How Friendship Changes After College (And How to Deal)

how friendship changes after college

I was angry my first year out of college, and not because the real world is hard (although it is). My anger stemmed from the change in my social life.

None of the lessons you learn after college hit you quite as hard as the lesson about friendship. Basically, everything you know about friendship changes as soon as you walk into your first day of your big-girl job. As much as you want to continue things the same way you have for the last four (or five or six) years, it’s not feasible or manageable. You can say hasta la vista to the late nights at the bar, chilling on each other’s couches every night, and nonstop texting/Snapchatting/ Facebooking/Instagramming/whatever other social media I don’t know about. You can’t be a full-time employee and a full-time friend. At least not in the same way.

I know that sounds harsh, and trust me, I was not okay with it for a long time. It seemed so unfair that I was done with school and homework, but couldn’t manage to get my friends all in the same place at the same time—or even respond to my texts in a timely manner (and by timely, I mean immediately). And then there’s the fact that some friends were still in college or starting grad school or getting married or having kids. That all really threw a wrench in things. It forced me to learn a few tough lessons on friendship.

Everyone’s Going Through Different Stages of Life

The first struggle I noticed after graduating was trying to mesh schedules with my friends who were in different stages than me. I was working a full-time 9-5 while my roommates were still in school; one of them was in grad school and the other was in her fifth year of undergrad—so our schedules were in entirely different stratospheres. On top of that, my two closest pledge sisters were also working with their own schedules (one was trying to graduate by August and the other worked a full-time job and side hustle 30 minutes away), and we pretty much burned ourselves out trying to keep our college lifestyle alive.

Thanks to college, I was so accustomed to living and breathing with a friend by my side that I couldn’t imagine another way. I wanted to text them all day long. I wanted to keep sending the silly snaps of our double chins even though I was in a room with 20 professionals. I wanted to get lunch, afternoon coffee, and dinner with them. I wanted to lay around in someone else’s living room until midnight just goofing off with large glasses of cheap wine. The day I realized all of that was over was crushing, and I had to learn a whole new way to nurture my friendships.

Unfortunately, it took me a long time to figure it out because the only way I knew how to cope was to go from one extreme to another. I traded in my late nights and bustling social life for a granny-like existence. I stopped doing anything, and my friendships suffered. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t do this because it just leaves you feeling sad and isolated. There are other ways to handle it.

Open Communication is Helpful

First, you have to accept the fact that things change as you grow up. You can’t change it, so just accept it and talk to your friends about it. If I had sat down with mine and explained that I couldn’t keep the college social life up any more, but that I still wanted to spend time with them in less exhausting and extensive ways, then I could have saved us all a lot of frustration. Talk to your friends and agree on some alternatives. For example, meeting for lunch once a week and limiting the partying to the weekend (No Thirsty Thursday).

It’s Easier Once Everyone Catches Up

I promise it becomes easier once everyone is out of college. Now that the majority of my friends are in the working world (or in grad school which is basically the same thing without pay), we all know what to expect. We have get-togethers every few weekends and totally blow it out like we’re still in college. Then we whine about how exhausted we are the rest of the week. We all know that a weeknight dinner and beer is cool, but not a weekly thing because responsibilities don’t wait. I’m grateful everyone understands what we’re up against.

One of the best things is that we all understand the struggle now. Just about everyday I speak to someone about how hard it is to have a social life and a full-time job. We complain about it, but we also bolster each other with reminders that we just have to make a different kind of effort. It’s a support system I’m happy to have. I know each of them gets it now.

Sorry, but Babies are More Important Than You

The hardest change to deal with is when some of your friends are having children and you’re not. Everyone has their own time table for these things, but you can’t expect a new parent to make it out on the weekend. Hell, you can’t even expected them to make it to monthly girls’ night when they’re trying to buy diapers and bottles and clothing for a tiny human. Priorities change when you have children. That means you can’t take it personally when your friend turns down your invitations. It’s not because they don’t want to see you. It’s because this little person relies on them for survival.

When one of my best friends had her son, she moved to be closer to her family, so it became incredibly difficult to see her. I couldn’t drop by to visit, and I pretty much never pass through her town. Our friendship really suffered, and now we don’t speak. It sucks and breaks my heart, but the circumstances make a conversation comparable to climbing Everest. We’re not angry at each other, we just aren’t on the same page right now. That’s okay. However, if you have a friend with a child (and living in the same town), then you can keep the relationship going by changing the way you hang out. Instead of heading out for drinks each weekend, you can stop by her place to talk and play with her child. It’ll be an adjustment, sure, but the important thing is you spend time with your friend.

Making Friends Post-College is Hella Hard

Aside from being pissed off at how my social life changed, I was also shocked at how difficult it is to make friends after college. When you don’t have time for your existing friends, there isn’t much time for making new ones either. It’s not impossible, but it’s not as easy as it was in college when I met new people almost every day. I was lucky enough to make friends at work (most of us are still in our twenties). Sadly, that isn’t the case for everyone, and I still don’t party with my co-worker friends. Well, I try not to make it a common event at least.

I have managed to make a few new friends post college, but it’s mostly come as a result of putting myself out there. I’ve had to make an effort to think “I want to befriend this person, so I need to actually speak to them,” whereas in college befriending people just kind of happened. If you want to make friends with people at this point in your life, then the real world demands you go out of your way to do so.

This popular phrase might sound cliche, but it is so true: You gotta risk it to get the biscuit.

College friendship is different from real world friendship, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still have your college friends when you’re in the real world. As you all grow up and adjust to the new demands on your life, you simply need to communicate about it all and make an effort to understand and accommodate each other. You have to work at new friendships more now too, and it seems like you simply don’t have the time, but it’s not impossible. I learned all of this the hard way, so take a page out of my book: Don’t let the changes destroy the friendships you love so much or keep you from forming new ones.

Follow Terra on Instagram: @terrabrown3

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