pre-commencement blues
April 8, 2009 8:22 PM   Subscribe

How should I cope, not with graduation, but the loneliness that will come with it?

(A couple of things that I think might be relevant first:

1. I don't know if it's like this at other colleges/universities, but at my school we have activities based on our class (by that, I mean graduation year), and in some sense it is kind of like an extracurricular organization. This means we fundraise and have all sorts of events. It also means that there's a lot of stuff that's very class-oriented. Included in this is senior week, which is basically a week before graduation when the seniors do various activities together, such as go to Six Flags or wine-tasting--the activities change each year. There is actually a gap between finals and graduation, so we are able to pull this off. In addition, in the few days before graduation, there's a senior luncheon, a farewell ceremony, BBQ dinners, and countless other things that aren't part of senior week, but are still very class-oriented.

2. I go to a small four-year liberal arts college less than an hour away from a metropolis on the Eastern Seaboard. Vague, I know, but I do want to be anonymous.)

So I'm a senior. In my past four years here, my interactions with the other people in my class have not been very successful. My first year I got into a few complicated situations with quite a few people, including the people I spent much of freshman year with, and encounters between myself and them have been awkward and strained ever since. I've befriended a few people from classes, only to wind up not speaking to them again when they went abroad or after the class ended. And due to some social/mood issues that I'm currently grappling with (social anxiety disorder, among loads of other things that I'll gladly elaborate on via e-mail), I had a lot of trouble with making and keeping friends. The one person in my year with whom I was even remotely close inexplicably stopped talking to me this semester after returning from academic leave. (That alone did damage to my psyche, simply because we were kind of close and I liked her a lot and will probably never see her again after June, but that's a whole other post...)

The point is, I'm so out of touch with my class that it's not even funny. And it doesn't help that the senior week activities and graduation stuff have recently been announced and the time is nearing. You see, whenever I've gone to events that our class has had in the past, I'd usually not be close enough with most of the people there, so I'd latch on to a group whom I kind of half knew until they ditched me for some other people, and then I'd spend the rest of the night standing around awkwardly until I left on the verge of tears. Every event has been like this, including a beer appreciation class that was primarily made up of seniors. But now I have to face a whole bunch of events throughout my last two weeks here. There's a senior week event that I really want to go to, but the awkwardness is making me have second thoughts. And there are senior lunches, brunches, etc. that are not related to senior week at all, and some of which are mandatory. And then there's graduation itself, which will most likely consist of me introducing my mom to my profs and me chasing said profs down while my mom asks me if I'm going to introduce her to my friends, who are more or less nonexistent. And in the few days after, I'll see further proof that I don't exist to the rest of my class on Facebook and other fora, when everyone will be taking pictures of everyone else and putting them up on Facebook albums. While I don't mean to be shallow, I would like some pictorial proof that I had friends at college, admittedly for other people in addition to myself. (I am aware that that is a huge insecurity thing, and I'm working on it. I know my logic is flawed, but I can't seem to get over it.)

I have a feeling that that's pretty much how it will pan out. And it hurts me to no end. Whenever my profs talk about their college days and how important college friends are, I almost cry because virtually none of the few friends I have are in my own year. And I have a feeling that once I leave, I'm not going to talk much to the underclasspeople I know, some of whom will be seniors themselves. Sometimes I wonder if, when I get married or something and I put it in the alumni bulletin/e-mail newsletter thing, if anyone will care and say "Congratulations on your marriage/baby/promotion/etc.!" I don't think anyone will. I mean, does anyone in my class care now?

There are very few seniors in the classes I'm taking now, and even less in the extracurriculars I'm in, so I've pretty much given up hope of finding an '09 social circle that I can call my own before June. But I want to have some fun. I want to go to these events and not get nervous, but I'm not sure if I can because I'll just be standing around awkwardly while everyone else is talking to everyone else. Meanwhile, I want to prove to people--mostly family, since I did have problems with social stuff in high school, also--that I did indeed talk to people at college.

I'm not sure what I'm asking for here. I guess maybe a sounding board or something, since I know you guys on AskMe are incredibly blunt, yet oddly comforting. Did anyone here not make friends in college? Or was in the same boat as me? How did you handle it? What should I do?

Throwaway e-mail:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
:-( This post made made me sad because I've totally been there, especially in my shyer days. Are you shy? It sucks being that way, sometimes (ok, a lot).

Things to think about:
1) You could be ballsy and be more outgoing, talk to people and make jokes. If people laugh, they will want to be your friend. I got over my shyness by realizing that if I joke, people enjoy me, so I make friends that way. Complimenting others also works well.
2) You could not be ballsy and just be shy and do the not having a group thing.
3) You could see if you could latch on to some other shy folk. You can't be the only one.
4) Do you have to go to all this stuff? I went to a huuuuge college where people commonly take more or less than 4 years to graduate, so I don't really get all of this togetherness stuff they make y'all do. If it's not mandatory and you hate it so much you want to cry, forget it!

Regardless what you do, you have nothing to lose! You're outta there in May, right? Who gives a shit what your classmates think now? You don't have to see those people anymore. Time to move on to the next thing.

Good luck, and congratulations on your accomplishment!
posted by fructose at 8:33 PM on April 8, 2009

transition periods are always tough. graduating college, regardless of whether you have a huge social circle or not, is really hard. maybe you should concentrate less on the fact that you didn't have the greatest experience in college (which isn't as uncommon as you might think), and more on the fact that this is a new start, and the people you meet will have no idea of what has happened in your past. They don't know, so why should you care? You'll always remember the bad times, but time marches on, and so should you.

I made some "friends" in college, but I quickly found that after I graduated, I didn't want to hang out with them. I was pretending to like things they liked so I wouldn't be lonely and it sucked. they were stuck in college mode when I was trying to broaden my horizons. Beer pong and bongs get old after a while. So I go along sometimes but its a chore to pretend to be someone you're not just for some social interaction. there's no secret judge tallying how many friends you have and determining the worth of your life from that. so you shouldn't spend your time worrying about what you're doing wrong and how you should act differently to fit in. You'll find that gets old very quickly.

Being lonely sucks. I know. But keep doing stuff YOU like to do, and not what you think other people like to do. Maybe you'll come across people who want to hang out with you and who you want to hang out with too. It'll probably take some time. But don't give up.
posted by wayofthedodo at 8:45 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I made a couple good friends in college, but for the most part I don't feel a ton of connection to my school or my former classmates. I happened to be in a relationship my senior year, which made the transition after graduation easier, but I still felt somewhat odd for not having had a fabulous college experience in terms of my social life. I never really had a social circle, usually just one good friend and then I'd end up spending time with that person's other friends who I never really warmed to (or they never warmed to me). My participation in extracurriculars was marred by the fact that I never managed to be actual friends with any of the people involved--I'd go to meetings, participate in whatever the activity was, and then go home, declining invitations to go to the after-meeting dinner or drinks (because it didn't occur to me that that's how you actually, you know, make friends).

So, the above is meant to say, I kind of know where you're coming from. Here's what I did to handle the transition to post-college life: First, I recognized that I was disappointed with my college social experience, and told myself that it was ok to feel sad, but also decided that college wasn't the social highlight off my life--so some future time would have to be the social highlight of my life (I'm hoping to call life after college, all of it, the social highlight of my life). Then, I tried to determine which mistakes I had made during college that I could learn from and avoid in the future (i.e., when someone from work/a class/a club invites me to socialize outside of the job/class/club, I try to say yes as often as I can). I also recognized that I am not someone who needs a big, tight-knit group of friends--I don't even really like hanging out with more than a few people at a time; so for now, I'm ok with having a few close friends who may not even know each other. Anyway, that's what has worked for me--accepting my experience for what it was, trying to learn from it, and also learning to be comfortable with who I am and how I socialize.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:46 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

In case it helps, I just wanted to share that I have ONE friend from college. I didn't even go to my graduation, or any of the senior stuff - it just didn't mean anything to me, because I didn't feel like a part of the community. Today, years later, I have many wonderful non-college friends. The conventional wisdom is that it's so much easier to make friends in college than out in the world, etc. This isn't true for everyone. So college friend numerosity, or lack thereof, is not as significant as our culture makes it out to be. You're about to start your life as an adult, and you're going to be great! Be proud of your academic accomplishments. And screw these mandatory brunches. What are they going to do to you if you don't go, not let you graduate?
posted by prefpara at 8:49 PM on April 8, 2009

I've been here as well Anon, and I feel for you (I had a college marriage and not too many other friends)

Firstly, and you said it yourself, you may not ever see these people again. So who gives a crap what they think of you while you're off having an awesome time (easier said than done, but don't deprive yourself of things you want to do because you're afraid of what others think. Most of us are focused on how awkward and weird we are, not how everyone else is. They won't notice as much as you think they will) And if some events really are mandatory, then just say "screw it, what've I got to lose?," be as bouncy as you can, make jokes and small talk and lots of eye contact, and I bet someone, from some class you took or some activity you were in, will notice and come by. You won't be alone. Really.

I totally get your desire to have an awesome college life. But you know what? Graduation is also a chance to put this behind you and go make new friends and a new life post college without some awkward interaction from three years ago following you around. Seriously. I have some amazing friends now and though I get sad when I don't have the same college stories to share, its ok. I've got stories NOW. And I am SO glad that I didn't have friends putting up photos of me on facebook all the time because now I don't have a pictoral history to recount all my stupidity from the last four years. Blessing in disguise, that is.

I really believe that people hit their social strides at different times. Mine wasn't college and it seems yours isn't either. And you know whats great about that? Now you can go out and meet people from SO many different backgrounds and professions, that haven't been stuck together in the same small social circle/campus, sharing the same thing for the last four years. Now that's going to be something to look forward to!
posted by Eudaimonia at 8:54 PM on April 8, 2009

I am not sure how I want to respond to your post except maybe say that screw all these people! If you really feel like going to an event and you think you will enjoy it because you want to experience it and not get bogged down with anxiety about taking pics with "friends" and standing "awkwardly" then by all means go! When you get back, you want to be satisfied that you went and not end up in tears. And there is NOTHING awkward about being by yourself and not be part of a group. It takes courage and maturity to be comfortable with yourself to be by yourself. I haven't spent more than 10 years in one country and I can relate to not having friends. The worst thing is that I can't relate to most of the people from my own home country!! It doesn't mean I stop living. If someone wants to be my friend and the feeling is mutual then great, if not then its their loss. I say go to ALL events if you really want to but focus on enjoying yourself and having fun. Will it matter to you 10 years from now that these people don't congratulate you...heck, will you even remember these people yourself?? You'll be surprised yourself.
posted by xm at 8:55 PM on April 8, 2009

Any permutation of the "College friends are so important!" sentiment is based on the non-logic that if the person saying it made great, awesome, lively, totally original but also intelligent friends in college, then everyone does, right?

Your college years are not the important ones of your life by the virtue of their their being your friend's or your professor's.

But I think you'll learn something important here, something that not a lot of people ever do: that there isn't a whole lot in our lives that isn't up to us. That is, we learn and then we get better at life; experiencing the less-than-perfect aspect of it often begets the special wisdom of hindsight, clarity, and some rare ability to understand that nothing should important to you if it's not.
posted by trotter at 9:02 PM on April 8, 2009

Wow, all that time (and money) spent in a free-to-be-yourself environment and yet you never got to know YOURSELF. That's my answer to your question - get to know you. It's gonna hurt.
posted by matty at 9:11 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

Like New Year's Eve, graduation is imbued with exaggerated significance. You need that kind of performance anxiety like you need smallpox.

You're not likely to emerge from your cocoon by July. Give yourself a more flexible timeline for becoming the sort of person you want to be. People don't transform according to deadlines.

You can get there. You're smart and self-aware. Get thee to a therapist.

Life is just beginning.

But more importantly

Most importantly

Delete. Facebook account. Now.
posted by limon at 9:21 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Honestly it doesn't sound from your story that a lot can be done to rectify your current situation. Not to be glum, but despite your strongest efforts, based on 3.75 years now complete, it may be very difficult to make the last 0.25 significantly different. That said...

I had what I considered a pretty average number of friends in college (and in my class year), but we too had a week between finals and graduation at our small liberal arts uni less than an hour from a metropolis in the mid NorEast. Our week was largely unstructured and mainly involved a lot of going out / staying up late with your friends. It was somewhat of an awkward week in that everything took on new importance - who you hung out with meant you couldn't hang out with someone else. I'm not sure many of us thought about it or for that matter talked about it out loud at the time, but there was something implicit and important in the time we spent with our friends that week.

I became much better friends with a number of the philosophy / law guys on my hall that I really hadn't known very well at all before that point, during that week. It was more matter of circumstance than anything else - there wasn't a lot to do during the day, and somehow we got a game of what we called "Wall ball" started on the flat roof outside our dorm-room windows, against the outside of one of the gymnasium walls. We played for hours on end, getting covered in the black soot that had been accumulating on the roof since the days that the steel mill had still been running in town. 6 straight days of hours of endless wall-ball, all with a bunch of guys I had barely talked to before.

I haven't seen any of them in almost a decade now but I can still remember those times on the roof, just goofing around. Maybe you should look for something casual, that takes your mind off the change that is coming?

Also, its not without note that this time of change should be viewed as an opportunity. Your old networks (what little there may be of them) will now dissolve somewhat as you move on, and have the opportunity to build new ones. Learn from your past mistakes, approach your new relationships with a light heart and flexible expectations. Think about the kind of person you wish you were, ask yourself how that person would respond in your given situation, and then follow suit.

While I am still friends with a couple people from college, we've mostly gone our own ways. Honestly most of the good friendships I've had after college have a) lasted longer, and b) been just as, if not more important, than the ones I had in college.

You may have had a tough few years in college, and there may not be a lot you can do about it now, but now you get a re-start, with new people. Lucky you.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:37 PM on April 8, 2009

my profs talk about their college days and how important college friends are

consider the bias factor here -- at least part of the reason that professors *are* professors is because they enjoy college life. you probably have very few profs who had difficulty maneuvering the college atmosphere and the nature of the relationships that arise in this environment, and very few for whom going to a college campus every day would elicit bad memories.

that said, i think by now you can see that many of us had similar experiences to you in that daunting week at the end of senior year. i had a small group of friends that i hung out with and ended up going to some events, but each of these friends had a lot of *other* friends that i didn't really know or had awkward relationships with, so i often felt out of it.... events with drinking were easier, but that's not really saying much about the quality of interactions... my friendship with this small group did not stand up to time, and in fact, the only college people i maintain any relationships with were from different classes.

i'm curious how your day-to-day life goes if you are feeling as isolated as you describe. is it the case that you are friends with people of other classes, or that you have a network outside school? i ask because i would recommend that during senior week that you do whatever you usually do. if you have friends from other classes, spend time with them -- you'll be saying good bye to them this year as well as to your senior classmates. if you have stuff going on outside school, don't neglect it for senior week. if there is some event that you really want to go to, can you not bring a non-senior friend with you? and as for the fb, either defriend the people that disturb you, or delete their happenings from your feed. i've done that even for good friends when their good news was distressing to me (i.e. when we were all jobhunting, and they found jobs first and then proceeded to gloat about them/describe first weeks/say how great it was to have a paycheck....). they'll never know....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:58 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your college lonliness was exactly what my freshman year of college was. I moved to a small town upstate after high school and due to my shyness and social ineptitude, I didn't make a whole lot of new friends. I hung out mostly with a few friends that were from my class and high school, but it was sort of a grandfathered-in kind of friendship; we weren't close before college and were friends there mostly out of convenience. Long story short, I didn't make any real friends that first year, and that was one of the main reasons I transferred to another college for my sophomore year. Bigger school, more active college town/nightlife, and a big improvement with my social scene. I was certainly still shy, and still had some trouble making friends, but a simple change of scenery did wonders.

But I've gone through several "phases" of life since college and have made friends along the way. You sound really shy, and that's not necessarily a bad thing if it doesn't get in the way of your happiness. But that sounds like what's happening.

Here's the advice that you've heard a million times before and probably understand on an intellectual level, but perhaps won't truly understand until you approach middle age like me. That advice is this: You. Are. Young.

You're what, 22, 23? I was terribly awkward at 22, but by putting myself in situations in which I had to sink or swim, I've learned how to be more socialable. You have lots of time to do this. Change your environment. Now that you're free of university, go out and do the things you want to do, and challenge yourself to meet people. You may be surprised how different your life is a mere 5 years from now.

You. Are. Young. Young in a good way ;)
posted by zardoz at 10:01 PM on April 8, 2009

Wow, it sounds like your college puts a lot of emphasis on "being friends with people in your year." I know it can be really hard to feel on the outside of things: I felt much like you did at the end of high school, and damn, it sucked.

What really helped me then - and what may help you now - is to take a big step back, and look at the friendships, events, etc. in light of the rest of my life. You say "Whenever my profs talk about their college days and how important college friends are, I almost cry because virtually none of the few friends I have are in my own year." Do these professors say that none of their friends were from other years? That college friendships with people who happened to be born a year earlier or later are somehow better? That college friendships are better than friendships made at any other point in life? You imply again that this is the case when you say that you've "given up hope of finding an '09 social circle that I can call my own before June." It's hard to hear, but... maybe you should. Pinning your happiness on that will drive you crazy, because you'll spend every waking minute convinced that your lack of senior friends is the end of the world.

OK, maybe it's the end of your college world. But real life isn't like that, and for that matter, most colleges aren't, either. Some of the best friends I made during college had already graduated, or didn't arrive at my university until I was a supersenior. People don't come neatly labeled as "Potential Class Of '09 Friend," and there's no reason to limit your circle of potential friends to such an arbitrary subset of the world. People're weird and complicated and you should take friends where you can get 'em.

However, that's in the long term. What do you do now? There's no one answer, but if I were in your position:
-Start figuring out where to go next, and how to make a life there. Are you moving to San Francisco for a job? To Chicago for grad school? To Haiti with the Peace Corp? Start figuring out how you can change things for the better as you move on to the next part of your life. Spend a lot of time thinking about the awesome things you can do after June, instead of how miserable things are now.
-Focus on activities you like doing so that you can meet people who share interests outside of classes or class year. These people are apt to be the ones you will form those life-long college friendships with. Your professors may have met those people in college, but the fact that you haven't doesn't mean your doomed to lifelong loneliness.
-Spend time with the friends you do have instead of pining after imaginary perfect '09 friends during Senior Week. Really. I know you feel pressured to do Senior Things right now, but if these people are the ones who are actually your friends, you'll regret wasting time at stupid Senior Banquets instead of hanging out with people that you really like.
-Realize how bizarre and artificial the specific social pressure you're under right now is; this won't stop you from hurting, but it will give you something else to focus on, and might help you when you leave after graduating.
-Try to find things that make you happy. Not people: currently, they're the source of a lot of stress. Focus on activities, events, hobbies, etc. If you're someone who seems to have a full and happy life of your own, people will paradoxically be much more interested in knowing you; both you and your friends will be happier if you don't pin All Of Your Happiness on friendship with them, and hey, you'll be leading a full and interesting life, so you'll be happier regardless of how many friends you have.
-Screw Facebook, screw the alumni magazine, fuck the mandatory events. If these people aren't your friends, why torture yourself by staring at their facebook pages and obsessing about how many people they've friended? Why does it matter what they might possibly think about you in 20 years? And is it expected, or will there be real consequences (fines or a graduation hold) if you don't attend the "mandatory" Senior Events? Why make yourself more unhappy than you already are by giving yourself more ways and occasions to obsess about things?
-Introduce your mom to professors and to your non-senior friends; if you need to, tell her that the other seniors are doing [insert graduation event] with their family. She won't think less of you because some of your friends were born in '87 or '88, and for you, it'll be one less thing to worry about.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is this: you're allowing your college (?!) to define happiness for you. That'd drive anyone crazy. Find the things and the people that actually make you happy. Those are what really matter. It's not going to be easy, particularly when you're surrounded by such a weird environment, but if you can make it past graduation, you've got your whole life ahead of you. There's no end to the awesome things you can do with it.
posted by ubersturm at 10:04 PM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

You'll be surprised how quickly all of this is in your rear view mirror and fading fast into the distance -- I Promise!

In the meantime, take a deep breath, bring your expectation level down to zero, and then just gently glide through it. Be kind to yourself.
posted by inkyr2 at 11:14 PM on April 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

1. No matter how few friends you have, and how bad you think you are at making them, you can learn to make friends. Go and join clubs (not student ones), volunteer somewhere, remember to be interested in the other people, there are plenty of tips you can find and things you can practice that will help. Starting now.

2. If there are events that you don't think you would enjoy, don't go. If you can enjoy the event for its own sake, go on your own, hold your head high and enjoy it. Don't be a sheep and go because you think you should or you think you are SUPPOSED to enjoy it.

I had few friends in my year, none of which lasted beyond graduation, I didn't go to any graduation events, and it never occurred to me that this was a bad thing. Find things you really do like doing and do them instead! Start building a life outside university!
posted by emilyw at 12:52 AM on April 9, 2009

"Mandatory brunch" would be an awesome band name.

Just another data point: most of my friends graduated before or after me. The pigeonholing of people into class years is entirely artificial. The university wants you to be part of a well-defined cohort group so that they can more efficiently solicit you for donations. Bet you anything this is what your mandatory brunch is all about.

Look at it this way: You have a whole week of empty. Take a vacation. Drive west. See things you haven't seen before. Camp out under the stars. Read the newspaper in a diner. Talk to people with whom you have no history. Set foot in a state you haven't been to before. Fill up your mom's schedule with lectures and meet-the-dean coffees and tell her that they are only for parents. Come back refreshed. Know that where you've been is helping ease the pain of being where you are.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 5:01 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll just be standing around awkwardly while everyone else is talking to everyone else.

Relax. This week is so easy, socially. You just need one key phrase and then you sit back and listen to them blather on for ages: "So, what are you doing after college?" People LOVE to talk about themselves, and they've all been thinking about exactly this question. Just keep asking questions about it: "Oh really? That sounds neat! Why did you pick that? Where will you live? Have you lived there before?" etc.

I have a couple friends from college that I still talk to. I lived on residence with one. I had a campus job with the other. Everyone else has faded. And it's okay! My life is full of people I didn't even know back then.

You may be surprised how different your life is a mere 5 years from now.

Quoted for truth. It's been almost 5 years for me. I had no idea I'd end up in my current life.
posted by heatherann at 6:30 AM on April 9, 2009

You know what? Skip it. Skip all of graduation, including graduation itself. Tell your folks not to come. Get in your car and drive to Maine the day classes end and never go back to that place.

Schools are a somewhat artificial environment. There's no reason you have to force yourself to belong if you just don't belong. Get out there and start doing things *you*like to do for fun, not the mandatory graduation brunches that are *supposed* to be fun but really aren't.
posted by footnote at 6:30 AM on April 9, 2009

Do you NEED to be there? As in, are you required to show up or you might not graduate?

Because standing around waiting for people to pay attention to you and leaving events on the verge of tears does not sound like fun to me and is not something I would put myself through. I hate those socially-engineered situations and outings with a passion, and I participated as little as possible in high school and college. I recently missed my 10 year high school reunion because I was baffled that anyone would be interested in going. I have a small number of very close friends and an evening with them (or hell, an evening with a bad book) makes me far happier than going to Six Flags with a bunch of people I'm uncomfortable around.

Years from now, you will be surprised to find that people remember you fondly from these days. That doesn't mean they're your friends. It means they've got rose-colored glasses on about these years that are supposedly better than anything else out there.

You've probably been told for years that "these are the best years of your life". Well, they sure weren't for me, and I knew that at the time. Every year since college has gotten progressively better until at some point my life is going to be so damn awesome I won't be able to stand it anymore.

When you're out of college, you'll start to realize that being in a particular "year" has no bearing at all on the outside world. My boyfriend would have been a sophomore when I was a senior. One of my best friends now is eleven years older than me. Another good friend is actually still in high school! Actually, most of my friends wouldn't ever have all been in college together at the same time, but it makes no difference to us now. Once you're out of a situation where artificial closeness is created by having you guys all do the same things at the same time, you'll be able to form friendships based on their own merits. Close knit liberal arts colleges like yours induce the crazies with stuff like this.

To sum up: skip everything you can that you think doesn't sound like fun. I really doubt that you will look back and regret it, whereas if you go and stand around feeling hurt, ignored, and sad, those feelings might stay with you for a while. Start looking forward at what's to come instead of looking back at what might have been.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:50 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

During college, I sometimes had this feeling you described, of standing awkwardly outside the group and like that made me a failure at whatever college was supposed to be about.

Since graduating and moving to the opposite coast, I've been surprised by making a few really lasting friends by re-friending people I knew from college. (I didn't expect this at all.) Somehow, outside of the context of "the best time of your life," "launching you off into your future," in "this stately, grand university that you are all lucky to be part of," and the existing friendship circles, I made friendships that felt much more comfortable. So, if there are a few individuals you think you're likely to keep in touch with or end up living near each other, maybe you could make a more personal connection with them. Not a connection like "I'm desperate to have people to hang around with this week, help me," but a connection like "hey, I know this is a hectic week and we're all figuring out where we're going to end up, but it'd be cool to stay in touch."

On the other hand, if that sounds horrible, just blow the whole thing off. As I said, I didn't expect it at all. I left being really glad to get out of there, and I made a bunch of good friends in grad school and whatnot. Sometimes a situation just doesn't work for you, so you have to try to find your belief in yourself from within rather than by judging yourself based on how you're faring within the current situation.
posted by salvia at 9:49 AM on April 9, 2009

And ditto this: Every year since college has gotten progressively better until at some point my life is going to be so damn awesome I won't be able to stand it anymore.

I think it's true for a lot of people. There's a sort of lull while you figure out what post-college life is all about, and then it starts to really get better.
posted by salvia at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

You are probably finding out, via this thread, that you're hardly the only one who this has happened to. I could have written this sentence: "My first year I got into a few complicated situations with quite a few people, including the people I spent much of freshman year with, and encounters between myself and them have been awkward and strained ever since." Except that you could also include my sophomore and senior years, as well. (My junior year wasn't so bad; that was also the only year that I lived off campus. Coincidence? I think not.) I had plenty of friends in high school; I also made friends by volunteering for a crisis hotline off-campus, as well as at library school and most of the jobs that I've had since library school. And, yes, I've got more than a touch of social anxiety myself, and was in counseling for most of the time that I was in college. If I made a mistake, it was that I assumed that I would make friends in the dorm, without seeking out those groups and people that I would have more of an affiliation with; if I'd sought out more of the SF/fantasy/RPG/SCA crowd, my undergraduate years probably would have turned out very, very differently. Experience keeps a dear school and so forth.

But anyway. As much as you want to prove that you "did indeed talk to people at college", I don't think that you want to lie to your relatives that you were some sort of social butterfly. Tell them that you learned a lot about yourself in the last four years. Go to the things that you have to go to, and bring some games on your phone or even a book to get through the boring parts. (If anyone bugs you about that, stare blankly at them until they go away. If they ask you what you're reading, though, that's cool. I'm the sort of person that will bring a book to a bar of a Friday or Saturday night, and have had plenty of decent, if somewhat beer-soaked, convos with strangers about books.) And trust, above all else, that you will look back on this one day... and shrug.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:04 PM on April 9, 2009

When you're out of college, you'll start to realize that being in a particular "year" has no bearing at all on the outside world.

Yes! I personally find this to be one of the most irksome things about our whole educational system: for 12-16 years, 95% of your friends are exactly. the. same. age. Then suddenly you're in the real world: my co-workers range in age from late 50's to mid 20's, and it's been that way most of the places I've worked. My husband is 4 years older than I am.

One of the things about my college life that at the time was stressful, but in hindsight seems to have been a good thing, was that most of my social circle wasn't students at my school. (It's a long story.) So I wasn't as connected to the people who were doing exactly what I was doing, who were exactly the same age, etc., etc. but with people who were more diverse in age, background, interests, occupations. Having a job outside the college helped the same way; I got to see a broader slice of the world outside of the ivy-covered halls.

So there's something to look forward to, hopefully.
posted by epersonae at 3:22 PM on April 9, 2009

I think I only recognised about 8 people who graduated with me, and even some of them I didn't know by name. So yea, your school is weird with the emphasis on 'class' activities. I don't know why you want to go to the event, but what I usually think in these situations is that nobody is paying as much attention to me as I am. I'm 100% aware that I am spending the whole night unobtrusively against a wall, but nobody else is, and they don't care what I'm doing anyway. So if it's something you want to attend for the sake of it, rather than in a wish to socialise, I'd go.
posted by jacalata at 3:49 PM on April 9, 2009

follow-up from the OP
Thanks so much for all your help, guys. I feel much better about those last two weeks. I didn't know that having so many class-based activities was abnormal. I think I should have mentioned, though, that my school is known for its really strong alumni network, which I think could explain it (and because of that, "screw[ing] the alumni magazine" is kind of hard). And like other liberal-arts colleges in this geographic region, we also have a fair amount of traditions, such as senior week, a baccalaureate ceremony, etc. As much as I'd like to take part in those, for the sake of my sanity, I'm going to seriously rethink doing so. I also feel better now that I know that so many others were in the same boat as me.

Also, I looked at the schedule of events, and it turns out that the only one that is mandatory is the graduation rehearsal, which I don't think will be too stress inducing. However, I have a feeling that with all the food based events, the school will close down the dining hall, and therefore I'll have no choice but to go to those (buying my food isn't financially feasible for me right now).

Lastly, some of you mentioned that maybe I should get to know myself a bit more. While this is very sound advice, I actually think I did a pretty good job of that in college. I did things that I liked to do, and while doing them, discovered that I liked to spend a lot of time by myself. While I liked this aspect, it came at the expense of my social life, and I found that despite enjoying loneliness, I didn't want to be lonely, especially when everyone around me seemed to have close friends. Does that make sense? I'm trying to figure out why this is and if there's any way I can solve it. My feeling lonely is also exacerbated by the fact that my one friend in my year stopped talking to me for no reason at all. We were very close, so I am very sad about it. (If you have any tips for getting over friendships, that would be great.)

Thanks so much!
posted by jessamyn at 2:02 PM on April 10, 2009

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