Sisterly Love, How Nuns Give Up Friendship Preferences : Invisibilia It's a basic tenet of friendship that you get to choose your friends. We look at two institutions that took away that choice: convents circa the 1960s and a summer program with unusual rules. What do we lose and what do we gain when we give up our preferences and try to make friends with everyone equally?

Nun of Us Are Friends

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From NPR, this is INVISIBILIA. I'm Yowei Shaw. So about eight years ago, I went to this music festival on a whim with an acquaintance. We were woefully unprepared - not enough food, tiny, sweltering tent, no glamping accessories. Within an hour of arriving, I lost the car keys while getting a tour on a golf cart. Luckily, this acquaintance, she was unfazed. And someone found the car keys later, so we could eventually get the hell out.


SHAW: And I think it was then at a diner hungover when I noticed something had shifted. Even though I'd known this person casually for a couple years, I remember feeling, all of a sudden, certain that we'd chosen each other. Like, somehow, without talking about it, we went from floating on separate tubes on a river to being tied tightly together by a rope.

This person would go on to become my best friend. And honestly, it's the first time I've experienced such ease in a friendship. We just get each other, which makes sense because we have a lot of similarities. Like, we're both Asian American journalists, both children of immigrants who grew up middle class in the suburbs. We both believe in no pouting at the party. We think it's a crime to leave food on your plate. And we're both very polite and working on it.

To this day, it still feels like a friend blessing, that out of all the possible options, we happened to pick each other, and it's such a snug fit. Anyway, I've been thinking about all this because the other day, I was talking to a researcher who believes that friend preferences like this, however meaningful and beautiful, they also have some hidden costs.

SIWEI CHENG: That that leads to segregation.

SHAW: The person who's raining on my perfect friend parade - her name is Siwei Cheng. She's a sociologist at NYU who studies inequality across generations, factors like occupational mobility and patterns of wage disparities. She's a structure person basically. And one contributing factor she's looked at is her friend choices.

CHENG: For example, you know do people befriend others that are of the same race, same religion, same class background?


SHAW: The answer is yes, by the way. The research shows us again and again. We tend to choose friends just like us, which feels like a good thing in many ways. Like, obviously, I am very grateful to have friends I don't have to constantly educate about my experience. But Siwei says that friend preferences, even though they're not the main factor or the catalyst of inequalities, they do tend to reinforce problematic patterns, like racial and class segregation.

CHENG: And that itself - it limits the between-group contact.

SHAW: Which research shows can have invisible ripple effects, like on our prejudices, our opinions on policies, also educational outcomes and employment.

CHENG: When people look for jobs and rely on social network as a common channel - so if their friendship network is segregated, you know, it may create a barrier for people to move upwardly in terms of their economic well-being.

SHAW: And here's another finding - Siwei did a study using computer simulations and real-life high school data and found that when high school students had a larger pool of potential friends, they ended up self-segregating more. In other words, even when we have a buffet of friends to choose from, we often don't.


SHAW: Today on the show - when you're told you have to eat all the options at the friendship buffet. It's a defining feature of friendship we typically don't question - the ability to choose your friends. What would a friend be if you didn't choose each other? But what happens when you attempt to get around these friendship preferences, and should you even try? We've got stories of real-life experiments, communities that told its members actually, no, you don't get to choose your friends.

Up first, producer Rhaina Cohen tells the story of two nuns who unwittingly signed up to leave their friend preferences behind. These nuns joined two different Catholic orders in the early '60s at a specific moment when many convents followed some pretty strict rules around friendship. And so what they experienced gives us a window into what can be gained and what can be lost when friendship isn't voluntary. Here's Rhaina.

RHAINA COHEN, BYLINE: Karol Jackowski was hard to miss at her high school. She was the president of the booster club, which meant that she was the person down on the floor of the gym whipping up the crowd into a frenzy at pep rallies. She was also known for her ability to hold down a beer or several.

KAROL JACKOWSKI: Like, if there was a contest, there would be no contest. Let's put it that way.

SHAW: Karol got a nickname for her drinking talent.


SHAW: Like the froth in beer.

JACKOWSKI: You know, after we'd have, like, a weekend party, and then you come back to school on Monday, you'd walk into the cafeteria, and these guys would be going Suds (laughter).

COHEN: When Karol was a senior, she knew she had to figure out what came next after all the high school parties dried up. It was 1964. The world around her was dizzy with activism. And Karol, like a lot of young people in those days, wanted to make the world a better place.


COHEN: At first, she thought Peace Corps. But then she learned she could wind up in a Bolivian rainforest for months on end by herself.

JACKOWSKI: And that's when the sisterhood appeared in my mind.

COHEN: When Karol says sisterhood, she means the sisters who taught at her Catholic high school - nuns.

JACKOWSKI: I mean, they were really part of our lives.

COHEN: These weren't the strict discipline-type nuns that you might be picturing - more like Maria in "The Sound Of Music."

JACKOWSKI: I was big in the theater in high school. You know, they were with us every night 'til midnight. They were smart. They were funny.

COHEN: They were always laughing around each other, the way you do with your best friends. Karol said the call from God to become a nun sounded to her like divine laughter.

JACKOWSKI: I sort of thought, this is the kind of person I want to be like.

COHEN: So Karol decided after high school, she would join the same order of nuns that her teachers were in, the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Suds was going to become Sister Mary Carol Joseph. But not quite yet. The night before Karol was going to become a nun, she got in one last party. The drive to the convent the next morning was a little rough.

JACKOWSKI: I was so hungover from the party the night before, I thought we were going to have to stop, you know, so I could, like, barf.

COHEN: She didn't. She made it to the convent. And when she got there, she was captivated. The campus had buildings that looked like castles and acres of woods.

JACKOWSKI: There was a nature trail that went back for miles on the property. It was right along the St. Joe River.

COHEN: And she started getting excited to meet the other young women, to talk with them and learn from them and hopefully create the kinds of friendships she'd seen her teachers have. But right from the start, Karol was told that she wouldn't be allowed to use her usual tool for making friends. Karol had joined the convent in the mid-1960s, just as the Second Vatican Council was working to modernize the church. But many religious orders were still following very strict rules and traditions, including about how nuns could socialize in their convents. So that day, when the superior nun called Karol and the dozens of other aspiring nuns into the community room, she laid down the law.


JACKOWSKI: It started with the rule of silence. What that meant was that we wouldn't talk during the day.

COHEN: Hours and hours of no talking at all.

JACKOWSKI: I raised my hand, and I said, well, how will we get to know each other if we can't talk? And she was taller than me. And when you're in the habit with that thing, it makes you look twice as tall as you are anyhow because you have another 6 inches on top of your head. And she said, sister, you already know how to talk. What you don't know how to do is listen.


COHEN: If Karol couldn't talk, how was she going to figure out who she connected with? How would she get close to anybody? Karol thought...

JACKOWSKI: I don't know if I'm going to make it. You know, I don't know how this is going to work.

COHEN: This dressing-down by the superior nun was just one of the first ways Karol learned that friendship in the convent would be regulated. Later, she was handed a little black rule book with gilded edges, you know, painted gold, called the constitutions. It had 607 rules inside.


COHEN: Some of those had to do with when and how she would be allowed to make friends and how deep those friendships could be.

AGAWU, HALL-PALERM AND TONER: (Singing) They shall love one another sincerely.

JACKOWSKI: Yeah. Everybody - you were to treat everyone as your sister.

COHEN: That might sound pretty harmless, like a rule you get in kindergarten. You know, when someone has a birthday party, every kid in the class needs to get an invite. But there is a second part to this idea that you should have a warm relationship with everyone.

AGAWU, HALL-PALERM AND TONER: (Singing) Constitution 216.

COHEN: That is, don't get too close to anyone.

AGAWU, HALL-PALERM AND TONER: They shall carefully avoid any friendship contrary to community spirit, such a close union with one person being a formal separation from the rest.

COHEN: This is convent speak for, you think that girl you met is so great, and all you want to do is sit under a tree and talk until the sun sets? Think again.


COHEN: I know it's harsh. But these women aren't at the convent to find their best friend. They're in the convent to build their relationship with God. So that's why the convent had all these rules - to keep the women from getting close and prevent big friendship feelings like infatuation and betrayal. And Karol, as this nun-in-training, was caught in this grand experiment that generations of nuns had gone through before her. Pretty much on day one, Karol decided she was going to break the rules.

JACKOWSKI: That's when the note-writing started.

COHEN: Karol quickly got crafty. She used hand signals. She wrote notes that she hid in people's prayer books or between gravestones at the convent cemetery.

JACKOWSKI: You know how great it is to get a letter from anybody, a handwritten letter. I'm talking both sides of the loose-leaf paper, two and three pages - we're talking writing.

COHEN: Yeah, Karol directly broke rules in order to become close to some of the other women. But the silence rule, the one she was so troubled by early on - she actually started to embrace it.

JACKOWSKI: I could tell when Paj walked in the chapel by the sound of her footsteps. I could tell when Nancy sneezed. We could tell when the superior was coming by the rattling of her beads.

COHEN: Karol was starting to observe the women around her in a way that made her feel in tune with them.

JACKOWSKI: We slept in a big dorm with 12 people who just had a curtain around us, almost like a hospital. You knew the snorers. You knew the sleep talkers. You knew the sleepwalkers. You just noticed stuff because all you could do was listen.

COHEN: The silence was partly there to discourage friendships from forming, but it actually helped Karol form a new kind of connection. These weren't friendships where you find a person you like and then create a one-on-one link with them. Karol was paying close attention to all of the women around her, whether she thought they were fabulous or wasn't a big fan of them. She was connected to them kind of like a web - a communal intimacy.

I talked to a sociologist who studied strict convents, and she called what Karol experienced fraternal relations - brotherly or sisterly love. It's a web of connections that forms in institutions like convents or monasteries where you're supposed to love all of the other members. For Karol, she found herself struggling with not being allowed to make friends how she used to. But this part of the experiment, this imposed love, it gave her something else - sisterhood. And Karol got so into sisterhood that it became otherworldly.

JACKOWSKI: I think probably one of the fondest memories I have is the time we spent in the cemetery.

COHEN: Yes. We are back at the gravestones, the same place where Karol hid notes to other nuns.

JACKOWSKI: We would go and sit on the graves of these sisters on whose shoulders we stood.

COHEN: And this feeling would wash over Karol.

JACKOWSKI: That you were in the company of sisters who made it, you know? Like, there was a spiritual vortex there of women who had done this life and just that sense of being connected to something so much bigger than you are and the power of sisterhood to last that long.


SHAW: Coming up, another nun goes through the experiment and finds very different results - less transcendent, more of a trial. That's after the break.

So Karol Jackowski, aka Suds, resisted and then embraced the friendship rules in the convent. Being pushed to feel bonded to everyone led her to sisterhood. Now we'll hear from a woman, Rosanne Greco, who joined a convent right around the same time as Karol and was also told to take personal preference out of friendship. Rosanne followed these friendship rules to a tee, which might be why things were so tough for her. Here's Rhaina again.

COHEN: If Karol would have won a school contest for most fun partier, Rosanne, at her Catholic grade school, she would have been voted most likely to succeed in a convent.

ROSANNE GRECO: I was a rule follower, and I was an A student, and I would do whatever the nuns said. I idolized them. Being a sister - that's what I wanted. I thought God was calling me.

COHEN: In 1962, Rosanne decided to go to a high school in New Jersey for aspiring nuns. Yes, that's a thing. It was based in a convent run by the Sisters of Christian Charity, and the girls had to live like nuns. Just like Karol, Rosanne learned almost immediately that she wasn't supposed to use her natural preferences to decide who she became friends with or how close she got to them.

GRECO: We were to love everybody equally and treat everybody the same.

COHEN: Rosanne's experiment sounds like an amped-up version of Karol's experience. The nuns who oversaw Rosanne's convent didn't just drill into the girls that they're supposed to treat everyone equally. They told them how they were supposed to do it.

GRECO: I had to mortify myself. That was the phrase.

COHEN: By mortify, Rosanne doesn't mean feeling embarrassed. In Catholicism, to mortify means to deny yourself something.

GRECO: Crush your desire.

COHEN: Do the things you don't want to do. It'll make you more holy.

GRECO: Seek out the person you like the least.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Seek out the person you like the least.

GRECO: And spend your time with that person.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) And spend your time with that person.

COHEN: Sounds like a blast. But by seeking out the people she didn't like, the nuns told Rosanne that she would learn to love everyone.

GRECO: They said, well, love is an act of the will, so I choose to love you.

COHEN: Rosanne hadn't met a rule she wasn't down to follow. The superior nuns wanted her to mortify herself? She was on it. She found the perfect classmate.

GRECO: Her countenance was always morose. A lot of us were cracking up all the time, but she was like a Debbie downer. No matter where you were, it was like, womp, womp (ph) - you know, that womp, womp sound.

COHEN: Rosanne went out of her way to be around the girl. She would walk with her when the 20 or so aspiring nuns in her class went out for a stroll around the orchards on campus. She sat next to her on the bus, invited her to darn stockings together. These may seem like small gestures, but they actually mean quite a lot in a place where so much of life is silent and regimented, and there's so little that could even pass as leisure. But even though she was succeeding on the crush your desire part, she was not getting to the love. It was all mortification and no fun. Call it a mortification friendship.


GRECO: What I got from her is all from her nonverbals. They were very dismissive. I mean, it was almost as if she disdained us.

COHEN: Rosanne wonders whether the experiment was actually the reason this friendship failed.

GRECO: I think she might have sensed - I don't - you know, that we were not being genuine, and that made it even worse.

COHEN: Maybe the girl knew that Rosanne was forcing herself to be kind to her, and maybe that fake kindness was even more painful than dealing with people who straight-up dislike you. But forced friendship was only one part of the experiment. By the time Rosanne finished high school, she was deep into the other part of the experiment.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Resist the temptation, friend.

COHEN: It started when she met a student named Franny.

GRECO: It felt sort of romantic.

COHEN: Platonic romance - you know, like a friend crush.

GRECO: That was the kind of thing I was feeling for her. You know, when she walked in a room, I was happy to see her.

COHEN: Franny made the other young nuns looked childish by comparison, like when the teenage nuns got together in the recreation room for their precious free time when they didn't have to be silent. Some of the women would sit embroidering or doing crafts. Some might talk about basketball. Franny, though, would pull Rosanne into these deep, heady conversations.

GRECO: Logic and theology and Socrates and Plato and Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and all of those things we were learning - it was new ideas that I'd never thought about. And that, I think, is why I think Franny and I maybe resonated because she also seemed to be fascinated by that kind of stuff. Just to talk about it was invigorating

COHEN: And it was forbidden.

GRECO: We were told under no circumstances were we to have particular friendships.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) No particular friendships.

GRECO: So I thought it was, you can't have best friends here.

COHEN: So when Rosanne felt herself developing a friend crush on Franny, alarm bells went off. She knew there would be consequences if she got too close to anybody.

GRECO: I remember being incredibly frightened because there was the threat of being sent home, and I know that shook me to my core.

COHEN: So Rosanne resisted. She did that by using the same method she did with her mortification friend, just in reverse.

GRECO: I'd walk in a room, the first thing I would look is see where she was and then go the farthest way out because I would - could never sit next to her because the thing I wanted to do the most was to sit next to Franny and talk about philosophy. But I had to mortify myself and do something I didn't want to do.

COHEN: So Rosanne would take a seat next to - you guessed it - mortification friend. Rosanne says it was terrible to notice her desire to spend time with Franny and then override it day after day for more than a year. And then one day, Rosanne had her monthly one-on-one meeting with the mistress. That's what they call the head nun. When Rosanne walked into the office, the mistress closed the door. That was the bat signal that this conversation was not going to be good.

GRECO: She said to me, I do not think you have a vocation.

COHEN: As in, Rosanne doesn't have a calling as a nun and should get kicked out of the convent.

GRECO: I instantly came back and said, I think I do.

COHEN: Rosanne had been in the convent for more than six years. She was a stickler for the rules. At this point, she was only six months away from taking her first vows - a huge milestone. She definitely thought she had a vocation.

GRECO: And I challenged her, which is probably not good. I mean, you're not supposed to do that. And I actually got her to give me some time. So she said, let's make a novena.

COHEN: A novena - that's a set of prayers that lasts nine days. The mistress suggested a sort of novena competition, a noven-off (ph).

GRECO: She was going to ask the Holy Spirit whether I had a vocation, and I was going to ask the Holy Spirit if I had a vocation.

COHEN: So they went their separate ways to pray and pray and pray. Nine days later, Rosanne returned to the mistress' office to figure out who won the prayer-off.

GRECO: She said she had prayed, and she had discerned - that was the words we used - that I did not have a vocation. And then I came back, and I said, but I prayed, too, and I felt like I - God said I did have a vocation. Well, her Holy Spirit trumps my Holy Spirit.


GRECO: When it was pretty clear nothing was going to work, I finally went in and I said, why? Why are you sending me home? And she said, I do not think you understand the vow of chastity. I was speechless because I didn't know what she meant.

COHEN: Rosanne didn’t ask directly. It's possible the mistress thought her friendship with Franny was sexual. But the thing is, a nun's vow of chastity is broad. It's not just about celibacy. I talked to a historian of Catholicism, and she explained to me that it's about detaching from worldly relationships that can get in the way of living the spiritual life. Whatever the exact way Rosanne supposedly violated the vow of chastity, she failed the experiment.


COHEN: She was getting kicked out for allegedly being too close to the very person she had resisted. But Rosanne did not go quietly into the night as she was told to. She hid around staircases and whispered to as many sisters as possible.

GRECO: I wanted them to know I was leaving and I didn't want to go. In fact, I asked to go back a few times. They wouldn't let me back in.


SHAW: After the break, you can take the woman out of the convent, but apparently you can't take the convent out of the woman. The no-friendship-preference experiment lives on for Rosanne, even in the secular world.


COHEN: About a decade after Rosanne was kicked out of the convent, she started to take grad school classes in counselling. Even though her days as a nun had long been over...

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Seek out the person you like the least.

COHEN: ...The friendship rules wouldn't let her go.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) And spend your time with that person.

COHEN: In her grad class, it was like Rosanne was wearing heat vision goggles, except instead of detecting heat, she could detect the friendless person in the classroom.

GRECO: Occasionally, we had to pair up. And I could see nobody was going to pair up with her. So I went into my befriending mode. No one is being friends with her, so that's who I'll go to and befriend her.

COHEN: Pretty quickly, Rosanne learned why this woman might not have had many friends.

GRECO: There was not much humor in it. It was all angst. There was always some sadness or someone did me wrong or they, you know, shafted me at work or this guy didn't call, or it was always a problem that we were talking about.

COHEN: This grad school classmate became mortification friend, the sequel.

GRECO: And I really hate to say this, but I was doing it out of a sense of obligation, not because I was feeling any camaraderie, connection. It was just like back in the convent. I wouldn't have chosen her.

COHEN: For 30 years, Rosanne didn't let herself unchoose (ph) the friend. I could play you a montage of those three decades of Rosanne's life. Rosanne becomes a colonel in the Air Force. Rosanne gets married. Rosanne helps negotiate a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviets.

GRECO: I had a lot of Forrest Gump moments in my life.

COHEN: You know what's constant in the background? This woman who keeps Rosanne on the phone time after time with her gripes.

GRECO: Every time I get off the phone with this other person, I always felt down.

COHEN: Rosanne's experiment in choiceless friendship, which at this point she had imposed on herself, it finally cracked when she was in her 60s, when her husband got cancer.

GRECO: And I really cut everything out in my life because I had to be solely focused on this. It was a life-or-death kind of situation. I also asked this person, I just need some time. I cannot talk on the phone. And despite that, she continued to call to talk about her love life or her problems. There came a point where after I hung up the phone, I thought to myself, I'm not going to do this again. I've already asked. She's not respecting it. I think I'm done.

COHEN: So she wrote a letter and ended the friendship.

GRECO: Oh, wow. Oh, I felt so good. All my life - I look at this. I choose to do the harder thing. I choose to do the thing I don't want to do. I chose to be with people I don't want to be with. But I realized I have a choice. I don't have to always choose the thing I don't want to do. I can actually choose the thing I want to do. I can choose to be around people I want to be around.


COHEN: Once Rosanne realizes this, experiment is dead to her. It had already eaten up too much of her life.

GRECO: Not everybody's supposed to be friends with everybody.


COHEN: But there are parts of Rosanne's story that make me think maybe there is something valuable in the experiment.

GRECO: Kathy (ph).




COHEN: For the last 30-some years, Rosanne's organized reunions for the women in her high school convent class. It's always been in person, but when producer Justine Yan and I visited Rosanne at her house, she'd arranged a mini reunion on Zoom with a couple of her former classmates.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Well, you know, another thing I realized when you said that was shaving your legs. I didn't know about shaving your legs. And I remember one of the girls always - her legs always looked really - not shiny, but just really nice. And I thought, how does she get them like that?

COHEN: Even though Rosanne's not a nun, hasn't been in a convent for half a century, got kicked out, she continues to have the sisterhood, her very own spiritual vortex. It's less mystical than Karol's. She's not sitting in a cemetery communing with the dead. But at this Zoom reunion, seeing the sisterhood in action, to me, it felt bigger and like it could last longer than any one particular friendship. And there's this other part of Rosanne's story that I just can't let go of. I'm the kind of person who's really careful when I decide whether to pursue someone as a friend, to the point where I can kind of feel like a Brita filter, trying to make sure that only the people who are a perfect fit for me get through. I started to seriously question that way of doing things since Rosanne told me about a woman named Judy.

GRECO: She and I had lived together for years.

COHEN: They were in the convent together as teenagers. But at the time, Rosanne didn't see Judy as friend material. Rosanne wasn't so put off by Judy as to stick her at the top of her convent mortification list, but still, Judy was too timid for her taste.

GRECO: There is a safety in not speaking out, but to me, that's not - I don't admire that.

COHEN: Around the time that Rosanne was kicked out of the convent, she heard that Judy recently left, too.

GRECO: I thought I better go befriend her because she must be going through a rough time.

COHEN: Rosanne wasn't exactly giddy about the idea of hanging out with Judy, but she felt like she should check in on her because they were sisters in the convent. That decision made Judy yet another mortification friend. But this story had a different ending.

GRECO: After we reconnected, well, she turned out to be one of my best friends for so many years. You know, we had a special bond.

COHEN: Rosanne went through the same motions of mortification as she had before, but this time, Rosanne discovered how much she actually liked her mortification friend.

GRECO: Oh, my gosh. She was so there for me when I went back to college, and I had some rough, rough time. I survived attempted rape. I mean, I got away, but it was very, very traumatic. And the first thing I went to was Judy and not my mom, you know, but Judy. I don't know who I would have gone to if Judy hadn't been there for me.

COHEN: The two women were close for nearly 40 years. The only reason they got to be so close is because Rosanne gave Judy a chance in the first place. Now, when I meet someone I don't feel naturally drawn to, instead of filtering them out, I start hearing questions in my head. Can I trust my natural preferences? Is there something I can't see about this person? Could they be my Judy?


SHAW: That's producer Rhaina Cohen. Coming up, a change in POV - we consider the Judy, what it's like to be a Judy in a no-friend-preference experiment.

So earlier, we heard from two people who were forced to tamp down their friend instincts, you know, really just do the opposite of what they wanted to do, all to get closer to God. But what about Judy? What is a no-friend-preference experiment like for people like her, for the hidden gems who might get passed over?

JUSTINE YAN, BYLINE: I guess in somebody's mind, I might be a Judy.

SHAW: That's producer Justine Yan. In a freak podcast miracle, we found out she participated in an experiment oddly similar to convent life, except she's not a nun.

YAN: It's just this weird thing that I did when I was 16.

SHAW: Back in 2009, Justine found herself in a room where she was being initiated to a different way of life.

YAN: It was a high school summer program - the Telluride Association Summer Program, or TASP, which coincidentally was founded by a guy named L.L. Nunn.

SHAW: That is too perfect. Really?

YAN: (Laughter) Two N's, yes. His name happens to be L.L. Nunn.


SHAW: It's this elite summer camp that's been around since the '50s, where in each group, around 20 super bright, overachieving high schoolers are selected from around the country to live together on a college campus for six weeks. And the thing we want to zoom in on about TASP is this rule Justine told us about, which sounds a lot like the rule Karol and Roseanne told us about.

YAN: No exclusive relationships.

SHAW: The idea is to become friends with everybody, to build a community through profound connections, to rise above the usual high school dynamics - the drama, the cliques, the BFFs and arrive at a higher form of friendship built on the substantial stuff.

YAN: The deep conversations we had about art, poetry, revolution.

SHAW: I got Justine to sit down with me. Because unlike the nuns from the last story, Karol and Roseanne, Justine actually liked the no-friend preference rule starting on the very first day.

YAN: I actually remember feeling kind of giddy. I mean, I was, you know, in a room full of fashionable, interesting, self-assured kids. And so I thought, like, OK. Like, these people are going to have to get to know me. Sign me up.

SHAW: It's funny that you had that reaction because it's, like, the opposite of what summer camp usually means. Like, you think that summer camp is about, like, finding your best friends and that kind of thing. What kind of teen were you, like, when you showed up at TASP?

YAN: So in high school, I was socially very checked out. I just have this image of me, like, speed-walking down these super long hallways in my enormous high school and just, like, not looking at anyone, not wanting to be seen. You know, and I didn't think people wanted to know me, and I had doubts about my own ability to make friends. So I just opted out.

SHAW: So what ended up happening then at TASP? Like, did it go your way?

YAN: Well, like, on the second night, there was a moment that felt kind of like a test in a familiar, high school way. Four or five people got out their MacBooks and started sharing their music libraries on iTunes. And they were, you know, mostly listening to indie stuff, cool bands, you know, like Radiohead. And instead of sharing my own music with them, I made up some excuse, and I left the room.


SHAW: Why?

YAN: Because I thought I had nothing to offer. Like, I had only been listening to K-pop and these CDs that my dad had bought me from China. So I thought that was, like, sentimental stuff and not really cool.

SHAW: Aw. I want to, like, go back in time and hug baby Justine. And like, music is such a sorting device, same with, like, clothes and style and, like, all these kind of superficial things.

YAN: Totally.


SHAW: I assume TASP had specific ways, though, to, like, stop you all from falling back on these typical friendship preferences, right?

YAN: Oh, yeah, there were some juicy devices. You'll love this.


YAN: So the first was, if we left the beautiful sorority house where we were living, you know, to wander around town, we had to sign out in groups of three. So no one-on-one time allowed. And then the second thing is sort of contradictory to that but happened later in our camp. So we did these things called frates (ph).

SHAW: Frates?

YAN: Friend dates.


YAN: So that was us working with our counselors to come up with a list of people we had not gotten close enough to. And then our counselors would actually send us out on dates, like, with one other person. And this was the only time we were ever encouraged to go out in pairs.

SHAW: It feels like a dating reality TV show, but just, like, for friends.

YAN: Totally. We joked that there might be, like, hidden cameras planted throughout the house because we were, like, in a social experiment.

SHAW: (Laughter).


YAN: And then the final thing was just the soft power that our counselors had. We thought they were so cool. Like, one of my counselors was this brilliant guy we all adored. He had graduated from college, and he was this organizer steeped in leftist thought. And he was always making fun of people for being too exclusive.

SHAW: So some, like, good, old-fashioned social norming.

YAN: Yeah. He was so much fun to be around. And whenever he was, he'd make us hang out as a collective - so all 18 of us in a room or going out on an excursion, having a good time. We'd have these extremely private and emotional conversations that lasted all night. And we'd talk about our families, our fears, our dreams.

SHAW: It sounds like a slumber party, but, like, for an entire class.

YAN: Yeah (laughter). No one's not invited to this slumber party.


SHAW: OK. So these rules - they seem to cut against our friendship instincts. Were you really able to make friends with everyone in the end, though?

YAN: Well, I can't say that our friendships were perfectly equal across the board. But I can honestly say that I made an effort with everybody, and everybody made an effort with me. And that changed me.

SHAW: What do you mean?

YAN: I mean, I just came out of my shell, Yowei.


YAN: I, like, burst out of my incubation phase. And I was just, like, so popular. And I felt so attractive and sought after and interesting and weird, but in the right ways. And I was not afraid at all of being rejected. Like, that was completely lifted.


YAN: So take the K-pop thing. By the end of TASP, I felt so safe and confident that this thing I'd been embarrassed about at the start - I actually made it into a speech for everyone. It was a whole presentation with YouTube music videos and I think handouts and a Q&A at the end. I was, like, the resident K-pop expert.


SHAW: So was it hard to go back to the real world after you left?

YAN: Yeah, it was hard. Because I'd gotten a taste of what it was like to feel total social safety, what it was like to show up to the cafeteria and there's already a seat waiting. But if I think about it now, I do feel like I gained something. Like, I did walk away believing in my worth as a friend, that I had so much more to offer and even this belief in myself that I could make friends pretty easily if people were willing to try with me, too.

SHAW: That's a helpful reframe.


SHAW: That's producer Justine Yan.


SHAW: This episode was produced by Abby Wendle, Justine Yan, Rhaina Cohen and me, and edited by Luis Trelles, fact-checking by Katie Daugert, mastering by our ever-helpful and patient technical director Andy Huether.

COHEN: We'd like to thank Mikaela Sundberg, the sociologist whose work on fraternal relations in convents and monasteries shaped this story. Kathleen Cummings helped me understand the history of Catholic nuns. My spirit guide for this episode was Robert Orsi. Thanks to Joan Logan and Kathy Newell, who were in Roseanne's Zoom reunion, plus Quinn White, Emily Vaughn, Laura Kwerel, Bernadette Raspante (ph), Adrianna Smith, Will Hunt and Gregory Warner. The singing you heard was performed by my friends, Emefa Agawu, Victoria Hall-Palerm and Helen Toner.

I also want to mention that Karol, aka Sister Suds, is still a nun, though now she's in an order that isn't governed by the Vatican. And you better bet that sisterhood is still a huge part of Karol's life. Every morning, she lights candles for people.

JACKOWSKI: This one is for all of my sisters and my spirit guides and angels.

COHEN: If you want to enjoy more of Karol's hilarity and reflections, she wrote a memoir about her early years as a nun. It's called "Forever And Ever, Amen."

SHAW: Speaking of books, Rhaina's writing one about people who have a friendship so close, they consider it a partnership, and how these friendships challenge the centrality of romantic relationships in our culture. The book's title, as of now, is "More Than Friends," which I'm very much looking forward to reading.

YAN: Big thanks to Chen Li, Noel Rockwell, Marco Scalera, Emily Tian and Hope Yoon - TASPers who, in typical TASP fashion, talked with me for hours about their more recent experiences in the program. And also thank you to Marybeth Seitz-Brown, Ella Schwalb and Erin Castillo Holder, my TASP friends who helped me remember that summer.

SHAW: This season of INVISIBILIA is also produced by Kia Miakka Natisse, Andrew Mambo, David Gutherz, Adelina Lancianese and Alicia Qian. We had help from Jo Nixon and Micah Ratner. Our supervising producer is Liana Simstrom, and our supervising senior producer is Nicole Beemsterboer. Neal Carruth is our senior director of programming, and our senior vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann. Our theme music is by Infinity Knives, and additional music in this episode provided by Ramtin Arablouei, Jonathan Barlow, Connor Lafitte Firephly, Skyhole and Solxis. To see an original illustration for this episode by Sonnenzimmer, visit We'll be back next week.

JACKOWSKI: And this is the constitution on friendship. Purely human friendships shall be avoided because these inordinate attachments endanger chastity - I'm sorry (laughter). I forgot about this one. We've got to do this one over - endanger chastity. It's hard to read with a straight face.




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