Today I was driving down a country road here in Kent and I thought to myself, “I’m tired.” I don’t mean, “It’s a Monday and I worked a full day and it’s 90 degrees outside” kind-of-tired – I meant a soul-deep kind of tired. This weekend I was walking my dog when a wave of grief hit me pretty hard. I missed my college friends, my Pittsburgh friends, my Nashville friends. I called my mom and broke down in tears, my first real breakdown since moving to Kent.
If I’m being honest, I was not prepared for how tiring this postgrad life has been. While it was and is refreshing to leave behind some of the stressors of college life, it’s pretty damn tiring to move three times in the span of two years, go through a lot of personal change, see friends go through tons of changes, and navigate all of that while adjusting to a totally new season of life and way of living. Most of the time I really enjoy postgrad life, but sometimes I call home to my mom and cry because I’m tired and lonely and have no Saturday night plans besides dusting my whole apartment. Sometimes I wish I could go back to college even when those years were full of a grief of their own because it would mean that all my friends lived in the same square mile of land and ate dinner with me each day and were only a few flights of stairs to get to, not a plane ride to get to.
While these feelings are not constant companions in this postgrad life, they seem to be steady enough that it seems like it might be something helpful to share here on the internet, a place I am honest at because I’m honest outside of it, too. Being honest about my postgrad experience is something I hope is helpful to other people, because all too often, I’ve felt alone in my thoughts until I speak them aloud and someone that’s been right next to me this whole time says, “Wait, me too! I thought I was the only one.”
So consider this my first post in what will perhaps be a series I’m calling Honest Postgrad Posts. Since the idea of friendship (and loneliness) has been so much at the forefront of my own mind, I thought I’d begin with both abstract and concrete thoughts and tips about making new and keeping old friends after college. If you’re still interested after this mega-long intro, I’ll talk through my experience of keeping old friends, making new friends, and what has been really important to me to remember through this season of change. As the title of this “series” indicates, I promise to be honest.
Keeping Old Friends
Before I went to college, I only really had two actual friends in high school who knew anything remotely personal about me and whose company I would keep outside of school walls. When I went to college, I was delighted to find a larger group of friends who seemed to appreciate my quirks, support me in my interests, and introduce me to new things, too. It took about a year before I really felt like I could be confident in saying who my close college friends were, but by the end of four years, I graduated with a group of friends who I wanted to keep forever. Keeping postgrad friendships was something I wanted, but I quickly learned it was not always something that was easy.
Many of my friends got married soon after graduating, and others were moving, getting new jobs, traveling, or all of the above. Schedules got crazy, and before I knew it, I hadn’t talked with closer friends in a few months which was unheard of whenever I was in college. I learned early on that perseverance, patience, and grace were things I needed to keep at the forefront of these friendships as a new season began. Perseverance is required in any long-distance relationship, which at that point, most of my friendships were as my friends scattered across the nation (and world!). You have to follow-up, go the extra mile, and realize that it takes work and planning to make stuff work. Patience is important because you have to realize that the instant gratification of friendship that you had in college is not really possible anymore. You have to be patient and extend grace in the meantime that schedules will not always align, friends will get busy, and your feelings might be hurt. You have to have grace for yourself to let certain relationships go, and you have to extend the same grace to others.
There’s a few things that I think are helpful for folks out there who want to keep old friendships going:
Actually keep in touch: Send a text. Send a letter. Send an email. Call their damn phone and leave a voicemail. I mean it! Text your friend when they come to mind. It could be serious, it could be stupid. Send them a meme, recall a shared funny memory, ask questions!! Let them know they are remembered. Plan time to catch up, Skype, etc. Planning time to talk is not sexy, but life’s hardest and most important work often ain’t sexy, y’all.
Offer up details on your own: Let your friends know what’s happening in your life, too. Don’t be offended if they forget to ask; it just might not be in their nature. Obviously they need to hold up their end of the relationship, too (this is 2-way street!), but it’s okay to share a funny story from work or even a failure/hardship that’s going on. Hopefully it’ll lead to more shared conversations!
Go visit: If time and money permits, go visit your friends. Plan a long weekend. Meet in the middle. Try to find a way to make it work. You became friends in the first place because you spent actual, real time together, so try to make it a part of your life to see each other if you can.
Making New Friends
I’m going to be honest with you – this one can be hard. Making new friends is a really neat part of postgrad life because whenever you’ve made new friends, your circle expands and your life is made richer through these new relationships and perspectives that are now a part of your life. But it’s getting there that’s the hard part!
Now that I’ve moved again to Kent, I’ve been reminded by friends who saw me through Nashville and my parents that it takes T I M E to make new friends. In Nashville, it took me up until I was about to move away to realize that I had made good friends. I took me nearly 6 months to feel comfortable inviting people to do things, calling people my friend, etc. Along the way, I had many uncomfortable moments, but I’ve found that’s how this whole friendship thing goes most of the time. Here’s a few thoughts about that:
First Impressions Are Dumb: Look, time and time again I’ve been wrong based on first impressions. Sure, sometimes a first impression is accurate, but most of the time I am VERY WRONG about people based on our first interaction. Some of my closer friends in Nashville were people I met at a bible study who I definitely didn’t think I’d end up wanting to spend time with and be friends with. We were different and different interests and professions, etc. However, those “concerns” were the very things that I ended up really valuing about my new friends. I often get in the way of myself, so I have to get myself out of the way and not let my first impressions lead me.
Show up, then show up again: Try any kind of social gathering once (church, a club, etc.). If you hate it, I’d recommend trying it again. I forced myself to go to bible study and church those first few months even though I was socially anxious and felt lonely sometimes. But slowly, those spaces ended up being places where I met friends and found fellowship. It really does take showing up day after day, open and willing. You’ve gotta extend a lot of grace to yourself in this process, too (more on that later.)
It just takes time: Honestly, it does. It takes time, it takes reaching out and taking the initiative, it takes throwing Christmas parties and inviting people to the movies. I have to preach this to myself right now – it takes time.
It’s okay not to like people: You are allowed to meet people and decide that you don’t want to be their friend. It doesn’t mean you hate them, or they’re awful or you’re awful (though sometimes you will meet people that really do suck), it just means that you don’t have to spend your valuable time with them because it’s YOUR CHOICE! You don’t have to like everyone you meet, and they don’t have to like you either. This is life!
Important Things I’ve Learned Along the Way
It’s okay to grieve: Things will never be the same, so I think it’s pretty natural to go through the grieving process in such a season of change. Do not ignore your sadness, anger, denial, etc. Sit in it, talk about it, pray about it. Let grief work on you and do not be afraid of your feelings. I do believe you will work through it, but know it is natural to feel like parts of you have died, or you are mourning for something that is over. Work through your grief through seeking wise counsel, calling on the Lord, and being honest with those who you are close with in how they can support you and you can support them too, if they are a friend who is also going through a similar change.
Loneliness doesn’t mean you’re a loser: Satan loves to use the nighttime to feed me his lies. When it is dark, he strikes my heart and preys on my insecurities. One of them when I was in the midst of change is that my loneliness indicated that I was a loser – unlovable and weird and undeserving of friendship. But loneliness does not mean those things. I had to really learn to pray through those moments of doubt and honestly rely on scripture and the truth. It’s also important to remember those “ebenzer moments” – moments you can recall God’s faithfulness and presence in your life, and the help and peace he’s provided in the past. I had to remind myself of the blessings of friendship I have had, and that I did have hope to come.
Shut up and listen: Friendships go through seasons, and sometimes you’ll be have more needs and concerns and sometimes your friend will have more needs and concerns. It’s important to realize that there will be phone conversations where you need to just listen. I remember early on after graduating I had a friend who called and wanted to chat for a long time. I remember being kind of annoyed with him and wanted to go and do things on my own. He was having a hard time in postgrad life and I was soaring high on freedom and a nice paycheck. I remember telling him I needed to go when really I just was being selfish and didn’t want him raining on my adult-life-is-great parade. Honestly, I can be a real jerk. My friend needed a listening ear and I needed to learn that I had things to learn from him and his thoughts. Friendship is not about you.
Don’t let things go unsaid: Do not assume with old or new friends that they know you appreciate them. Don’t wait until they move away or it’s their birthday to share what they mean to you, and why you’re glad their in your life. You never know when these words might so very needed.
Postgrad life is full of its up and downs. I am constantly finding myself needing to be reminded of how I need grace in my life for myself and others, and that this isn’t a race. God is faithful through all the changes, and the dark moments do give way to life, light, and hope.
And my friends out there, I’d like to say: I love you a lot. Thanks for your patience, persevering, and grace. Thanks for the memes and the shared moments and memories. Thanks for the voicemails and the questions you’ve asked and the moments you’ve listened.
I pray for all the new postgrads and those still journeying through this many years later that your tears would be comforted by friends, family, and a God who cares about what’s troubling you. I’d love to hear your story, and come alongside you, too.
You are loved.
Love your internet friend,