The best piece of advice I got on social life in university came from one of my fraternity brothers after he’d done two lines of cocaine.
“College Adam,” he’d said as he rubbed and crinkled his nose, “is about making different friend groups. You’ve got to have different people to go to for different things.” I nodded as he got up and danced. “Like the fraternity is just something I do to rage. And then classes and stuff are so I can talk to people about stuff.”
After four years, I learned that Drug Addled Craig was right. College, that hyper social period of life where your peers press in on you at every moment, should really be about making different groups of friends. The more open you are to diversity, the more popular you’ll become and the more you’ll challenge your own assumptions. Here’s a step by step guide to becoming popular in college.
Step 1. Join a social organization your freshman year
Better yet, join several. The point of these organizations is to have a base of operations. You want to have a reliable group of social people to be around, particularly on weekends. My freshman year, I joined a fraternity my first semester, which I recommend to all men. That first semester I met every person in my freshman class who was a regular partygoer and I vomited on just about all of them (this one girl was like a cat, very disappointing). You’ll work a bunch of parties and you’ll make friends with upperclassmen. You will also gain groupies, which will pile up by the time you’re a senior. The only downside to a fraternity is that pledge is hard, a lot of people look down on fraternities, and fraternities are homogenizing forces. You and your bros will also likely be labeled as misogynists, which, in all honesty, you will be. But then again you get groupies.
Step 2. If nothing else, be energetic.
Once you’ve joined this main social organization, you’ll have a circle of friends and a bunch of hanger ons who want to either join or just suck the benefits of its status. The next step is to be bizarrely energetic. This energy isn’t something along the lines of a positive attitude, hey let’s all be friends. That sort of demeanor is fairly common and will lead to you being forgotten. To really be popular, you need to have a single minded devotion to excitement and experiments. Think Heath Ledger’s Joker without the homicidal tendencies. When you go out at night, dance wildly, don’t be afraid to try and throw small people, and remember that excess is the point of college. If you’re screaming all the time, you’re just about doing it right. Get it all out while you can.
Step 3. Find out who you are.
By the end of freshman year, you’ll ideally have progressed your personality to the point that you have several contradictory urges. It’s at this point you should look to satisfy yourself through different friend groups. Like Craig, you may find that partying is just one aspect of who you are. Whether you become concerned with social justice or you become eccentrically artsy, you’ll find groups of people who have those same interests and you can easily connect with them. Even solitary hobbies will let you connect with more people in college. If you haven’t developed different traits, then you need to do so. No ifs or buts about it. Grow up, branch out, and join some group that cares like you do. The more interests you have, the more friends you can make.
Step 4. Keep yourself in shape.
The end of freshman year is also a point you’ll likely need to address a touchy and pudgy subject. When freshman year ended, I was a very round man. I denied it at first as I struggled to button pants that used to hang loose. But eventually I had to face the facts. Standing in the shower should not make me out of breath. Now, I’d never been in great shape. My middle school gym teacher once told me I was on course to die of a heart attack at 24. But by the end of freshman year, I knew I had to do something. Do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes: learn to eat healthy and the essentials of good exercise before freshman year. The reality of most social hierarchies are that the rounder you are the lower on the totem pole you’re going to be.
Step 5. Be aware of what you wear.
One more note on appearance, and I promise the shallowness is over: wear clothes that fit. That’s really the only requirement of style. You don’t need expensive fabric and you don’t need designer labels. But wearing shirts that fit your shoulders and pants that follow the contours of your legs will give you an air of elegance. Also note that, no matter how idiotic, clothes seem to mean a lot when you’re in college. People will decide your class on it, and people will decide if they want to know you on it. If you want to be popular, you will unfortunately need to acknowledge that. When I first got to college, I wore torn shorts, baggy jeans, and years old sneakers. People pretty regularly told me they thought I was homeless, or, in a bout of sensitivity, would ask if I needed to borrow some money. When I started to wear a pair of raw jeans every day, I was ridiculed for not wearing jeans the appropriate kind of skinny, being hipster, and being ‘too much of a consumer’. And then, two weeks later, every guy I knew was wearing raw denim in the same fit. There’s a lesson in there somewhere but all I learned was that everyone would probably be happier naked.
Anyway, at this point you dress well, you’re fit, you’ve got a diverse group of friends, and you have a home base you can always fall back on. Welcome to Popularity. People will notice you as you walk down the street, your reputation will always precede you, and everything you do is soon to be copied. You are suddenly funny. Your opinion will now cause strong emotions. At graduation, your called name will bring loud cheers.
The good part of all this experience is that you can play the role of a social connector everywhere you go. And that is fun. You can merge groups of people when you go out and you’ll end up with so much social proof that pudding will be coming out of your ears.
The bad part of this is that you are now in a Living Hell. Social hierarchies, particularly the ones in college, are a dog eat dog world. If you’re a guy, prepare for every guy you know to do his best to put you down, sneakily suggest how little you know about everything, and spread malicious gossip, particularly if you’re around girls. If you’re a popular girl, Godspeed. You’re in a constant and dramatic state of warfare where sex is both your downfall and your greatest weapon. It’s either therapy now or later.
Being at the top of the mole hill kind of sucks as everyone does their best to push you off. And you will fall off. Next thing you know, you’re a neurotic addict spending a lot of his time in an elaborate drug induced fantasy involving a suspiciously friendly green Hippo (just what exactly is he after? Find out next time, da na na naa!) and a pumpkin, and you’ll be dancing in front of a freshman who’s asked for social advice. ‘Make different friends’ you’ll scream, because you don’t know what normal volume is anymore. He’ll nod and take note of your clothes. And the popularity climb will happen all over again, until the end of time.