When I left home for college, I thought I knew one thing for sure: I wasn’t interested in making new friends. People would always talk about how the girls they meet on their floor became their instant best friends, or how they met some of the coolest people on their intramural team, and I wasn’t interested in that at all. As far as I was concerned, I had all the friends I would ever need. I was ultra involved in high school, from participating in every musical ensemble I could to performing in community theater and going on mission trips. All of my closest friends were the same way, and as a result of that, we spent most of our waking hours together forming bonds that we thought no amount of time or distance could possibly distinguish.
My freshman year, I decided to participate in a “me year” where I took a break from being constantly surrounded by other people like I had been for most of my young life. For me, that meant spending a lot of time outside, walking around and exploring my new city. It meant eating meals alone with a good book instead of going to group dinner with the rest of my floor. It meant Skyping friends from home once a week, and writing heartfelt letters about how excited I was to come home for Thanksgiving break. Most importantly, it meant getting to know who I was outside of the groups of people I often defined myself by. I learned more about my desires, motivations, and dreams. And, I was lonely.
After a tumultuous few years of uncertainty, huge life changes, and a lot of personal growth, I can finally call my college town home, and so much of that has to do with the people I surround myself with. This past year and this past semester especially has shown me the importance of cultivating and sustaining a support system in your home away from home. The past twelve months have brought momentous highs and devastating lows, and the strong female friendships in my life, especially those fostered with the women I sing with in my a capella group, have kept me afloat.
When my grandmother passed unexpectedly during the holidays, one of my friends immediately found somebody to cover her shift at work in case I wanted her to drive up for the funeral. When I was having an awful day and didn’t feel like I could go to class, my friend suggested skipping and immediately took me to brunch and lifted my spirits. When I was heartbroken and finally faced my emotions about it, my friend shed tears in addition to my own because she experienced the pain right along with me. When I confessed to my friend that I was feeling depressed and was considering counseling, she encouraged me and helped me find the necessary resources to seek the help I need. It’s seemingly little gestures like these that constantly remind me how lucky I am to be surrounded by such immense and unselfish love.
I have always been a fierce giver at heart, often too fierce, and I am guilty of putting others before myself more often than not. I have lost bits of myself in the care of others, and allowed myself to hurt to spare the feelings of the people I love. These women show me that I don’t have to do that anymore. That I deserve to receive as much as I give. That it’s OK to allow myself to succumb to the hurt, and that I don’t need to quantify or put a timeline of my pain. These women did all of this while constantly lifting each other up, checking in on how each other is feeling, and expressing their love for each other in ways both small and large. The support and strength I receive from these friendships are something unlike anything I have experienced before, and I feel inspired everyday to be a better leader, friend, advocate, and woman because of them.
When I think about my college career so far, I’m still glad I took my “me year.” It was a valuable part of my journey that helped shape my college experience and my sense of self. That being said, my resistance towards putting myself out there and seeking support outside my high school friends (sans one great lady who remains one of my closest friends to this day) was cemented in an unwillingness to step out of my comfort zone. While many of my pals from my home town are still incredibly precious and present in my life, I have slowly realized that shutting myself off to the experience of meeting other people at college was silly. I am glad to say that as a senior, I have made some of the most fulfilling friendships I have ever experienced. Finding this core group of supporters has allowed me to be more purposeful with my relationships, opened my heart up to greater amounts of love, and shown me that it’s ok to lean on other people. I don’t have to do this alone. These powerful, tenacious, and fiercely compassionate woman have kept the flame lit beneath me, and I look forward to continuing to nurture and sustain the home that I have built for myself in the place I love so dearly.