By Drea Aron-Schiavone
When you hear the phrase “college transition,” you usually imagine a freshman battling homesickness, having a hard time making connections, struggling to create a home. I was incredibly thankful that my transition into college was remarkably smooth—quite simply, I fell in love with William & Mary. It was the “college transition” of leaving that I didn’t anticipate would make me feel quite so heartbroken.
Senior year was an emotionally and physically exhausting time full of all-nighters, of pressure to soak up every last drop of magic in a home with people I loved dearly while still trying to care about academics. We were surrounded by a cloud of perpetual panic that loomed over each interaction that even slightly approached the dreaded “so, what’s next?” What are you going to do after leaving the comfort and support within these walls? Who will you be when you have to forge a new beginning? We were collectively afraid that we wouldn’t succeed by our own (usually unreasonable) standards.
One of the things I feared most was losing something that one of my favorite authors, Marina Keegan, terms “the opposite of loneliness.” “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together,” she says. There was this powerful aura of comfort knowing that among over 6,000 humans that shared a home with you, someone was also working into the wee hours of the night; someone was within walking distance to listen to your rambling thoughts; someone was nearby to reassure and uplift you by their mere physical closeness. I was already preparing myself for how much I would miss this rare kind of peace that emanated from the constant presence of such beautiful souls. But preparing didn’t make it any easier to leave.
Six months out from graduation, I don’t feel close to having everything “figured out”—and as far as I know, I think many adults would say the same thing. Life is messy and unpredictable and even the most careful plans can disintegrate. Sometimes, the rug gets pulled out from under you; uncontrollable circumstances catch you off guard. Being at home after graduation seems important.
And no matter what position you are in post-graduation, I think we all feel this persistent ache of losing this “opposite of loneliness:” we miss being surrounded by friends we work with, commiserate with, laugh non-stop at 2 a.m. with; friends who see us at our most vulnerable and continue to love us. And as virtual presences replace the proximity of physical ones, we are left constantly refreshing Facebook and Instagram feeds, feeling inadequate. I see photos of friends visiting castles on their Fullbright Scholarships, or candids of beaming, mischievous kids they are teaching, or snapshots of their new apartments—proof of independence. They seem to be off blazing their own trails, saving the world in some meaningful way, while I am vacuuming, making salads, running errands and attempting to study for the GRE. I even feel envious of the statuses saying that friends are feeling burned out and exhausted, because I crave that chance at more clearly defined fulfillment.
Living at home has forced me to face my fears—my fear of defining myself outside of my roles in college, where opportunities to have an impact were constant. My fear of change. My fear of being a “failure” who moves back home. I have been attempting to find fulfillment and meaning when it doesn’t seem as readily available. I have been trying to understand that doing meaningful things doesn’t have to equate to the exhaustion and stress I sometimes felt in college. Creating yourself & finding fulfillment in flux, away from people who constantly inspired you, collaborated with you, and surrounded you can be scary, difficult and overwhelming. When you are not moving a million miles an hour, you become acquainted with some darker parts of yourself amidst the stillness. It can make you feel very small.
But I am realizing it is an extensive learning process. I am trying to embrace the fear of change and let the overwhelming feelings roll through me, know that this valley is temporary, and keep going. As one of my dearest friends has been reminding me: life is (hopefully) long; now isn’t forever. And I am thankful for an unconditional feeling of home that transcends physical closeness in some dear, supportive friends.
Striving to be grateful has been more helpful than wallowing (though that isn’t always easy to practice). In the midst of my struggle, I acknowledge that if this is one of the most difficult things I have faced, I am exceptionally lucky. I have never had to fight through many of life’s storms that my loved ones have weathered: financial instability, unfortunate health circumstances, an unsafe home, or lacking in support and love. I have been thinking about what I value and trying not to be afraid. I have been feeling lost and spending more time stressing about not studying than actually just doing it. I have been living in my pajamas and listening to lots of Ed Sheeran and blasting Taylor Swift in the car.
On the days when it feels like I don’t have something meaningful to get out of bed for, I try to remember that moments of fulfillment can always be created—even if they look different than they have for the past four years. By texting friends in the wee hours of the morning, reminding them that they will inevitably lead a meaningful lives, regardless of their grades. By encouraging loved ones to slow down and be gentler with themselves. By babysitting and vicariously finding joy and excitement in everything being new. By writing and sharing with others. By visiting my sister, my other half, and reveling in that bond. Because my time is so flexible, I have tried to be as available as I can to listen and to give love at anytime. To send care packages. To help make birthdays a big deal. I have been striving to stay connected—writing letters to friends that express my gratitude. I have learned to cherish the intimacy of phone conversations—of hearing a voice that seems to bridge distance between us and remind me that home is found inside people rather than walls. I have come to appreciate these small gifts more, I think. Of the way the sunlight shimmers between the fiery autumn leaves. Of showing my dad how to download all the new emojis and watching his excitement. Of laughing with my parents, eating dinner together by the fire. Of watching them care for one another. Of acknowledging the aching loneliness of being single and reflecting on what I admire most in this hypothetical man I would want to share my life with. Of journaling more.
I am done pretending like I’m thriving right now post-graduation, but I am hoping to get there. I am not trying to deny my loneliness or my lack of focus or my anxiety anymore, and I have found a therapist to help guide me in this search for fulfillment and peace amidst the uncertainty. I am trying to embrace the messiness and not be too hard on myself. Again, in the words of Marina:
“We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down… Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.”
But then, she seems to reassure and comfort us:
“We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay. We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time…What we have to remember is we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over.”
With this abundance of life before us, Marina isn’t suggesting we let days pass idly by. Rather, I think she is telling us that we aren’t expected to have everything figured out; that maybe the closest we will come to “figuring it out” is treating each day is an opportunity to embrace the lack of guarantees and create ourselves and give to others and pursue what we find meaningful in spite of the uncertainty—it is never ever too late. She implores: “We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
I have been trying to remember the words of an incredibly wise, compassionate human who I was fortunate enough to work closely with during my time in college. At an event about grief where we asked him to speak, he said how giving yourself to a person or an experience or a place, caring so deeply can develop such a strong bond in any kind of relationship. And all relationships end in some kind of separation, whether it is the emotional separation of moving on or the ultimate separation of death. Living through that separation can be remarkably painful—but it is painful because this mattered to you. Because that person or place has become a part of your being in some meaningful way. And, he said, that feeling this pain so deeply is better than the alternative of being closed off, of living at an arm’s length distance from the world—of not feeling deeply and not loving. Because that isn’t truly being alive.
To paraphrase John Green, I am immensely thankful that I have the opportunity to be heartbroken by a home and a group of people that I love so dearly.
Andrea (Drea) Aron-Schiavone is a recent (in denial) alum of The College of William & Mary who is attempting to navigate the infamous “real world.” She is inspired by the resilience and genuine hearts of little humans, and hopes to pursue a future as a social worker, working with children who have survived trauma and abuse. Some of her favorite things include her family, handwritten letters, long drives with friends, guacamole, Ed Sheeran, and sending text messages that are way too long.