Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week she talks with a man and a woman who met as residential assistants (RAs) at the University of Hartford about the unique social situation that arises when you are an authority figure to your peers. The job created occasional tension, but it also bonded them, and nearly a decade after graduation, they’re still as close as family.
Alex Perry, 31, a judicial officer at Morgan State University, who lives in Baltimore, Maryland
Jasmaine Seaberry, 30, a publicist who lives in New York City
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julie Beck: When did you meet for the first time, and what were your first impressions of each other?
Jasmaine Seaberry: Let Alex tell you the story, and then I’ll tell you my version.
Alex Perry: The first time I remember meeting Jasmaine was my junior year of college, in 2009.
Jasmaine: Which would be my sophomore year.
Alex: She knew me prior to that as the mean RA, because I was doing my job during a fire drill. My supervisor told me, “People need to stand right here.” So I told the students, “You need to stand right there,” and they did not really want to do that.
Jasmaine: I wasn't there, but [my friends lived] in his complex, so he was their RA. There was this huge fire drill and I guess he had yelled at them because they weren’t on the sidewalk. They were in the middle of the street. You have to be a certain [number] of feet away from the building; that’s standard fire drill practice. I guess he wanted to be a good RA back then. He was actually trying to do his job properly. They weren’t following orders in his eyes, so he was yelling at them. [They told me] he was rude and belligerent and they said, “Stay away from him. He’s mean.”
And then my junior year, we were on staff together. When we were opening the buildings for the residents to come in, we were playing team-building games, and we got to know each other. We realized we both liked Desperate Housewives, and we had so much in common. Then I told him, “I’ve never really interacted with you, but I had this bad connotation for the last two years and this is why.”
Beck: And it almost cost you your friendship.
Jasmaine: We would’ve never been friends. But I’m not that stubborn once I see a person is good. After opening, we were best buddies. We watched Desperate Housewives every Sunday together; we sat together in staff meetings.
Alex: We would have “A and J time,” just chill, and watch TV.
Jasmaine: Our buildings were right next to each other.
Alex: Across the street. She would always keep an eye out for me.
Jasmaine: I could see when his light was on and I would call him on his room phone. I was the only one that had that number, so he knew it was me. It’d be 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’d be like, “Why is your light on? Come over.” And he’d say, “Okay, I’ll be there in two minutes.” Sometimes college is the best.
Beck: Besides Desperate Housewives, what else did you bond over?
Alex: I joined a fraternity, and Jasmaine was definitely there for me. I had to go through a grueling test, and she would give me words of encouragement. Also, I was not the best of RAs, so Jasmaine would always come in clutch for me. If I was going to a party when I should’ve been doing something else, she’d switch [shifts] for me and things like that.
Also, I was her personal bartender when she and I were of age, because we had a wet campus.
Jasmaine: Sex on the Beach, that was my go-to drink.
Beck: How does being an authority figure to the peers you live with change your social life in college?
Alex: I was always in a fishbowl. I felt like I was not just Alex, but Alex the RA. So even though we are all paying the same tuition, if you’re at a party, you’re always looked at like, “You’re an RA; why are you here?” You always have to be on your best behavior because your job is to be a policy enforcer. And if you're not [following] policies yourself, believe me, students are going to tell on you.
Jasmaine: I had most of my friends defined [in] my freshman year before I was an RA. And then I made friends with RAs like Alex. It’s hard to work around RA-duty nights. I didn’t get to lots of clubs, or really get to start hanging out a lot until my senior year. I was taking maximum credits, I was in five organizations, and then I was also an RA. It was hard, but my friends understood. If they wanted to go smoke weed, they didn’t put me in compromising positions, where I would have to report them. Because they knew I would.
Alex: I look at being an RA as being on a team, just like clubs or student [athletics]. You’re constantly seeing these people, in training, in weekly staff meetings, on duty nights. I think of Jasmaine and some of my other RA buddies as family.
Jasmaine: My whole family knows about Alex. If I were in trouble, they’d probably call Alex before they call anybody else.
Beck: How did your friendship evolve during your time in college and after you graduated?
Jasmaine: We hit a bump my senior year when I became in charge of all the RAs. Long story short, the whole staff turned on me. I was trying to keep everybody in line because they were not doing their jobs, duty nights weren’t getting covered, the whole staff was falling apart. I was trying to be forceful but not too forceful. Because, remember, these people are my friends. So I put on my boss hat, and they went behind my back to [my supervisor], telling him I was being too assertive and getting on a high horse. And Alex turned on me with everybody else and didn’t tell me.
Alex: People were not used to Jasmaine in this role ... She was a little forceful, and people didn’t like that too much. I was younger; I was very easily influenced—
Jasmaine: Oh please.
Alex: And one of my RA buddies was like, “We’re all writing an anonymous letter to the director complaining about Jasmaine.” I was like, “Okay, she’s been acting a little crazy.” I didn’t realize that our supervisor was going to out us.
Jasmaine: [Our supervisor was] a very shady and messy individual. I don't know why they would believe that he wouldn’t have told me about this letter.
Alex: She said, “You lied to me, I felt like I trusted you,” and I talked to her about it, and I did apologize. From there, trust had to be gained again, but we worked through it. As I’ve gotten older and thought about it, I [realize] I shouldn’t let people persuade me to do things that I don’t really feel comfortable doing. It was just a little bump.
After we graduated from college, we went from seeing each other daily to being hours apart, but we still keep the conversation [going]. But our conversations are more mature now compared to when we were in college; we’ve grown as people. She comes and visits me; we talk on the phone. Our new shows are Empire and Power; we have discussions about them. I’m in a relationship, so sometimes I go to her for advice.
Beck: Has it been an advantage for you two to have an opposite-sex best friend you can turn to for advice like that?
Alex: It’s definitely an advantage. She’s level-headed, but also ... helps me to get a different perspective. [Before I was with] my current girlfriend, one time I was talking to somebody and—I’m not proud of it—but I had her on a three-way [phone] conversation.
Jasmaine: I was silently listening. I needed to know if he was just being crazy. And [it turned out] he needed to get out of that situation.
Alex: But we do not do that anymore. That’s when I was younger.
Jasmaine: We have grown beyond silent three-ways.
Beck: My colleague wrote a story a while back about a study that found that people are often suspicious of opposite-sex best friends, and think they must be attracted to each other. Has that ever been an issue for you?
Jasmaine: Always, oh my gosh. I think it’s normal for other people to think that. His family has made comments over the years, and we just laugh at them because it can’t be further from the truth. We just don’t look at each other like that. But I think it’s good to have an opposite-sex friend, because they can give you the real, raw, honest truth from a different perspective. It’s rare that I’ve had guy best friends, but the few that I’ve had, I keep very close.
Alex: Some people have had an issue with me having not just Jasmaine but any woman as a friend. They might think there’s something more. No, if that was going to happen, it would have happened a long time ago.
Jasmaine: Exactly. We’re 10 years in now. Whoever I’ll date in the future, they’ll have to get along with my friends. I keep my circle really small. A lot of people have dropped off, but Alex has really been there for me. He’s a real, true best friend, and I couldn’t ask for anybody better.
If you or someone you know should be featured on The Friendship Files, get in touch at email@example.com and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.