How Neflix’s “Friends from College” Lies about Harvard Kids

Annika Park
Mar 2 · 6 min read

“Years after becoming friends at Harvard, Ethan, Lisa, Sam, Nick, Max and Marianne are heading into a new era — their 40s. This series, created and executive produced by Nicholas Stoller, delves into interwoven and complicated relationships, including former romantic entanglements and comedic explorations of old bonds. As everyone tries to manage their lives as adults, they also experience nostalgia.”— Netflix, Friends from College

No, no. Nothing like that. Nothing like a sell-out TV show about a bunch of overgrown Harvard douchebags that all still behave like a bunch of 18-year-olds and think it’s fine to keep cheating on each other. We’re better than that. Oh definitely. That’s why I put off watching the show — disdain.

I’d be lying if I told you this was the real reason why I hadn’t watched Friends From College when it first came out. The reason I had this show sitting on my wheel of “recommended shows” on Netflix for so long was because I was scared. I was scared that the lives of a bunch of Ivy-League grads navigating life beyond the quad would hit too close to home.

But when I was going through old disposable prints from my graduation last year and found this photo, there was something about it. It was just all the things that were happening in this photo; taken just a couple moments before the camera flashed — pure, unadulterated joy about probably absolutely nothing. These were my friends from college. So I sat down, and clicked to watch the first episode.

My Friends from College.

I’ll admit; I didn’t hate the show. It was entertaining to watch these semi-intelligent, overgrown college kids running around New York City and I must admit, I liked it enough to get through both seasons in one weekend. But that was all there was to it. At the risk of sounding annoying (I’m pretty sure I am already, I’m sorry), they could have completely taken out the Harvard storyline and it would have still worked. Yes, Ivy League graduates are generally terrible people, but not because all we do is sleep around — there’s more that we do that make us unbearable, goddammit! The writers were supposed to give me self-obsessed, inside-joke-speaking, judgmental, exclusive, elitist, power-hungry, superficial, selfish, type-A perfectionists! I’m supposed to hate these characters! I’m supposed to look at them and see everything that is me! Gah! Give us the good stuff!

But that’s enough with the rant about the characters and the plot. What made me most confused about the whole premise of the show was; who keeps up with their friends for that long? Maybe in the “Friends” world. But even there, a psychiatrist that comes on as Phoebe’s boyfriend in a couple episodez truth-bombs them hard by telling them the only reason their friend group exists is because how dysfunctional their individual lives are. And trust me, there are nothing Ivy League kids hate more than dysfunction — it happens to remind us that we’re normal (blergh!). So enough with the “college hookup that never ended” trope. I’m done with the “we-do-everything-together-including-going-to-our-pregnant-friend’s-OBGYN-visit” plot. We don’t do that in real life. Nobody does that in real life!

So how do our friends from college work? When tight-knit “friend groups” are born out of a need driven by dysfunction, once that dysfunction disappears, or once we reach a time where we don’t want to acknowledge that dysfunction as real, how do we keep our “friend group” going? Beyond college, when we all enter a part of our lives where the idea of sharing our vulnerabilities start becoming overwhelmingly uncomfortable, how to we keep those that will be there for you close?

from left to right: Noah, Chris, and I.

Our friends from college occupy a special place in our soul because they were a part of our lives when we needed them the most. For me, my friends from college are important because they grew with me. I look around me and my closest friends are an odd mix of people — a freshman roommate that I moved to the same city with after graduating, a couple of sorority sisters who I lived with throughout college, and teammates from my college sports team. Most of us are now on different time zones and different life trajectories. Some of us have things laid out on a pretty straight path; some of us are still figuring things out. Some of us will stay together and in touch through the immediate few years after departure from college; some of us will naturally grow apart. We’ll miss them, but we acknowledge that we’ve moved on. Unfortunately in real life, there are priorities that often come ahead of keeping up with “the friend group” — so we leave things behind, carry only the essentials forward, and move on.

Amongst that journey, our relationships with them can and begin to change. Competition. Nostalgia. Resentment. Love. Discomfort. Familiarity— these are all words I associate with my friends from college now. Relationships are complicated, and distance, unfortunately, does not make the heart grow fonder. We witness each other’s growth on social media and feel that FOMO; that pang of jealousy. Some of us go off to graduate school. Some of us get a swanky new job, or nab that promotion that comes with a fancy new title. Some of us might move closer to one another. Some of us might move far away. There might be a wedding you won’t be invited to, or won’t be able to make. Maybe that guy you dated in college might marry someone you know. Maybe you’ll spark something up with an old flame, many years down the line. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe if the producers of “Friends from College” decided to hone in on the discomfort that comes from the way our relationships change over the years with our friends from college without turning it into a who-had-sex-with-who guessing game, it might have been a better show. But it’s just a dumb comedy, so let’s just leave it at that.

Just driving around.

We all had a story to tell about our friends from college. Friends who would bike to your house at midnight after they get a call from the emergency room telling them there needed to be someone to make sure you were okay through the night. Friends you know you could always text late at night, hop in their car, and just ask to drive anywhere. You’d drive into town, park at a roadside ice-cream parlor, and eat giant kiddie cups filled with ice cream while we sat across each other talking about everything. Friends whose hearts we’d heartlessly broken, and friends who had heartlessly broken ours. Looking at how much we’ve grown, and the times we’ve been there to hold each other up — these are things that I will remember my friends from college for.

It’s been less than a year since I drove off with Dartmouth in the rearview mirror, and the absence I feel every day from friends who live far away was and still is painful. However, I think with time I’ve learned that acknowledging their absence and feeling grateful about how they held space in my life during a transitional time is what’s given me peace. Our friends from college are valuable because they held space in our lives when we were most vulnerable.

Some of us may be luckier than others in keeping up with our friends — and some of us might find ourselves geographically, emotionally, financially, or physically, feeling shut out. As someone facing a major move at a life decision point, I am one of them. However, right now, simply acknowledging that relationships are meant to change is helping me more than anything else. My friends from college had given me everything, and without them, I would not be where I am.

But there comes a time when your life calls you to leave things you love behind. In those times, I sack up, face loneliness dead-on, and welcome it into my life.

Annika Park

Written by

Dartmouth ’18 from Singapore and Korea. Living and working in Washington D.C. Coxswain, Runner, Writer.