College is a bubble—it protects you from the real world in many different ways. Opportunities to get involved, to explore new subjects, to learn useful skills, or to meet really unique and interesting people, are practically thrown at you. In the bubble it’s easy to make friends—and stay friends—with the people around you. However, once college ends, you and your friends will burst out of that bubble and find yourselves doing very different things in very different places, oftentimes with a lot of distance in between.
It is in this distance that I’ve found the toughest test of my friendships, and the toughest test of my own independence.
In college, I had a close-knit group of 4–5 best friends who I saw frequently. My free time was filled with group study sessions, dinner dates, movie nights, and going out with the same people. Even when my friends weren’t right there with me, I always knew they could be at any time if I wanted them to be, because I always lived with them—or at least walking distance from them.
After graduation, I stayed at my University as a graduate student while my friends dispersed. I found myself struggling to figure out who to text to get dinner with, or who to see “Straight Outta Compton” with. When I would go out to familiar bars, I was confronted with unfamiliar faces. I would walk across campus and not see a single person I knew, and when I did know someone, I would get the dreaded question—“Didn’t you graduate?” I felt like a stranger in the town that I had called home for the past four years.
My friends and I promised to stay in touch, to talk all the time, to visit frequently, to remain best friends. And for the most part, we’ve done that. However, even if it starts off feeling like everything will stay the same, it soon becomes obvious that things will change. The texts become shorter, the Skype-dates that were supposed to be weekly are few and far between. As the list of stories to share grows longer, “I’ll tell you later” becomes commonplace, and later doesn’t always come. You begin to rely on the funny snapchats, the “like” on your profile picture, the comment on Instagram with the “fire emoji”—however, these superficial tokens of friendship are not the same as the face-to-face time that became habitual over the course of four years.
Of course, you still see each other—some more frequently than others. But it’s a little different each time. You’re both changing, your lives are different, your daily rituals have been tweaked to meet the needs of a more grown-up lifestyle, and your tastes and quirks have evolved. Sometimes, it’s not that noticeable, because you are growing together.
But other times, you’re growing apart—your lives take different paths. When you reunite—whether it’s four weeks, four months, or four years later—the silence over sips of tea will be awkward, the distracted glances to your phones will be uncomfortable, and the distance, which you thought you’d only notice when you are apart, feels present even when you’re sitting across the table from them.
For someone like me, someone who is used to having best friends who lived nearby, someone who is “social” and “extroverted,” but still feels uncomfortable making new friends, this distance has been the hardest part after graduation. In the moments when things went wrong, when I missed my friends, I found myself worrying. I worried that the distance would test our friendships too much. I worried that even if they were here for me now for a comforting text message that the lack of face-to-face time would strain our relationship, that we would lose the friendship we had built over the past four years.
I worried about my own independence. I worried that the bubble of college had made my sense of self so tied to my friends that when they weren’t around, I didn’t feel like myself. Why was I unable to reach out to the people around me when things went wrong? Why was I so reliant on my best friends and our face-to-face time that I couldn’t cope when they weren’t around? Why couldn’t I just text someone else to get dinner, or see “Straight Outta Compton” with? Why couldn’t I just go alone?
Social media makes it easy to keep in touch with our friends constantly, even when they are nearby. But that’s the problem – we’re spoiled by constant communication with our best friends. The bubble of college, where your friends are easily accessible, exacerbates this – and once that bubble is burst, it’s difficult for us to cope with just ourselves.
But this is a normal part of growing up. In the real world, your family isn’t nearby, and your best friends might not be either. You learn to come out of your shell, to feel close to other people. You’ll learn to hang out with new friends and to hang out by yourself. The real world isn’t insular. It isn’t a “#squad” or a “#clique” that you spend all of your time with. It’s constantly changing and evolving, as are you and your friends. Yes, that means you may grow apart, that you may lose touch – but that’s okay. Some friendships will fade, but others will last beyond the distance.
Four months after I last saw my best friend, I visited her in New York City. Even with the silence over sips of tea, even with the distracted glances to our phones, everything felt the same as it did four months ago. The distance, which was always noticeable apart, felt like it had never existed when I was sitting across the table from her.
In another four months, everything might feel a little different. In another four years, everything might be unrecognizable.
But I’m OK with that.