My absolute favorite part of college was living with my friends. One year, I lived in a house with fourteen other girls; another year, there were eleven of us. It was the best: always someone to talk to, distract me from writing papers, or take spontaneous midnight milkshake runs with. The community I got to be a part of was rich and deep and glorious, and I loved it so much.
And then I graduated, and I moved from Virginia to Florida, where I knew approximately three people.
Maybe this is just me, but I feel like graduating from high school and going to college is something that people spend a lot of time preparing you for. But graduating college and heading into the real world? Not so much. There’s a whole lot less of an instruction manual for that. And one of those things you don’t expect that you’ll have to navigate is this: how to start from scratch with friendships. How to go from being constantly surrounded by other 18- to 22-year-olds with minimal responsibilities and countless opportunities for plugging in to sitting alone on the couch on a Friday night, tired from your grown-up job, contemplating whether or not you’re feeling brave enough to text one of the people you maybe only just met last week, or if that would be too presumptuous.
Right now, I’m two and half years into my Orlando life, and to be honest, I still miss some of those deep friendships I had in college. But that’s not to say I don’t have something good here, too – it’s just different, because the stage of life is different. So if you are just starting out that journey and trying your best to navigate those differences, here are three reminders for you right now:
1. It’s okay to grieve the friends you left behind.
The job that brought me to Orlando involved a lot of international travel, which I loved – but it also meant I was gone a lot and had less opportunity to dig roots into my new city. There was a moment about half a year after I moved that I found myself in Beijing, wide awake at 4am because jetlag, reading Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist. And as I read her beautiful words about their community rallying around her family in a hard time, I cried – for myself. I used to have that kind of community, I thought. And now I don’t. When I returned to Orlando, I told my then boyfriend (now husband) about that realization. I didn’t want him to fix it for me – I just wanted him to know, because it had surprised me a little bit to realize my own sadness. The good thing that came out of it was that it made me realize how desperately I wanted to grow friendships like that here.
The problem can come when the grieving turns to wallowing and you get stuck. But it is perfectly okay and even good to acknowledge your sadness – especially if that can be a call to action.
2. Be brave and say yes.
Maybe when you’re just starting out in the real world, being brave means saying yes to tag along with the one person you sort of know to a party, even though you are scared you might end up standing around awkwardly by yourself. Maybe it means trying out a new church, even if you have to sit by yourself. Maybe it means stepping out and exploring your new city, and maybe even going out of your comfort zone a little to invite a potential new friend to do it with you.
In college, you’re practically tripping over places and spaces where you can meet people and make friends. Post-graduation, you have to work much harder to seek out and create those opportunities, which often comes down to taking a deep breath and just being brave.
Editor’s note: If you’re looking for some encouraging reads on being brave and saying yes try Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and Let’s All Be Brave by Annie Downs.
3. Remember the truth of the situation.
There’ve been times that I’ve worked really hard to organize something or invite people over and then no one can come, and I take it personally. Is there something wrong with me? I think. But what I really need to do is remember the truth: grown-up life is busy. People have full-time jobs, and then need to go grocery shopping and clean their houses and rest and stuff. It’s a different world than when you just had a couple classes a day and studying you didn’t really want to do anyway.
There’ve been times when I see people around me hanging out and doing things – and by “see” I mean via Instagram while I’m already wearing sweatpants at 7pm and watching Netflix alone. I think, Why don’t I have people I can call up and do things with? Why do I never have weekend plans? But I need to remind myself of the truth: these are people who have known each other for a long time; who still are living in the town they went to college – together! – in, and if I had stayed in Virginia, my friendships would look like that too.
And there’ve been times when I’ve gotten to know people better and learned that they have been feeling the exact same things that I have. The truth is this: you’re not the only one struggling through this stage.
Deep community does take effort, but mostly it takes time. So take a deep breath and be brave, remind yourself of the truth when you start to doubt yourself, and carry on!
Caroline Swartz is twenty-something, newly married 7th grade Language Arts teacher who never really expected to end up living in Orlando, Florida. Caroline grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which gave her a deep love for travel and the world, as well as helping other international kids understand themselves. You can find her either out and about discovering new local spots in her city, or sitting on the couch watching HGTV with her husband. Follow along with her on instagram: @carrie_lion!