Why Socialization Events are Unappealing

Socialization events fail to make natural and long-lasting friendships, but we can take steps on our own by removing the focus on friendship entirely or becoming self-sufficient in creating friends.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Joanna Meng

As a freshman, the issue of socialization is ever-present in my mind. There’s this empty feeling—knowing how different, how much better, my life could be right this moment in an alternate universe where COVID-19 doesn’t exist. I often wander back to this feeling, imagining myself meeting new people in all my classes and clubs. I envision myself taking exams with other freshmen, and that moment right after the bell rings, when we complain about how difficult the test was. I also imagine suppressing my laughs from the whispered comments made by funny classmates in between teachers’ words.

In every situation that I’ve fantasized about, though, there were other people who made light out of the wearisome Stuyvesant workload. To be deprived of these encounters has reduced school to a miserable, deadline-ridden experience.

As a result, when opportunities like the “Speed-Friending Event” pop up, they garner lots of attention. I am sure many extroverted people will gleefully flock to the event, but I also feel as though the way the event is structured would repulse other students. In the Student Union’s defense, it is a fresh and original idea that I have never heard before. In addition, they planned everything out and made a valiant effort to help students socialize during quarantine. These concessions, however, do not shield them from criticism. That the entire focus of the event is simply talking to people makes me question how productive it was and whether or not the participants genuinely expected to find friends from it.

First off, though it’s an overused trope that Stuyvesant students are swamped with homework and have no time for silly socializing games with strangers online, there’s some truth to it. “What’s the point?” A freshman might ask themselves. “There’s an upcoming test the next A1 day, and I need a full score to save my average from plummeting into oblivion, so why would I waste my time for an awkward Zoom call where you basically do nothing?” Like Animal Crossing, the main point is that the misleading lure of friendship is not enough to cover up for the fact that the entire event is pointless small talk.

I have never been keen on making friends for the sake of making friends. Often, it makes the basis of a friendship superficial to the point where it’s not really a friendship at all. I know many people in my life who are my friends just because they want a friend out of me. I’ve chatted and giggled with them from time to time, but after those discussions ended, the feeling of emptiness lingered. People like that don’t really care about me as an individual—they simply labeled me as their friend and only act like ones on the surface level. They’ve said they felt sorry for me when I was upset, and they’ve helped me out on difficult homework questions, but they’ve never made an effort to talk to me during quarantine. They were never there when I was in need. Over time, we avoided each other until we were back to being strangers.

There is nothing wrong with wanting people to relate and be close to, but the idea of just wanting someone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Every individual has their own equally unique life, and to turn the idea of a friend into a pet is self-centered and ignorant. So does that mean I shouldn’t desire any friends, especially when my entire social life is on a screen? Not exactly, because it is important to differentiate between wanting to talk more to someone because you relate to them or because they make you feel happy, and wanting someone to fill a role you’ve predetermined for them.

Similar events include the “Homeroom Mix-and Match Sessions.” I admire all the Big Sibs for wanting to help us inexperienced freshmen, but I speculate that this particular activity is not as effective as it was intended to be. This event has essentially the same purpose as the “Speed-Friending Event,” but is nonetheless very different. We usually play a few rounds of Among Us with new people and our Big Sibs, so that glosses over the productivity problem. It is a recurring event that happens every now and then, but one of the glaring issues is how it doesn’t seem to have long-lasting effects. Friendship doesn’t occur instantaneously for many people, including myself, and I tend to forget most of the names of the people I play Among Us with. This also is a potential issue in the Speed-Friending Event—because there’s so little allotted time to connect with new people, it’s difficult to form lasting bonds.

Another common failure in all of these events is that an hour-long Zoom call does not even begin to compensate for an entire lost school year of socialization. “We are in a difficult and unprecedented time,” these meager efforts seem to say. “And there is nothing we can do about it.” Even after all this event planning and coordination, we end up back at square one and realize we never got anywhere in the first place.

It’s unfair to judge an event you’ve never been to, so of course, I went. For a brief explanation of how it works, you join a breakout room with around one to two people and every couple of minutes you’d be scrambled into another breakout room. These first few rounds were beyond painful and awkward, but if I was lucky, there was an extrovert who dominated the conversation and relieved me of my agony. After an hour passed, the host decided to make breakout rooms of about five to seven people and the event became more chaotic and comfortable.

Some of the conversations were clearly thoughtless and dull—like people were just talking in fear of silence. These felt a lot more empty and pointless. If anything, I enjoyed the torture of an awkward group much more than the mindless discussions because it felt ironically more eventful. When the larger breakout rooms began, the socialites would shout over each other, each engaging in topics even more unproductive than the previous ones. Nonetheless, people still seemed to be enjoying themselves, since they were mostly extroverts.

In conclusion, the “Speed-Friending Event” was more of a get-together for people who already knew each other or didn’t seem to have a loneliness problem, and I don’t have any new friends. I wasn’t really expecting to, so it was a fine experience overall, but that means it has failed its purpose. There is no harm in continuing this event in the future, but there is a limit to how exciting the next one will be after it has already happened once. To be brutally honest, I doubt that the Student Union can foster natural and true friendships at all, so it should not market its events as if it can. That's just misleading. Instead, it should sit in the background and let students make friendships themselves. They can still help people connect by developing fun ideas, but not in a way as forward as putting people in a breakout room and expecting them to bond instantly.

The issue of isolation and lack of socialization should be addressed discreetly. It should be hidden under the premise of something more productive and enticing. The main focus of any bonding event should never be the friends part, rather, it should be an activity like a video game or just anything else, like the “Mix-and-Match Sessions.” To be as blunt as possible, if you want to make friends, then you should not want to make friends. You should want to do a certain activity, and if you just so happen to meet someone that you like, you should decide to talk to them more.

On an even broader scale, though, I propose that individual students take a deep breath and push themselves out of their comfort zone. In an ideal virtual world, people would freely direct messages to each other, and plan smaller scale “events” amongst themselves. Though social anxiety makes it difficult to take the initiative, we should take advantage of the fact that our social lives are virtual. Technology might be able to relieve the pressure of being judged by our fellow classmates. When we are online, we have the ability to manipulate how the world sees us by editing photos of our faces, having more time to think of appropriate responses to text messages, and hiding parts of ourselves that we are not comfortable sharing with others. From the comfort of our own control, we can find confidence to be ourselves and liberation from our personal histories.

If third party organizations can’t hand out real friendships, us freshmen have to take matters into our own hands. We can’t rely on an hour of Among Us to solve our social problems, and we can’t expect to bond with other people just because we are in a breakout room together for three minutes. I understand that reaching out to others is daunting, but it's either a harmless “Hello” or waiting until a world pandemic is over. It's up to you.