There always comes certain points in your life when you think you have it all figured out. When you hit your mid-teenage years, when you’re finally a senior in high school and you’re about to graduate, after a relationship ends. There seems to be a moment of clarity, a realization of something new and you feel like you have finally seen the light of whatever it was you didn’t quite understand before. But then, as it always is, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know, and how little you really knew before.
I do remember being 17 and thinking I had already experienced so much, had learned so much, and felt all those things that gave me the emotional maturity to pass on my knowledge. And then I went to college and realized just how sheltered my teenage life had been, and even how much it still was. I had so many “firsts” and I really thought I was growing up. Now, I am 5 weeks from graduation and about to venture out into the “real world” and, still, I am seeing how little I truly experienced my first two years as an “adult.” As I have said, the more you know, the more you realize there is so much more to know, so this is not about having ultimate knowledge, but instead, about what college teaches you and how it changes you. Classes teach you plenty, no doubt, but my real education in my final two years of college has honestly came from the people I have interacted with and the different kinds of relationships I have had with these people. Though not all of it was enjoyable, I’ve learned so much about life and myself, and thus, I feel compelled to write this down and share it with those interested in what college really teaches you:
1. They weren’t lying when they said you’ll lose touch with your high school friends. Unfortunately, this is simply a fact of college. For the vast majority of your friends, unless you go to the same school as them, you will not be as close as you were in your senior year of high school. However, if you’re one of the lucky few who are able to keep a good friend or two after graduation, you will really learn to appreciate them, which brings me to my second point…
2. You will realize how important the quality of your friends is. “Popularity” is no longer a social hierarchy you work with in college. By senior year, you WILL recognize a great deal of people and walk by them every day. Maybe you’ve had them in your classes or met them at parties or social events, but real “friends” can be difficult to come by when convenience is more or less what’s holding the relationship together. Big campuses can get lonely. Those few friends you can always rely on to grab lunch or go on a late night Starbucks run with? They will be more important to you than ever.
3. You will outgrow people, even when you don’t want to. This is a difficult thing to handle. As much as you love someone, sometimes you just won’t be working towards the same types of goals in life, or you’ve experienced so much that it has changed you as a person while they have mostly stayed the same. And that actually matters now. It didn’t used to matter in high school, but it does now. And as sad as that is, sometimes people just grow apart. You’ll learn to accept it and move on. Maybe one day life will bring you back together, but for now, you’ll decide to not hold yourself back for someone else.
4. Relationships. You will learn so much about relationships. Dating, friends with benefits, serious relationships, complicated situations, moving in together, even engagements and marriage. It happens, trust me. If it’s not happening to you, you will still feel like you are way too young, but you will have at least a few friends who tie the knot or have plans to do so right after graduation. You’ll get your heart broken, and you’ll probably do some damage yourself, which could hurt just as much. Life goes on.
5. There is a difference between “going on a date”, “dating”, being “together”, and a “serious relationship”. And you will actually begin to understand the distinction between them. And, you will REALLY appreciate when the distinction is made clear. If the other person refuses to make it clear “what you are”, then assume that it is “nothing serious” because, truthfully, that’s what it is. This is the time when everyone is starting to decide what they want. Some people decide faster than others. If they’re unable to make a decision about you, and you’re not okay with that, make it clear for them. You deserve better.
6. However, it is totally okay if you don’t know what you want. You are completely entitled to your own happiness, and if “dating around” is what you want to do, then go for it. No one will judge you. And those who do… I mean, do you really give a damn? College is a time of experimentation and “finding yourself”. Honestly, sometimes it is easier to do that if you don’t tie yourself down to someone else. Don’t let anyone tell you that you “shouldn’t” be going out with different people or that you “should” be in a committed relationship if you want to be with someone in a physical sense. You will learn that doing what you want to do will make you happy, and isn’t that what we’re all trying to do here?
7. Sex is normal. In this social context, sex isn’t a huge deal, or at least not the deal it was in high school. If you want to save yourself, then that’s great. But if not, that doesn’t make you less of a person, either. You will learn to embrace yourself and your own choices, not compare yourself or be ashamed. Thankfully, there will be significantly less people who judge you for your sex life. It’s just a normal thing. But if I have any advice for you, do NOT cave to the social pressure of sex if you are not ready. Even if it is more prominent in dating culture and in relationships in college than it was in high school, someone who tries to pressure you into sex before you’re ready is still an asshole who doesn’t deserve you, no matter what age. End of story.
8. You don’t have to have the rest of your life figured out yet. The inevitable question right out of high school is, “So what do you want to do?” Some people have an answer for this right off the bat. Other people have no clue. It’s okay. At 18 years old, you shouldn’t be expected to be able to detail the next 50 years of your life. You have time. Even if you think you have a plan for your future, there’s a high possibility that college will change your mind. There are so many different opportunities out there, and you will probably at least consider other options. Even if you come back to your original plan, you’ll be more satisfied knowing that you’re pursuing something you really want.