As hook-up culture overtakes dating, the average age at marriage increases, and romantic relationships expand beyond historical expectations of heterosexuality, friendship has become an increasingly emphasized relationship for many college students (Demir, 2010; Holland, 1990). Previous scholarship has shown that friendship is important for ensuring everything from social support and connection to mental health and even academic success (Garcia, 2012; Bogle, 2007; McCabe, 2016; Narr, 2017; US Census, 2020; Demir et al, 2007). Barbara Caine (2009), in her book Friendship: A History, describes how friendship is differentiated from obligatory ties of family or coworkers because friendship is freely chosen, and the expectations of the tie are therefore defined by the friends. This lends the relationship a uniquely amorphous nature that is well suited to promoting the neoliberal ideals of flexibility, self-determination, and resiliency within the friends themselves. Through an ethnographic examination of undergraduate and graduate student friendship networks, I examine how Covid-19 highlighted how forms of image management and constant emotional work within female friendship take on neoliberal forms as they pervaded the deep interiority of student’s understandings and aspirations for themselves as self-determined and continually improving individuals (Goffman, 1959; Gill, 2018).



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