News / Opinion

Leaving the Nest: Tears, Fears, and Peers

By Joanna Linn, guest writer

There is an abundance of articles available online to guide the rising college freshman: how to adjust to dorm life, how to live without your mother’s cooking, and how to embark on this brand-new adventure. There are even articles about things you never thought you needed to know: how to find the right mini-fridge for your lifestyle, how to collaborate with roommates on the temperature of the thermostat, and even how to cook ramen using 30 different techniques.

However, I have yet to read an article written about the irreplaceable life skill of retaining friendships. Fortunately, it is a skill that can be learned and practiced through experience, even if it is a skill I have never had to work hard to encourage in the past. After living my whole life in the 30 square miles that I call home, I’ve been given plenty time to cultivate my friendships, and I am not alone. Some of us have known each other since preschool, where we bonded over the shared rebellion of eating Play-Doh. From lost front teeth to neighborhood shenanigans to middle school stress (a mere joke in comparison to high school) to finally nearing graduation, these were the fundamental building blocks of our relationships. It took years for me to develop the deep-seated trust and love for my friends that I have today, years of little conscious effort because they were always right there, close both in space and in time. If I so chose, I could run over one doorstep and start a water gun fight, or I could go two houses in the opposite direction and play house with my cousins. Companionship was easy for me to find and easier still to let blossom. Now that distance will soon separate us, it will take much more intentional action to help my friendships to grow.

Perhaps college is exactly what my old friendships needed to make me pay attention to them again. In comparison to college and to the real world, high school friendships were effortless. It was the repeated exposure to the same people, the classes we had together, and the times outside of school that allowed us to get to know each other. We steadily built up our small enclaves of people who had met by chance and who chose to meet again in the future, brick by brick, of comfortable homes enclosing friend-families who became as close as flesh-and-blood families (or even closer). Although every few years were punctuated with new people from other schools, there was always someone familiar, someone we knew. However, this familiarity in some ways hampered us; because of it, we became lazy, taking our friendships for granted. The close proximity of our friends made it easy for us to put them on the back burner and focus on more “important” things, such as school and various extracurricular activities. If we already saw our friend in tenth period, there was no need to see her again until after the history project was due, or the test was over. Perhaps college is exactly what my old friendships need to make me pay attention to them again, to work at them again.

In a couple of weeks, the home that we have built together will disintegrate. Now, we will be the captains of our own ships, rapidly embarking on a new adventure of individuality and freedom. But for many of us, this is an adventure without a compass, a map, or a crew. Although some of us have JP Stevens graduates attending our colleges, they are most likely not the ones we were closest to; some we even might wish we were farther away from. Like billiard balls cracked apart in the beginning of a game, we are all moving very far away, very fast. As much as I want to leave this place, I’m scared that by doing so, I’m putting in danger the friendships I hold dearest.

My fear can be attributed to the constant reminders from the adults in my life that “you won’t remember anyone from high school,” spoken from their experiences. It’s supposed to be a comforting statement; you can start your whole life over again. You can become a new person because no one will remember your past mistakes. But what they don’t grasp is that I cherish my past mistakes, because I cherish the people who loved me despite them. Even though my high school experience was littered with small inadequacies and awkward moments, it was these things that brought me closer to others.

What I’ve begun to realize is that remembering and forgetting can be a conscious choice, but forgetting is much easier. We’ve all had friends who moved away. For some of us, that meant that we lost contact forever because we didn’t attempt to retain our friendships.  Long distance relationships exist because people send care packages filled with presents that are hand-picked, stay up until midnight to talk to their significant other halfway across the globe, and organize visits or meetings to see each other in person. Like anything else, it takes hard work to maintain relationships from a distance, especially when you are caught up in waves of confusion and upheaval during first semester. College is too bright, too brand-spanking new, and too time-consuming for you to be concerned with anything else. But perhaps it is during this time of self-discovery that we should cling to the people who know us the best, despite how far away they may be from us physically. And perhaps this act of attempting to cling to a far-off relationship in the most confusing moments of your life is an act that defines true friendship. If you have a friend simply because he or she lives next door, it’s much less intentional than maintaining friends that you don’t see on a daily basis.

As I make my awkward introductions on my college’s Class of 2020 page, I worry about the future. From rapidly friending unknown students who are attending the same college to attempting to converse online with these strangers, I have done my best to form friendships from an online presence. However, all the intricacies of my personality that my friends know can’t be put in a short summary of my personal preferences; I feel lost among the jumble of eager but uncertain accepted applicants. We are all desperate to form new ties, however weak they might be, in order to navigate around our new home.

I have no doubt that some of these new ties will fray and that some of them may harden into something durable and dependable during my four-year stay. I have no doubt that upon reaching college, I will make at least one friend, if not several, and that I will enjoy the newfound freedom and opportunity. And although I might be terrified of having my best friend 980 miles away, I have resolved to put my fears of forgetting behind me and work towards remembering.

Remember to remember; take the apprehension you may have towards college and use it as a constant reminder to hold onto your high school comrades. Take that same apprehension and use it as motivation to make new friends to journey through college together. Both require constant determination and attention, but both are feasible if one truly wants to. The adventure will be daunting, and setting sail requires courage, but this is an adventure we are all about to embark on, hopefully with a crew that can keep us company along the way.

Image Source: http://az616578.vo.msecnd.net/files/2015/06/01/635687922503535706-1365436982_635669101623169064-2034588399_evolution-growing-up.jpg

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