Confession #1: I was a frat boy in college.
Confession #2: It was freaking awesome.
Confession #3: I popped my collar* on several occasions.
The knock on fraternities and sororities goes something like, “I would never join a fraternity/sorority. I mean, you have to pay dues every month. Isn’t that basically paying for friends and kind of super-completely desperate?”
The answer is yes, it is. Also, it’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
Every month, I paid dues to be part of my frat. I got a part-time job as a file clerk to afford it. For all that money and effort, I got to live in a house with dudes I generally enjoyed being around. That meant I not only always had guys to hang out with—I always had guys who I knew had my back. My parting gift after graduation was cutting a hole in the drywall and dropping a beer between the studs for some future guy to discover. (A warning to whoever finds the treasure: It’s probably skunked by now. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t drink it.)
But when I graduated and left the nest (literally; we had nesting rats living in the ceiling of the frat house), I floundered. I moved to a suburb outside of Greenville, South Carolina** for my first job. I went from living in a house with 60 other guys in the heart of a vibrant city of six million to a one bedroom apartment in a middle-class suburban town of a few thousand. I knew exactly one person. Sorta. He was a friend of my brother-in-law from college who I vaguely remembered meeting once. He was cool enough, but his apartment smelled like moldy cats.
After a few weeks in my new town, a strange feeling started to creep over me. It began as moments of confusion: I’d be hungry and would not know what to do. In college, I’d just open my door and shout down the hall to see who else was hungry and then head out. Now, I’d drive through Arby’s and bring my sad sack of beef*** back to my apartment to eat alone. Eventually, my not-very-evolved emotional brain put the pieces together and realized the strange feeling I was experiencing had a name: Loneliness. I was lonely, and I needed people.
My first thought was, “This is definitely a weakness.” Surely the feeling of needing people was a juvenile trait that I was meant to leave behind at college like my old futon**** as I drove off into adulthood. Adults are independent. Adults are self-sufficient. They pay their own rent, get their own meals, and are totally fine on their own.
So I decided to fix the problem by teaching myself not to need people. I ate alone. I lived alone. And I progressively got sadder.
Then I noticed something in the Bible. Again and again, Jesus seemed to point out the fact that people actually need other people in order to survive and thrive. Jesus didn’t see a desire for friendships as a weakness, a hold over from our younger days. In fact, he actually directed people to do whatever it took to get good friends. In one place (Luke 16:9) he even said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves…” Like, pay frat dues if that’s what it takes.
After those first few lonely months of trying to overcome my need for people, I gave up. I embraced my need for relationships and actually did something about it. I learned to leverage what I have—time, money, my house, whatever—and use it to make friends. I found a local church, I went out with people from work, and I tried new stuff all for the sake of meeting people.
Since then, in large part through the connections and relationships I’ve made at my church, I’ve been reassembling a fraternity of sorts (without the downsides of exclusivity and hazing).***** I have an ever-evolving collection of people in my life to hang out with and who I know have my back. I constantly spend money on my friends. I constantly give them my time. And it’s made all the difference in my life.
There’s an inescapable fact about you, and the sooner you embrace it and do something about it, the sooner your life will suck less: at a fundamental level, you need people. Like air and water and food, you can’t survive without them. In that regard, it is a weakness. But just like air and water and food, it’s fruitless to try to overcome your need. You’ll die trying.
As an adult, finding real friends isn’t as simple as paying fraternity dues, but it will take investment nonetheless. You’re going to have to use your money and your time to do it. It takes intentional effort and investment to make friends. It’s always awkward at first. You have to try stuff, meet new people, and have halting first conversations. But it’s worth it.
For most of us, your job or church or neighborhood won’t have a Rush Week. But within each of those places are opportunities to make friends. The key is this: the next time you see an opportunity, seize it. Take a coworker out to lunch; introduce yourself to someone in worship services; invite a neighbor over to grill out. Simple gestures go a long way. And if you’ve tried before and failed, I’m sorry. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But don’t let that stop you from trying again. I promise your perseverance will be worth it.
*To this day, science is still searching for an answer as to why this was a thing.
**Total tangent: Greenville is a freaking hidden gem of a city. If you’re ever near it, take a detour. I mean, there’s a waterfall in the middle of downtown. Does your city have a waterfall downtown? Of course not. But Greenville does.
***I’ve heard the urban legends that their roast beef starts as translucent slime. And I don’t give a crap. It’s incredible, and Arby’s Sauce is The Best Sauce Humanity Has Ever Made.
****Never under any circumstances buy a used futon. Unless you’re a scientist looking for a gigantic soft petri dish to use to find new diseases, then you can check Craigslist. They’re less than $20.
*****My fraternity didn’t haze. Really. During rush, I told the guys recruiting me that if they were going to haze me, I wasn’t going to put up with that crap just be their friends. Friendship is worth paying for—but not with your degradation.