I'm amazed at how difficult friendships become after college. Until the day you graduate, you have been assured of meeting new people or seeing familiar faces every fall when you walk into the classroom. For hours a day, you have friends nearby or potential friendships waiting to begin. It's wonderful.
But upon your last day of school, you get a rough wake-up call. You go from being surrounded by people who are close in age and similar in goals and hobbies.....to the Real World, where you're lucky if you work with someone within 15 years of your age. Who has anything in common with you. And if you move away for that first job, your chances of knowing a soul in your new town are slim. You feel the first pangs of loneliness. For the first time in your life, you have to really start making an effort to meet people and make friends. They are no longer waiting in a classroom for you. Nothing you've ever done before has prepared you for this. It's a difficult skill to master, actually: making friends as an adult.
Now you have to approach strangers who seem cool. Hope that small talk turns into that wonderful moment in a new friendship where you're convinced you were separated at birth. You never turn down a single social opportunity, no matter how lame, because it is all you have. It's either that, or spend more time alone, and you just can't bear it anymore. You long for your old group of friends and the comfort that network had brought you. You begin to wonder why more people are not friendly. You begin to question who you are -- are you fun? interesting? nice? Why aren't you surrounded by wonderful, loyal friends who care about you? Has something besides your zip code changed?
It's a very difficult time, at least for me, anyway.
And as The Czarina has so astutely pointed out to me: "The only cure for loneliness is people."
In theory, making friends sounds easy. But throw an adult into a town where they know no one, and it is suddenly a momentous task.
As if that's not bad enough, the new town is probably just the first of several. Most people in their 20s move around a lot, and maintaining friendships becomes very difficult under these circumstances. I have lost several friendships because one of us has moved far away. And since friendships are often based on shared experiences, there is little hope for survival once one person moves away. It makes me sad to think about my old friends. I miss them very much sometimes. But at the same time, I understand. They have taken new jobs, gotten married or had babies. Or I have moved away. Or we just didn't visit each other to maintain the friendship properly. Soon, our experiences are no longer shared, and then it feels like you're talking to a stranger. Eventually, one person no longer sees the need to continue making an effort. Their life has gone on. They have, without any malicious intent, replaced you. As much as you can be replaced, anyway.
These, in my experience, have been the most painful friendship losses. To see them withering away and being powerless to stop it. "Why does it have to change? How can I stop this?" you might wonder. Desperately clinging on by your fingernails only delays the inevitable: the friendship is dying. For me, it feels like a milder version of grief.
An optimist would say that when one friendship closes, another opens. That the loss of one friendship opens up spots in your schedule for you to find new and maybe even better friends. I would have to agree that yes, this is luckily what has happened to me, for the most part. As I've aged, my friendships have grown healthier and deeper. The older I get, the more I can truly be myself around my friends, because I know they accept me despite my flaws. It is wonderful.
But a pessimist would point out that when one friendship ends, you are left with a hole of loneliness, because people are not interchangeable. To an extent, this is true as well. The inside jokes, the memories -- these are all gone. You will have to start over from scratch with someone else. If only people were like computers, and all you had to do was download the old files onto the new computer.....so that those memories never have to fade or lose relevance.
I am forever grateful to the friends who realize when the friendship is going nowhere. The mutual apathy which sometimes happens is such a blessing. There are no hurt feelings, no awkward conversations. Both parties just gradually stop trying. And both people are happier as a result. No one wishes the other ill, and therefore, running into each other is not terrible. The friendship has turned into what it always should have been: a friendly acquaintance, and nothing more.
There are other challenges as well. As we move and start over, gaining and losing friends, we will find ourselves with limited friendship options. Sometimes, all you can do is hang out with anyone who is sort of close in age and who is semi-interesting. Sometimes, you have to settle for average friendships. Maybe the other person is new in town, too. Maybe they have a schedule that meshes well with yours. In any case, the two of you begin to hang out a lot. And although your heart's not in it, you continue on, hoping to ease your loneliness or suddenly realize that you enjoy the friendship more than you thought.
Unfortunately, this rarely happens to me. Instead, I find myself growing weary of the average friendship. My loneliness has not been fully abated. My need for a great friendship is always lurking below the surface. But now, it's too late. They behave as though we have been friends our whole lives and that this is the best friendship they've ever had. Meanwhile, I am tired of trying to remain interested. It's exhausting, making sure you have fun with boring people or people who are very different from you. They think the friendship is great, whereas I am feeling drained. It is like friendship kryptonite. And since they do not see what I see, it makes ending the friendship extremely difficult, unless I want to be blunt or harsh. I could always start to lie about why I can't see them. Which is no way to treat a friend. Thus, they are rooted into my social life, and they are not going anywhere.
This is when the tables turn, and I now find myself trying to fade away. I feel trapped and I want the friendship to wither. In a way, I have moved on with my life, if not out of town entirely. We just do not have enough in common to make it last, and honestly, I'd rather be alone. The friendship is now a burden. And I can't seem to find a way out.
Gosh, this was kind of a depressing post! Sorry! I'm not sad or anything. I'm fine. My social life has been very busy lately, and so I've been thinking about my friends (old, new, good, casual, etc.) a lot lately. A lot of my friendships have changed in the past couple of years, and it's been on my mind a lot for some reason. I miss a lot of people I used to be close with. In some ways, it's my own fault. I have let them down. But there are other friends I want to stop being close with, and just cannot seem to do it. And I am so very grateful for the super fun friendships I have made in the past year or so -- MJ & KT in particular. This post may or may not make sense....take it for what it's worth. I'm sure we've all felt like this at some point, right?
Ugh, maybe I'm just crazy today! :)