While wrapping up my neuroscience and psychology studies at St Andrews a little over 8 years ago, I began to study the time people dedicate to managing human relationship – a topic that is discussed in The Pragmatist’s Guide to Life, a book I just released through a nonprofit foundation I created as a hobby (should cost less than a pound to buy). I wrote this article to promote the launch of the book.
Ultimately, every friendship you have and fritter away the time to maintain is an expense you are choosing to assume. You chose to shoulder this cost for any of a variety of anticipated benefits (typically it is a combination of factors).
- You plan to receive continuing positive emotional reinforcement from this individual (You use this person to make you feel good).
- This person has utility to you through their access to resources (This could be jobs upon graduation, other friends you value more, access to potential long-term mating partners, access to events you may want to attend, rich parents and a nice allowance, help with classes, etc.)
- This person reinforces some aspect of you self identity (This can be anything from not wanting to see yourself as someone with very few friends to not wanting to see yourself as someone who abandons a person after keeping in touch no longer become convenient).
It was a self-identity-driven motivation to socialise that was uniquely debilitating to me and many of the people I knew while at St Andrews. I had come to university with the expectation that part of the experience would be about building and maintaining friendships. I, as many do, defined a successful university experience as one that included vibrant friendships with classmates.
Why did I waste my time consorting with other humans? For one part, a huge portion of the media I consumed—be that books, magazines, movies, TV shows, or music—exemplified a successful university exprience as one encumbered by numerous friendships. This perception was compounded by the fact that the people with whom I was most likely to have contact at university were those with a large number of “friends,” which inflated my perception of the number of friends with which my peers where saddling themselves.
Why was my choice to socialise problematic? Simply put: time spent doing anything just because you see it in media and the behaviour of visible people around you is very likely time wasted. Your time at St. Andrews—and on earth in general— is extremely short. You should take personal ownership of every action you take, and every minute you spend.
If you are going to spend your university experience burdened with the perception that a huge portion of your time must be devoted to cultivating relationships, at least take a moment to reflect on why you are doing this. Contemplate why specifically you are maintaining these relationships and what value they have to you. Try to find some reasoning that goes beyond: “I am a young human and young humans are supposed to maintain interpersonal networks, anyone who would challenge that is crazy!” Alternatively, if you tell yourself that you are expending time maintaining a relationship because you will gain more happiness or utility from doing that than anything else you better be sure you have actually taken the time to reflect on whether or not that is true.
Asking yourself this question may help you realise that there are other, far more important uses of your time. You may realise that, if your goal is to have fun in college, there are at least twelve things that you enjoy over socialising, so you ought to prioritise them instead. You may conclude that you are at St. Andrews to kick off a strong career, so your time is far better spent securing a job and building a career and name for yourself. Or you may realise that you enjoy making money far more than making friends, so your time would be much better spent kicking off a local startup—perhaps one that capitalises on the average university student’s weakness for social conformity and FOMO.
This is not to say there is no value in social interaction within a university context. For example, if you are interacting with individuals because you know you value recreational intercourse and see recreational intercourse as an expected outcome of a given interaction, there is a sound logical framework behind the cost of the time expenditure.
That said, I would argue that the best reason to interact with individuals in a college context is the search for a long term partner. It is unlikely you will never be in a context again with as many pre-vetted marriage candidates with whom you can engage in trial relationships without significant social cost. As someone who has seen the expected outcome of St. Andrews University experience, those classmates your friends ridicule for obsessing about finding a marriage partner have the highest probability of expected return from their time at the university. Unlike the mercurial nature of friendships, the long term benefits of a solid and successful life partner, especially with the lower divorce rates of our generation, are difficult to argue.
If you found this article fun and like having core beliefs that “everyone just knows are true” challenged, I strongly suggest you check out The Pragmatist’s Guide to Life.