A Teen on the Ups and Downs of High-School Friendship
Our coast-bouncing, computer-coding, movie-making teen Alice Wade is back for round two of Ask a Teen. We talk a lot about adult friendships on MR, so we thought it was high time to talk about friendship under twenty: what causes drama, how has social media affected things, what secrets are shared, etc., etc., (so, just me being generally nosey and Wade being generously patient). As always, join us in the comments below to add in your two cents about your own experience and how different or similar it is from teens these days.
Tell me about your friends. Do you have a group, a crew, a “squad,” one best friend? Are you a loner, a floater?
All of the above. My friendships are constantly shifting and changing. When I was little, I was a loner. My parents bought me a friend; a hamster. On my seventh birthday, my twin Clara’s hamster ate my hamster. My hysterical wailing scared away any possible friends (it’s still the best metaphor I’ve found for mine and Clara’s relationship).
I got better at making friends as I got older. I’ve done the one best friend thing and the classic threesome friendship, which can be problematic. There’s always two against one. I was constantly moving to different countries in my tweens, leaving a trail of friends around the world, making extremely tight bonds with people that, despite being held together by social media, slowly unravelled over time. Since coming back to England and maturing, I have a really tight group of friends.
Do you and your friends pass notes?
Not since we were blessed with Snapchat. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with nostalgia when I find all the handwritten notes and cards from my younger years. I trace the gel-pen stars, missing the tangible quality of memories from before social media. I can’t hold or touch photos on my Instagram feed. Everything’s kept at a distance in “the Cloud.” Maybe that’s why polaroid cameras are so popular with teens. Phones are great, you can take photos over and over until you get one that doesn’t make you look like a duck without a beak — terrifying, Google it — but those images don’t ground you emotionally the way something you can hold does.
How deep does it go? How honest does it get?
It can get deep-deep. The other day my friend told me she had two super-sized tampons wedged in her vagina. At school, people randomly, in unexpected ways, talk openly about their domestic situation, which can be difficult to cope with or react to. It’s like they can’t hide it anymore and it comes out to the group.
Some of my friends are less open. One told me that she could never talk about her parents because they were an “extensions of her” and it would affect they way I felt about her.
When I have panic attacks I depend on a couple of people to squeeze my tingling fingers and get me a glass of water. It’s important to have deep connections with people and be honest with them. It can help you get through the blue bits.
It’s weird, people are open about sex but nobody has come out. Maybe it’s because, having limited experience with the opposite sex, people are hedging their bets, or because people feel the group, despite its openness, wouldn’t be supportive enough.
Is there a girl code or a certain language that you follow and use?
We communicate in groans. The other week everyone was in a state of hormonal turmoil, so we all sat in a circle in our common room. Someone would share a super-serious problem and we would all groan together, like a group of elephants mourning the loss of a calf.
“When I eat crisps I can’t hear Netflix.”
“I have spots of my bum that will. not. go. away.”
“I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life.”
How do you know when a friendship is toxic?
If you’re in an unequal relationship, one where you are dependent on someone who doesn’t really care. Sometimes I’m drawn to manipulative people who can make me feel like I’m the center of their universe one day, then they completely ignore me the next.
It’s important to open up the possibility of asking other people what they think the friendship looks like from an exterior point of view. It’s worth separating yourself from that person, even a tiny bit, to a) open yourself up to finding other people who will value you and b) show your “toxic” friend that you’re not completely dependent on them.
Have your parents ever gotten involved in your friendships?
My parents used to be hyper-sensitive to any friendship bust-ups, threatening to declare war on anyone I was in a fight with. They also saw themselves as matchmakers, trying to foist friends on me (very uncomfortable). When you’re younger you have a different power relationship with your parents. It’s based on protection. But as you grow up and become more autonomous, they have to reinvent themselves to become something other than you’re protector. I’m trying to disentangle myself from my dad, who is convinced he’s my best friend.
Have you had any friend breakups?
Yeah, I’ve drifted apart and lost contact with a lot people as I’ve gotten older and moved to different countries. There is an emphasis on the importance of strong female friendships, particularly in the media, which can create a certain amount of pressure. I’m learning that it’s okay to distance yourself from people who you no longer mesh with, or who don’t support the person you’re becoming. Particularly at boarding school, friendships can get really intense because you spend so much time together. It can be overwhelming.
I unfollow people every day on Instagram. It’s so easy to unsubscribe, to break that connection with a click of a button, but in real life, with real friends, it’s much harder. It’s messy.
Does social media negatively affect your friendships?
I reached out to my Instagram community to ask for their thoughts on this one (super millennial, I know). According to @Bert_beildeman, social media is, “the biggest card dealer at the table of friendship.” It has a massive influence on who you stay friends with, who you fall out with, etc. @tarachandra_ says that social media can have a, “negative, destructive effect through jealousy, comparison and idolization.” (50% of her friends were made through Instagram.)
At school, I have a group of close friends, but on Instagram, I have a tribe of followers. There’s a disconnect there which can get confusing. Social media creates a false sense of intimacy. It fosters illusions of friendship, which make us believe we have a large, built-in support system. It can also set unrealistic expectations. You think someone is witty on Instagram, then meet them IRL and realize there’s no way he or she wrote those ironic captions.
Life isn’t always peachy without social media. My twin doesn’t have Snapchat and sometimes feels isolated and vulnerable without it.
How does it positively affect your friendships?
It majorly speeds up the friendship process, it helps you stay in contact, it brings people closer, it allows you to find new friends and you can send people so much love via a wide array of multi-colored hearts.
What are your tips for making new friends?
Laugh a lot and smile loads. They’ll point out the broccoli in your teeth and you’ll be best friends forever.