I don’t remember if anyone actually told me I’d never talk to my old friends once I started college, or if I just assumed the worst. Having to completely reboot my social life after high school was a huge fear of mine, and I even made “Do I know anyone there?” a major part of my college decision-making process. Socializing is one of the main ways I de-stress at school, and staying in touch with old friends helped me stay sane throughout college.
Admittedly, I had some early practice keeping friendships alive. While literally every single one of my middle school friends moved on to the same high school, I went to a magnet high school in our district. Thanks to a weird bus system and Harry Potter, I managed to see my middle school friends pretty regularly – we’d catch up in the 10 minutes between getting out of class and leaving for home, and sit in line for hours eagerly awaiting a new book or movie. But the distance separating two high schools is insignificant compared to the gap between two colleges; in the most extreme case, our separation skyrocketed from four miles to almost three thousand.
I won’t pretend that everything went smoothly during my transition to college. In the whirlwind of moving, orientation, and starting classes, I went from talking to my best friend every day to maybe once a week if he was lucky (jumping into a swimming pool with my phone didn’t help). After a couple weeks of slowly making new friends, I got my permanent dorm assignment and broke down crying; no one I’d clicked with had been placed in the same dorm as me. At the time, I felt like I just couldn’t handle starting from scratch yet again.
Fortunately, I learned that some solutions generalized. A few thousand miles didn’t slow down instant messaging, and being at different schools gave us no end of new topics. My middle school friendships lasted because I put in the extra effort to meet up whenever I could, so I sent out a flurry of e-mails and Facebook messages as soon as I knew when I’d be home for winter break. Alumni Day at my high school was another great chance to catch up and make plans. I took a pretty piecemeal approach to staying in contact, but all the redundancy meant that anyone who wanted to reach me was pretty much guaranteed to succeed.
Not everyone wants to stay in touch, of course. For every friend I visit whenever we’re both in town, there’s another friend I haven’t heard from in years. One really important hurdle I had to get over was understanding that not every friendship is meant to last; sometimes, the stars just happen to align for a bit and then you naturally drift apart. Your efforts are best spent on the people who naturally match your enthusiasm – forcing a connection that isn’t there doesn’t benefit either of you.
In the situations that did work out, I still had to drastically adjust my expectations. For one thing, I had to learn how to share my old friends with their new friends (I actually now have several friends in my hometown who I never spoke to before I left for college). I also learned to drop grudges much faster than I ever did in high school – it feels really silly to stay mad at someone for a week when you won’t see each other for another six months after that. And, rather than sticking to the same old card games, my friends share new interests every time I see them: anything from blues dancing to Comic-Con.
I’ll admit that my original desire to stay in touch was probably fueled more by a fear of change than by true devotion to my friends, but it was one of the best choices I made in college. When the drama in my college friend circle became overwhelming, I calmed myself down by talking with someone at a different school. I’m from Oregon, but during a summer internship in Ohio, I somehow still had several friends within driving distance. The phrase, “Break was SO BORING” has never crossed my lips. And the skills I developed while keeping friends from middle school are also a huge networking asset that I’ll be able to draw on as I start to look for jobs.
So, if you’re worried about losing the friends you’ve known for years once college rolls around: don’t be. Just look at this as one of those non-academic life lessons that people claim college is really about, and make the most of it.