Maintaining friendships from home while away at college
When I chose to attend college on the opposite side of the country from where I grew up, I knew that I was putting my high school friendships to the test. While the majority of my classmates chose colleges within a few hours of our Philadelphia-suburb hometown, or at least along the East coast, I headed out to Occidental College to finally live in the city where I was born and where the rest of my family lived. As excited as I was to make the move, I was also nervous because I knew that I would see my friends with less frequency. While they returned home for Thanksgiving and the occasional three-day weekend, I spent four Turkey days with my extended family in L.A. and stayed local for long weekends.
In a way, I had a very traditional high school experience. I had my core group of close girlfriends and we were part of a larger group that was based in our involvement in the theater classes and productions of the high school. And sure enough, after the first year or so of college, the group sort of siphoned itself off into sub-groups, leaving me with my original core friendships. It happened naturally with some awkward bumps along the way—and sure, it’s still a little weird when we run into each other at home, but we still genuinely care about each other’s lives and well-beings even if we’re no longer part of the close-knit group that defined our high school experiences.
The friendships that did last through college and continue today are probably strong for two reasons: 1) our friendships extended beyond shared high school activities and 2) we made the effort to stay in touch even when we no longer saw each other all the time. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me more than half of college to figure out the best way to stay in touch with the people who matter without getting stressed out and turning personal correspondence into a chore. I went through phases when I sent my closest friends individual care packages that took a ridiculous amount of time to assemble followed by periods when I wouldn’t think to return their calls for weeks. Honestly, it took just about all four years to figure out what worked best for us and our uniquely busy schedules.
What worked best for me was reducing the pressure I put on myself to think in terms of time elapsed or the quantity of communication—you can’t quantify friendship! I used to fixate on how long it had been since I last talked to one friend or another. In reality, however, that doesn’t matter so much. Quality matters more than quantity or frequency in this case. I found that it was a lot more meaningful to send a note with an article clipping I thought she would like rather then stress about sending everyone Halloween care packages or something time-consuming like that. Greeting cards and thoughtful notes (even if they’re short) go a long way. So do e-mail updates and the occasional phone call if your schedules sync up.
College will inevitably be challenging and even overwhelming at times—maintaining friendships from home should not add to that stress. Even though the connections I had with some friends from high school fizzled out, the friendships that continued through college have only strengthened as a result.