Co-authored by Jody Porowski, CEO of Avelist
I loved college. As much as I enjoyed my classes and professors and the opportunity to prepare for my career, I look back and realize that I probably learned more about myself and about life than I did about academics. It's where I grew up. And it's where my friends grew up too. We did it together. But then one day, after four years of supporting each other step-by-step and minute-by-minute, we dressed up in matching Carolina Blue gowns, donned funny hats with floppy tassels, marched into a stadium together, and said goodbye. Just like that.
As much as I hoped the end of college wouldn't signal the end of college friendships, in the back of my mind and in the bottom of my heart, I knew that life would move on. I knew that we would move to different states and work in different fields and meet new people. And I was scared that our friendships would move on too. But I'm happy to say that, six long years later, although our lives are different and our daily interactions have changed, I still call them my best friends, and we still walk through life together.
So how did we do it? How did we manage to beat the odds? Here are five tools. They worked for us:
1. Make sure the friendships are built on solid foundations. This is by far the most important piece of advice I can give. Are you friends with someone because you don't want to be alone? Because your boyfriends are best friends and double dates are fun? Or are you friends with someone because you share the same world view or because your senses of humor just can't stop when you're together or because you make each other better people? My point is this: if your friendship is built on something deeper than circumstances, it is far more likely to remain a relevant and valuable part of your life when your circumstances do change. So to all of you in college, a word of wisdom, pick your friends wisely. Pick them for a lifetime.
2. Don't get stuck in the past. Don't think of your friends from college as "college friends." Think of them as "friends." Introduce them to your new friends. Bring them to work events. Be a part of each other's present lives instead of thinking of them as part of your past. And don't be scared of emerging differences between your lives. Some of my friends from college are single, others are married, others have kids. Some of us work odd hours and others work 8am-5pm. We work in different industries. Some are back in school for grad programs. We live in different cities. No matter how different they become, make an effort to learn about each other's lives. That's part of showing each other you care. That's part of being friends.
3. Make mutual efforts to stay connected. Call each other! Take weekend road trips to visit each other. Set up a friends listserv and send group emails. Sometimes my friends from college and I text each other pictures of our day - a Saturday role call of sorts - "what are we each doing today?" It's so fun. One person is with their kids. Another is getting ready for a date. Another is studying for her grad school exam. We're all in different places, but that isn't a bad thing! In fact, it's kind of cool. We learn a lot from each other. And of course, it's important for a friendship to be mutual. If one person makes tons of effort to stay in touch and it isn't reciprocated, the friendship probably won't last much longer. Not that you have to disown each other by any means! But the value of the friendship does begin to diminish. It's only natural.
4. Set realistic expectations. Having unrealistic expectations (or not being on the same page as each other) can be one of the most damaging things for a friendship. If one person expects that you'll talk on the phone every night, for example, and the other is fine with once a week or once a month, it can be incredibly hurtful and frustrating to both parties. After you graduate, you and your friends each have different lives and different needs. Some of you might be happy with the path you're on and some of you might be homesick or miserable or hate your jobs. Which means that some of you will "need" the friendships more than others. These differing needs can cause conflict. I'll say this about expectations, you should expect your friendships to shift and change after college. This is natural. You will probably talk more often with those friends who stay in the same city as you or who have a similar schedule as you or work in a similar industry. But just because your friendships change, doesn't mean they aren't special. Talk with each other about your friendship expectations. Make time to connect in small ways at least. And stick with each other through the transitions, loving each other even when feelings get hurt, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt.
5. Prioritize reunions. No matter how many times you talk on the phone or send emails, it can't replace solid, in-person, quality time. My friends and I try to meet as a group at least one weekend a year (and individually more often than that)! We plan a trip to the beach or the mountains or some other fun (low budget!) vacation spot. We set up a Doodle, pick a date that works for everyone, and commit to being there. And it is SO FUN when it happens. It's a reminder of the days when we woke up in the same house every single morning. We laugh, we play, we talk, and we stay up later than we should. And this time together keeps us connected and tides us over til the next time. We plan on doing this for years to come. One year a friend brought her daughter. Maybe in the future we'll all bring our kids. I don't know.
I've continued to learn - maybe more after college than I did in college. And this is what I know is true: life is hard and long and fast and slow and fun and scary and amazingly unexpected. And there is nothing quite like an old friend. I hope you keep yours. I hope this helps.
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