When I was younger, I wanted to be popular.

Raised on a diet of Mean Girls, High School Musical and Totally Spies, I grew up thinking school was an all-out feudal system where girls clawed at each other to be on top.

But I didn’t care about being the Regina George of my school. Rather, I wanted to have many friends and be liked by everybody.

I guess most girls want the same thing. We want to get hundreds of likes, and our friends to comment “Yasss queen” on our Instagram posts. We want our social calendars to be filled with Swee Choon suppers, ‘chill’ drinking sessions or clubbing with the squad.

More importantly, we don’t want to be lonely.

But after spending most of my four years in Uni trying to maintain such a lifestyle, I realised how my pursuit of being well-liked was pointless.

Life in Uni

Entering Uni, I adopted a #YOFO (You Only Freshie Once) attitude. In my first year, I signed myself up for three back-to-back Freshmen Orientation Camps, cheerleading, bouldering and a sub-committee position in the Hall JCRC (Junior Common Room Committees).

In between saying “Hi” to familiar faces as I walked back to Hall and chatting with my teammates over smoke breaks, I thought I had created a community for myself; I felt like I belonged.

But of course, balancing multiple CCAs and my social life, all while trying to maintain a second Upper, took a toll on my mental health. I was busy trying to be happy, but I wasn’t happy at all.

I was spending so much time with other people that I didn’t have time for myself. I was tired and I withdrew into myself.

During this time of self-imposed isolation, I discovered I had become lonely because I didn’t spend enough time creating significant relationships.

Why some Uni group chats eventually fall silent

During dinner with some of my oldest friends, we talked about why many of the friends you make in the first year of University rarely stick around for the fourth. I also learnt I wasn’t the only one who felt stressed out by the need to be a ‘social butterfly’ or found it difficult to keep friendships going.

Our conclusion to why Freshman Orientation Camp group chats inevitably die and friendships dissolve is because we often build friendships around wanting to have fun.

We want a group of ride-or-die friends like in the movies to get f*cked up, take joy rides, and party with. Never mind if you don’t have much in common, alcohol will solve that.

And in the process of doing some of the craziest, dumbest things like scaling rooftops to ‘chill and drink’. We create our fondest memories with people we eventually have to let go of because true friendships aren’t just made of ‘fun’.

‘Fun friends’ versus True friends’

True friendship is about staying up late and going through your friend’s FYP despite not wanting to and having work the next day. Fun friends would just pat you on the back and say “Jiayou, I believe in you” before falling fast asleep.

True friendship is about holding interventions and slapping sense into a friend’s who hoe-d around a little too much. Fun friends would just let them “be experimental” and encourage them to “just YOLO”.

And when someone stops having or being fun, his or her presence is often quickly replaced.

Though you’ll try to save the friendship, there’s nothing worse than attempting to revive an already dead friendship. Despite how much it hurts, sometimes the best thing you can do is to let the friendship go.

Changing the way I made friends

The talk changed the way I saw friendships–I thinned my social circle and focused on creating a ‘friend family’.

While having a huge, diverse group of friends is great for learning new perspectives and networking, the reality is I only have a limited amount of time and energy to invest in others.

But it’s not to say I don’t enjoy the company of or want to maintain friendships with those who aren’t as dear.

I do like socialising. However, I’d rather prioritise time for people who truly matter; the ones who value me as much as I value them. Sadly, these long-lasting friendships are tough to keep and even more difficult to come by.

The amount of hard work and effort required to maintain such friendships also limits the amount of time you can spend with other friends.

I guess this is why some studies say you only need five significant relationships for a fulfilling life.

Being Lonely Isn’t The Same As Being Alone

As much as popularity seems great, I wish I had spent more time trying to create meaningful relationships than being popular.

Nowadays, my days are routine. I go to work, have dinner with my boyfriend, and set aside other days for my closest friends and family.

Despite having fewer people in my life, my support group has never been stronger. The validation and strength I draw from the few make me feel good about myself; I no longer feel alone.

If you often feel alone when you’re with groups of people, maybe you need to take a step back and give yourself some space to think how you want to live your life.

After all, there’s a quiet integrity in knowing who you are as a person and paying attention to what genuinely makes you happy.

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