My Barkada-less Philosophy

“Wala ka lang barkada, pero marami kang friends.”

A friend of mine told me this about five years ago. That time, I had begun to notice that I was almost always alone during lunch time, and I began to wonder if nobody liked me, or if I didn’t have any friends (I know, so high school). This was the reply I got from him. I got satisfied with that answer, and I embraced the thought that I wasn’t friendless; I just didn’t have a certain ‘group.’ I left it at that for a while, but this little predicament of mine has got me thinking for several times after that.

I’m not friendless, believe me. I actually have a number of really close friends, but I don’t have  barkada or a solid circle of friends. I’ve noticed that my friends  usually have groups of their own, groups that I can no longer be part of. I started to question if this was a problem. Time and again I convinced myself that it wasn’t. Really, no matter how much I pondered this over in my head, I just can’t see myself in a barkada. I’m fine with clustering according to your class in high school or organization in college (usually we have FB groups to define these clusters), but outside of that just doesn’t work for me. The closest I ever got to that was with a group of boys (yes, I’m the only female). We see each other at least once a year, we talk in really deep conversations, and we even have our own Facebook group dubbed ‘Best Buds.’ But we’re not clingy friends with a secret handshake of sorts. I’m also certain that they have groups of their own. There’s also that Facebook group that I belong to that’s basically a mix of two already defined barkadas. I somehow got invited to that, probably because I’m friends with everyone in that group. I accepted the invite, but it still doesn’t have the vibe I was expecting to feel.

So what is my problem with a barkada? I’ve never really been able to pinpoint that as accurately as I want to. Maybe it’s because I have issues with commitment. I don’t like the idea of having an exclusive group of people; the only ones you invite to a party, the ones you save seats for before a class lecture, a seminar or a movie. I don’t want to be caught in a moment where I have to exclude other people, or single out this ‘special’ group composed of my ‘closest’ friends.  Like I said, I have a lot of friends, and even among those who I’ve known the longest or who know me a lot, I still can’t choose who the ‘best’ is. Henceforth I have a lot of ‘best friends’ too, because they’re never a single person; nor do they belong to a single group.

I’ve been in social situations where I had to have lunch with an already-existing barkada. It wasn’t bad; they actually strive to be accommodating, but you can’t help but feel the existing barrier, both in verbal and non-verbal communication. You just can’t seem to laugh at their inside jokes, even after they explain it to you. You notice how much they talk to each other and only seem to talk to you out of courtesy. They have their secret looks at each other, start giving each other high-fives and you just stand there thinking “What?” Besides, even when I try to be part of a group, there are just some things that exclusive groups already do that I just can’t make myself do. These things include alcoholic drinking, smoking, watching anime, etc. I’m not being self-righteous or anything. There are just some things I personally choose not to do, even for the sake of friendship. Hence, I exclude myself from the shared experience. If I would be part of a barkada, I wouldn’t want to give someone from outside that circle the same awkward feelings that I get in such situations.

The most convincing argument in support of my philosophy is based on how I form relationships. Barkadaare usually formed as a result of shared experiences, good or bad, that create a bond among members. This could be people who belonged to a class group for academic reasons; sharing the academic load would eventually bring them closer. This could also be people who hang out at the same place; seeing each other so often eventually makes them good friends. People who share the same interests often attract each other, too, like movie enthusiasts, fans of the same music group or a bunch of bookworms.

Am I saying I don’t share experiences with a group? Of course I do. It’s just that the experience was never enough to become a lifetime barkada as I’ve seen in other groups of people. Perhaps I don’t share experiences at all? I do, but I don’t think the group approach works best for me. I’ve noticed that the closest relationships I have were formed from one-on-one bonding. These are usually people I get to talk to a lot; not as a group, but separately: someone I have coffee with for hours, someone I sat next to in class and chatted with in between lectures, someone I had my lunch with at the cafeteria; someone who needed some romantic advice. And these all happen in a purely platonic manner, I even have a really close guy friend who I watch movies with regularly. I have friends who invite me to dinner or coffee just to talk, with no hint of any romance or awkward atmosphere. Sure, this bonding still has to do with shared experiences and common interests, but I like to do them with one person at a time. In a group with five other people, I have to give 20% of my attention to each of them. With one meaningful conversation, I am able to share 100% of my attention to a single person. Somehow I find that more productive.

I realized this when I pondered over my ‘Best Buds’ group. I became friends with each of them separately before we actually began to call ourselves a group. Two or three of us became classmates at a time, but we were never all in a class together. We got to know each other separately until we realized we were all friends, anyhow, and we started hanging out. We have different personalities, different interests and we disagree with each other on several things, but I love them all so much. What I like about us is that there’s no atmosphere of exclusivity, commitment or expectations on each other. We know we’ll always be there for each other, whatever happens, but we also know that we have our own lives, and that it’s possible to be the best of friends without all the exclusivity. I’d love to see each of them on one-on-one dates or all of them together, either way is perfectly fine with me. 

Of course, I’ve been met a lot of counterarguments on this matter.  I’ve been told you don’t need to have a single, exclusive barkada; you can have several and you’ll have time for each of them. You need not single out the rest of your friends; you can still have a lot of friends but have a special group of people. And even if you have to divide your attention each time, you’ll have enough experiences together that would eventually make up for it. Also, you simply can’t be friends with everybody no matter how friendly or outgoing you are. A lot of social situations would not allow you to invite everybody you’ve ever known. For instance, would you invite everybody to your wedding? Even if you could, who would be your best man? Maid of honor? Bridesmaids? Groomsmen? Who would be your kids’ godparents? Having a go-to group of friends actually saves you a lot of time in social decision-making.

Sometimes, though, I really do want to be part of a group. Actually, most of my thinking has been influenced by the many barkadas I see around me. I sometimes envy them. I see them travelling together to different places (which makes it not only fun, but cheaper, too). I see them making cover photos and profile pictures of each other. I see them calling each other ‘second family,’ ‘friends forever’ or some other group name. I’ve thought about this problem so many times I’ve even made up a name for it. I call it my ‘Photo Booth Problem.’ In almost every social event nowadays, there’s a photo booth where you can get a free photo signifying that you attended the event. Usually these photo booths are meant for group shots, and I’ve had a lot of moments where I overhear people calling out the names of their friends or the name of their group so that they could all be in a picture together. As for me, I either just get randomly invited to a shot (sometimes with people I’m not even close with) or fall in line alone. The only time I get an exclusive photo booth invite is when I’m with my family or my boyfriend. People with barkadas just seem to have a sense of security that there will always be people they could go to, whether in high spirits or in their time of need.

So maybe I should have a barkada? I’ve thought about that too, but it’s like everybody’s already grouped themselves together and I’m too late. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be part of their group. Or maybe I’m unknowingly shutting myself off from other people? Could I be bitter because I don’t have an exclusive group of friends?

But no matter how much I think about this or how envious I tend to get, I still end up realizing that a barkada is just not for me. I stop looking at what I don’t have and I see all the friendships I do have. I realize I’m really blessed with wonderful friendships. Sure, I don’t have a totally exclusive group of friends, but I know that there will always be people who will be there for me. I believe I’ve forged friendships that will last a lifetime, whether or not I see them a lot. I’m happy that there are people who take the effort to set a date with me just so we could catch up, who I can still talk with for hours even if we haven’t seen each other in months, who would text or call me out of nowhere. I love the spontaneity of getting to know these people, sharing experiences and stories. And about those social situations where a barkada would be convenient? I’m not going to invite every body, after all, just the people I’ve formed these beautiful friendships with, those I’ve got a chance to get to know, those people I love and care about outside of my family. I realized that I get to have just as much fun and can be just as happy with all my friends. People to go to whether in high spirits or greatest need? I have that! –  it’s just that they’re not conveniently clustered in groups.

In short, I’d always choose to give 100% to one person in a conversation over the 20% that I spare for one of five.

This is not saying I’m shutting my doors to having a barkada in the future. Who knows? I may just belong to one. I’m also not saying I don’t appreciate all other groups I do belong to, like my section in high school, my clinical group mates during my undergrad years, or my co-student council members as a college officer; I love them all and I thank God for giving us opportunities to get to know each other and share experiences. I thank God for giving me so many friends, for letting me learn so much through these people. I may not have a barkada but I don’t think I’m missing out on much. Friendship isn’t about the group or the exclusivity; it’s about the relationship, and to me that’s all that matters.

After all this thinking, that friend of mine is still right. Wala kang barkada pero marami kang friends. And that’s okay.