A friend to all is a friend to none

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

When coming to college, I think one major piece of advice I, and many others, received was “make sure you build your network.” And I understood the merits of this sentiment. But I was a bit lost on how exactly I was supposed to do that. So, upon arriving at CWRU, I did it the only way I knew how to—by making friends. And that was working well until COVID hit, throwing a major wrench in my plans to make lots of friends. It was difficult to meet new people when everyone was just a box on Zoom, muted and camera off. I figured I’d just restart my efforts once we returned in my third year. Once again, it worked well for a bit. But it was only then that I realized how unviable it was to be friends with everyone I met.

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who’s struggled with this situation. While some people look for a community through making a few genuine friends, there are also people who look for security by defaulting to trying to make as many friends as possible. But this is—shockingly—unadvisable. Being friends with everyone is a bad idea. As someone who has been that person and also met others with the mentality, it is counterintuitive in the long run. 

As with every article, defining terms is crucial. When I talk about friendship in this capacity, I’m talking about close, semi-regular contact. So while I fully recognize that everyone has casual friends who you may catch up with on occasion, socialize with or maybe just talk to during class, these are not the types of friendships I’m referring to when discussing not being “friends” with too many people in this article.

There are two main reasons why trying to be friends with too many people is not a great move. For one, it’s exhausting for the person who adopts this mentality, coming from personal experience. While I genuinely enjoyed spending time with the people I was around, having so many people to constantly hang out with left me with very little time for myself. As that trend continued, I found myself drained of what I thought would be an infinite social battery. Friendships should be enriching. They should be enjoyable. A source of support, comfort or even just entertainment. But anyone who is genuinely committed to a friendship also knows it’s a two-way street. So having a high number of relationships can start to feel like an obligation when you have to put constant energy into others—even if, in theory, they are giving you that energy back. Taking time for yourself is also vital to growth and self-care, so giving others all your time doesn’t allow you to be at your best, for your sake or theirs. 

But there are also issues with being “friends with everyone” from an outside perspective. Call me a cynic, but I’m now skeptical when I see people who are “friends with everyone.” Remembering that the type of friendship I’m referring to involves trust, energy and commitment, it’s essentially impossible to be loyal to everyone. Loyalty consists of providing help and support to your friends, particularly in a time of need. But when conflict arises between two people, where one’s loyalties truly lie will come to light. To be fair, to some degree this situation is inevitable, even for people who don’t have a lot of friends. It just takes drama within a friend group for these circumstances to arise. The issue with someone who is “friends with everyone” is that this situation could happen, even when the two people in conflict aren’t friends or run in the same circles. And when that happens, there are three potential ways the “friend of everyone” could react. 

Suppose they decide to double down on maintaining both friendships. In that case, they’ll abstain from taking a side or intervening, maybe agreeing to play mediator but withdrawing from providing support or sharing information. While this is arguably the most moral path, and there isn’t a betrayal of loyalty, it is a passive position—which is why this method is good for leaders but unideal for friends. 

The second way this situation plays out is that the friend picks a side. The problems with this are obvious. Once again, this is something that could happen within a friend group, with even higher stakes and consequences when a side is picked. The emotional repercussions are also higher if either person perceives the friend to be closer with them than with the other side. 

The third and worst possible way the situation plays out is that the person takes their own side out of self-preservation. This is what I hope to be a rare circumstance, but it’d be naive to assume that there aren’t some people who use their connections or friendships solely for their own benefit—the reason why I am wary of those who are “friends to all.” Because they have the trust of many, there is a power that can come with it. However, one of the major ways people gain trust is by being vulnerable. The question that comes to mind is, who is being vulnerable and sharing secrets? I’ve seen it happen before: someone shares others’ personal information to gain a reputation. I wouldn’t put it past those same people to manipulate information to make a conflict worse if it were to improve their own circumstances. That’s where the saying “a friend to all is a friend to none” comes from. 

In all three circumstances, the loyalty involved with friendship is lost to various degrees. So now what? Surprisingly, I think the solution is easy. It goes back to having what I discussed earlier as casual friends. These are healthy connections that are pleasant to have with less stress and commitment involved, and those types of relationships are okay. In the veins of boundary drawing, it is good to have people you can enjoy the presence of without requiring deep trust or heavy circumstances to unite each other. 

These truths about friendship were hard for me to process for a long time. I felt like I was being mean for not wanting to be close friends with everyone I met. But I eventually realized that this decision not only was a service to myself, but also to my friends. By not being friends with everyone, I could give the people I still am close to more time, attention and care. And the friends I choose to make are ones I can cherish on a much deeper level.