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.

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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.

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