Five years ago, I sat in a crowd with my fellow classmates. It was graduation day — the day that we’d all looked forward to during our four years of college. Equal parts anxious and excited, I awaited my moment to walk across the stage to accept my diploma, hoping that I wouldn’t fall down in my sky-high heels and would limit crying before photos were taken. The day was an emotional blur, celebrating with friends and family. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what was to come, but knew that it was time to say goodbye to my old stomping grounds.
At the time, I was ready for a break from my eclectic college town. I was ready to move home, back into my comfortable high school bedroom — I knew what to expect, which was the opposite of my various living situations in college which oftentimes doubled as the site of many a dance party.
During my time as an undergrad, I had a group of friends for every occasion. I lived with four of my best friends — we even made up a fictitious sorority with a fake motto that we lived by. There was always someone to hang out with, no matter the adventure or mood I was in — from concerts and co-op parties, study sessions to Thanksgiving dinners.
But when you’re in college, it feels like it’s going to last forever — like you’re in an infinite fantasy world with other fellow 20-somethings, all trying to figure it out. I couldn’t think too far into the future. I was so concerned with graduating on time and passing my finals, and the only thing I could think about was moving out. Needless to say, post-grad life was a giant wake-up call.
The weirdest part about moving home after graduation wasn’t my clichéd hostess job or sleeping in my frozen-in-time high school bedroom, it was the fact that I had zero friends. Sure, I had friends but none of them, not one, were in walking distance. I couldn’t text anyone to say, “Meet me in the quad at 8. Let’s watch Gossip Girl!” My life now existed in missed calls, posts on Facebook, and weeknight Skype sessions. I missed my core group of college friends so badly. I felt like I was floating along, somewhere in the ether of post-grad life with no one to talk to.
How did anyone make friends at 22? Gone were the days of bonding over talking about professors in lecture hall or hitting it off during a heated beer pong tournament. College was easy. Friends were lurking around each and every corner. After college was different. No longer was I surrounded by 20-somethings — now everyone around me seemed to have their life figured out with a clear career path, stable relationships, and soul friends. I knew at some point I’d find a job that would make sense in my career trajectory. Though dating would be a new misadventure, I’d be able to navigate through it. But making friends? That’s where I was truly stuck.
Feeling totally desperate to fill my friend void, I clung to whatever friends I could find. My strategy was the opposite of Drake’s “no new friends.” I wanted all the friends, even if that meant not listening to my moral compass. With no one to talk to in my zip code, I now had a few new acquaintances on standby to temporarily fill my friendship gap. The problem is, I didn’t see the signs that these acquaintances weren’t really my friends at all. It wasn’t just that we had so little in common, but also that we didn’t have each others’ backs. Every time I hung out with my replacement friends I was left feeling misunderstood and judged. No one should make you feel that way, friend or otherwise.
Months after graduation, I flew back to my college town for a weekend visit with the friends I missed so much. I was expecting them to have their lives completely figured out. I thought that maybe I’d been replaced. But this wasn’t the case. Though months had passed, we picked up right where we’d left off — conversations filled with laughter that went into the early hours of the morning. And in those honest late-night chats, I realized that they were trying to figure it out just as much as I was. It wasn’t easy for any of us to make friends after college. Part of me was relieved, and part of me was sad. Things were different now. But at least they were different for everyone.
In those five years since we stumbled across campus in our caps and gowns, I’ve only grown closer to those friends. And in between, I’ve made new friends in my post-grad journey. Like any relationship, it takes work — and sometimes it’s complicated. Friends come and go, some fizzling out like they never even existed. But the friends who have stuck by my side through all the ups-and-downs are the true blue ones, the friends for life.