It was the summer of 2014, and by late July I was saying goodbye to life at the University of Iowa. I was terrified of the unknown, and it was honestly one of the hardest things I had to do at the time. Not only had I found my independence, but for the first time in my entire life, I felt like I had made some of the best friends that I’ve ever had. I hated leaving them, and what’s more, I didn’t like the idea of starting all over again. But life would go on whether I liked or not, and I could either figure out how to move forward or allow myself to be paralyzed by a number of fears that I have when it comes to relationships (both platonic and romantic).
Nearly five years later, I’m finding that there isn’t exactly a full-proof way to make new friends and keep existing friendships going. But it does take a lot of intention, patience, and loosening my grip on the ideals that have been ingrained in me since childhood.
Be Open and Be Grateful
The fact that anything can happen post-grad is both overwhelming, yet full of so much opportunity. Many people end up in new corners of the world, or they go back to their hometowns in order to regroup and save money. Some are lucky enough to reconnect with friends from high school or even further back, but most likely are not going to be surrounded by peers within a particular age bracket. It’s completely normal to meet and spend time with those who are younger, older, and completely across the board as far as seasons and backgrounds go. Whether you join a church, a meetup, or stumble across a Facebook event, it’s about showing up and being consistent. It might be just a season, or it might be the beginning of something incredible.
Unfortunately, time doesn’t always keep us in the same place (especially in your twenties). Life can feel like a revolving door of people coming in and out, creating a lot of anxiety and wondering if it’s realistic to allow ourselves to relax and get comfortable. The best thing I’ve learned is to not take seasons or people for granted: be present when you’re around them, and put your phone away unless you really need it. Ask questions and make an effort to genuinely listen. Take pictures, even if they’re not worthy of posting. It’s not going to protect you from the pain if and when that time does come to an end, but it helps when you know you made the most of it.
Create New Traditions
This is a lot easier said than done, especially when you live in different states and have bills to pay. But we should always make room in our lives for things we want to do, as opposed to merely what’s necessary for survival. Whether you meet up one day a year for a football game at your alma matter, or pick a weekend to celebrate a birthday or two, put it on the calendar and go. It doesn’t even have to huge or expensive; it might just involve meeting up with someone on a weekly basis for coffee, or catching up over the phone. But adulthood does not wait for those who merely wait for the weekend before making commitments.
Give Some Grace
I cringe whenever I see a passive aggressive quote involving communication and keeping score. People already have so much to keep up with, along with trying to manage their physical and emotional health in the process. I’m learning that equal give and take, while ideal, is not exactly black and white (especially when mental illness is involved). We need to stop being so harsh each other and declaring that someone is cut off just because they haven’t texted or called in a while, although I’m aware that it’s a slightly different story in regards to dating and romance. I love to encourage and lift people up, and I’d rather have them know that I’m thinking of them, rather than hold a grudge over a lack of response. We might only talk every so often, but that doesn’t mean we love and care for each other any less.
It’s not always personal, and we need to stop vilifying others when we’re the ones who refuse to accept them as they are.
Enjoy Your Own Company
The majority of us have been conditioned to be social and eager to be in groups at all times. Much of my college experience involved having a variety of friends with all kinds of interests, and the dreaded fear of missing out had me constantly on the go in one way or another. I had it in my head that physically being by myself meant that something was wrong with me, and other than drinking my coffee in the morning, I was always uncomfortable with the concept.
Whether you’re brand new, or your friends or all in different places, you will confront that head on, and it’s ultimately up to you to deal with it. I’ve learned to be perfectly okay with a Friday or Saturday night filled with Netflix and my favorite food. I love going on walks for an hour or two at a time. And I definitely wouldn’t grow and evolve if didn’t carve out time to pray, journal, and read. I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go to restaurants or concerts by myself yet, and the former I’ve only done before or after an interview and I know I need food.
Love and Let Go
This has always been the hardest part for me. I’ve naturally grown apart from friends over the years due to distance, different interests, or just being in different seasons. But it’s another story all together when I haven’t been able to see it coming, and the only way to cope with that kind of change is to blame myself. A couple of years ago, I noticed that one of my really close friends had stopped responding to me checking in with her, and eventually she told me that she needed space. It was like a gut-punch, because we had never experienced any conflict up until that point, and she had always been kind-hearted and inclusive in the times we spent together during undergrad. I was on the tail-end of a very dark season, where from November of 2016 to March of 2017, I was the lowest I had ever been with my eating disorder, and was also trying to deal with a relationship where I was in way over my head. I had never felt so insecure and impulsive, and unfortunately I projected that onto other people that I cared about.
But sometimes life just happens, and there are things that we’ll never understand. When I love, I love deeply, and sometimes that gets mixed up with holding onto seasons or relationships too tightly. I’m not going to get overly angry or curse someone out merely for being honest about what they can and can’t handle. I don’t have the energy to be visibly pissed off, even if I have the right to. I believe in setting boundaries, but I do not believe in building walls. I often ask God to take care of such people in the ways that I cannot, and trust that He will do the rest.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to have everyone be in your life, or at least certain aspects of it. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t hold them in your heart. Some will go in, and some will go out; but the ones who are meant to be there will always be standing in the doorway.
Friendship is a kaleidoscope of the ever-changing, one that can either bring out the best in us, or the worst. I often wonder if Facebook and Instagram didn’t exist, would we be really all that concerned about the size of our circles? The answer is both a riddle and a masterpiece, a wrestling match between how we think our lives should go and reality.
When you miss someone, send them love and give thanks. When you’re searching for someone, always try your best to be that kind of someone to others. It’s not a competition, or even a race. Life is always abundant, and what you have now is there for a reason. Savor it. Learn from it. And keep going.