Going to a large state school has its ups and downs — I’ve heard a lot of students complain that a downside is that it’s essentially a giant high school. There’s a social hierarchy. I could easily take the “GDI shits on Greek Life” route but I’ll pass at the risk of losing the Greek audience’s attention before I even begin. I’ll leave it at this: I have a lot of friends in Greek Life and I absolutely think it’s great for a lot of people–I’m also confident that many members would agree that it contributes to a lot of what I’m about to talk about.
Like I said, there’s a fairly clear-cut social hierarchy at my school. It’s probably my only complaint about going to a big school. One would think we leave the drama of high school in high school–unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth. So somewhere at the top of this social food chain, you have your “popular” people (insert Mean Girls reference here). But something I’ve noticed in just less than two years of college is that there’s a noticeable divide among the people who “know everyone.” Everyone knows the people I’m talking about–if you go out, you know these people. Or at least you know their names. Maybe you’re just friends with them on Facebook. But the divide lies in whether their reasons for knowing everyone are internal or external.
It’s easy to categorize all of these people as social butterflies. They’re saying hi to everyone at parties or walking to class, they post tons of pictures on the weekends; they have a ton of Twitter followers. They just like to meet people, right? Call me over analyzing, but I think it’s important to realize that there’s more to it for social climbers. A social butterfly loves to make new friends. He’s a people person; he makes good conversation and can befriend essentially anyone. Social climbers probably have all of these characteristics, but the difference is that social butterflies genuinely care about what people have to say. Their motives for making new friends are purely that they enjoy making new friends. The rest comes easily. Social climbers, in my opinion, are a different story.
Have you ever known anyone who only associated with you when you were doing well or when you had something they wanted? Someone who only says hi for a quick second, takes a picture together and leaves without really saying anything or asking how you are? I call these people social climbers. They make new friends to get to the top. It’s their goal to be known as the person who knows everyone. It’s ridiculous that I’m even talking about this at age 20, but I’ve learned lately that some aspects of high school probably will never end. There are always going to be people who have ulterior motives. All we can control is how good we are at telling the difference and what we do with that information once we have it. Social butterflies are genuinely happy to see you when you run into them–social climbers hardly crack a smile as they say “what’s up” and continue moving.
I realize that dismissing people with a label and leaving it at that is shallow and a little too simple. There is more to every person I know than what I will probably ever understand. Everyone is the way they are for a reason and everyone has a story. But my point here is that if any of this rang true and you think you might be a social climber, take a step back and reevaluate. Try to mean it when you ask how someone’s day is going. And if you don’t mean it, don’t ask. People can tell the difference between genuine connections and those who are just going through the motions. If you only talk to and meet people to get yourself to the top of some sort of social food chain, you’re wasting your time. When it comes down to it, most of the social climbers I know have an extremely small number of people they can actually count on, if any. Their friendships are artificial and if I had to guess, that lack of a real support system would leave a person feeling pretty empty. It doesn’t matter how many pictures you’re tagged in or how many people wished you a happy birthday on Facebook. What matters is how many people you know you could call in a crisis. What matters is whom you can reach out to when you’re feeling alone. Even if that’s only one person, you’re better off than the girl who has 3,000 Facebook friends but goes to bed at night worrying about where she stands with all of them. Someone told me once that it’s better to have four quarters than one hundred pennies. If you’re a social butterfly, I think that’s great. If that comes with the perks of social status, good for you. The world needs more people who bring everyone together. But next time someone reaches out to you when they’re down, try to remember the last time they asked you how you were doing while they were on the top of the food chain.