Ask a Psychologist: Sustaining new, old relationships in college

Dr. Chaz Mailey, psychologist for K-State Counseling Services, answers questions on retaining old relationships and creating new relationships in college. (File Photo by Nathan Jones | The Collegian)

Ask A Psychologist is a continuing series of advice and discussion from Dr. Chaz Mailey, psychologist at K-State Counseling Services, geared towards student-based questions and situations.

Q: College is a time for meeting new people, but it is also a time of leaving old friends. How would you suggest balancing these new friendships with old ones?

Mailey: Consider old friends as being an anchor. Find times when you can get in touch with them and tell them about your experiences. There should be a lot of give and take. It becomes problematic when there is too much take, so focus on listening as well as talking.

As far as new friendships, get a feel for people when interacting with them. Clubs are a great place to meet new people. You can find like-minded people, which could lead to getting along really well. You’re much more likely to make a friend at a drama club if you’re into acting than an environmental club.

It’s also important to step outside your comfort zone. Things are different nowadays with social media, but it is important to step away from that some and focus on face-to-face contact. Look for context to spark interaction, such as a book someone is reading. Conversations don’t have to be very long. Some people are worried how they’ll keep a conversation going if they start it, but a meaningful conversation doesn’t have to be an hour; it can be two to three minutes and comfort builds the more you interact with the person.

Q: Many people discover that their old friends change after going off to school, or they change themselves, whether it be from new interests or priorities. What do you think is the best way to deal with these changes, and sustain the friendship while possibly growing apart?

Mailey: Interests are what draw you to a person from the beginning, and interests change. If there’s something they’ve incorporated into their lives that you’re uncomfortable with, look for ways to engage in other ways.

For example, if your friend is all of a sudden into snake charming and you’re afraid of snakes, maybe try to hang out in a place other than their room where all their snakes are. Probably a more realistic example is maybe you have a friend that has started drinking and that’s not something you’re into. Find other ways to spend your time; maybe find time earlier in the day.

Another example is maybe your friend likes to spend their nights in watching movies, but you like to be out. Find that one night to do that with them for a change. You might have to change how often you interact, but that’s not a bad thing. That’s what happens in life. We sometimes outgrow people, or people outgrow us. Maybe the connection is still there, but it is not as strong.

The important thing is to give voice to things if they are awkward. Maybe you won’t be as close as you once were, but you can still say hi and make small talk in passing. Acknowledge and come to an understanding if that’s where you’re headed.

Q: There’s a lot of new opportunities for socializing while at college, whether it be new friends, parties or dating. How would you suggest balancing a social life with academics? And do you have any tips for those that either focus on the social aspect or academic aspect of college life too much?

Mailey: The first thing is getting a good gauge on how much of each of these things you need. Notice if your grades aren’t so good, and ask yourself what’s keeping me away from getting those things done. Maybe what you need is to focus on classwork during a certain time, and then carve a time to spend with friends.

On the flip side you could have the situation where people aren’t spending enough time with other people. Ask yourself the question, if you had to call someone and ask to hang out right now, do you have someone you could call? We are relations(-based) creatures. Part of the way we are rejuvenated is spending time with people. Find a way to get out even if you’re introverted.

Whichever way you are, it’s like a pendulum. You have to make things a priority. Balance is incredibly important.

Readers can send in your own topics or specific questions for future Ask A Psychologist columns and Dr. Chaz Mailey. You can contact us through the Collegian’s social media pages, or email with your thoughts.