If this letter seems late, that’s intentional. I wanted to wait until you needed it. Tomorrow you’re moving to Berkeley and you’re going to need a friend.
Nowhere is going to feel like home in the same way campus did, but it took college a long time to feel like home in the first place. You relocate to the strange city you always felt drawn to and discover it is muggy, dangerous and just sort of wrong. Loneliness festers but it doesn’t have to scar—give yourself room to be a self-pitying mess because no one warned you how steep the drop would be. This transition will hurt. I’m sorry. So you’ll try another city and dip your toes in slow, find the bars you like most, become a local at the grocery store. Time drags at the beginning and eventually, suddenly, it is March and you will realize you live here now.
The things that used to define you are about to become meaningless and thank god for that—no one cares what magazine you edited in college. As a result you are going to feel like a fraud most if not all of the time, at least for a while. The real world yanks the crutches of your identity away and now is the time to figure out who you are without the cheat sheet. But you get to keep the best parts of yourself, the parts that obsess over pop culture’s influence on society, the parts that put into words the confessions others wince when they consider articulating. You’ll be surprised by how rarely anyone asks what you studied. Your coworkers talk about their younger college selves like odd, cute kids they once babysat. Don’t feel like you have to condescend to yourself. You’re allowed to be who you were only a few months ago, just a little more respectably dressed.
I hate to break it to you, but you will sell out. Everyone sells out. You will kneel on a dirty carpet in some office and do quality checks on coffee table cookbooks when you really want to be writing your own books, and not in this genre, and not in this city. When it becomes clear the publishing house is on a slow decline, you will join one of those millennial career paths that always sounded like a cop-out but winds up getting your blood pumping. You will work at a desk with cubbyholes and eventually you realize you get to keep things in them, deodorant, hand lotion, a spare cellphone charger, and this is really exciting. Coworkers become new family, and chatting in the kitchen is totally a thing even though your office doesn’t have a water cooler. Never say no to a 3 o’clock ice cream break. Some of your friends will go to law school, med school, random other grad school programs, and you will resent them for it, just a little bit, because it means going back to college even though it so doesn’t. A friend will confess to you how much he loves copyright law and you will laugh and kind of get it, because adulthood is weird like that.
You will pursue your original dreams after you clock out, write articles on your cellphone during the commute and stay up too late some nights when the story just won’t let go of your wrists. Dreams happen during the second shift.
You’re going to set goals. You’re not going to make most of them. You’re going to set new ones. Those you might make.
Seeing your roommates is the new Christmas. It’s going to suck coming home at the end of the day and they aren’t clustered in the kitchen talking about dance and that hot student grocery cashier and debating just the right text message to send. On the nights you feel tattered, a compass unable to find North, they won’t be there to sit on the floor in the hallway and entertain you with the fucked up thing they accidentally said in class and reassure you that you are still you, and you are strong, and we are all stupid at this age. And you might lose them a little, different time zones, different coasts, anecdotes about strangers they can’t relate to. They’ll make new friends who get the jokes you can’t because you are three hours ahead, living in a different sitcom. Maybe they’ll be so busy dealing with their own shit that they won’t have the time to put Band-Aids on your broken ego. But when life kicks your ass and you are terrified, sitting in a strange airport with a re-broken heart, they’re going to answer the phone. They’re going to understand. And there will be a business trip or a summer trek across country, and when they pick you up at the airport you will cry and it’ll be exactly the same.
And yes, you will want to cut your heart out of your ribcage with those cheap plastic knives from the Dollar Tree, and you will want to put it in a bubble mailer you stole from the office, and you will want to ship it to the man it still belongs to. Forgive yourself for missing loves who don’t fit the five-year plan. Comfort yourself with this lie: some day you will wake up and it’ll be gone, replaced or deflated in the midst of career changes and Tinder fuckups. Or some day you will wake up and it’ll still be there and you’ll figure it out because that’s what adults do. The reality is much less neat and somewhere in the middle. Never forget this is only the first quarter of your life. So many people are going to matter in so many different ways.
(On a semi-related note, hotel room sex is a whole new level. Especially hotel rooms you can afford to pay for all by yourself with that nice salary. Success is goddamn arousing.)
Also, you should know this in advance. There is going to be that morning when you throw up on yourself on MetroNorth, also known as recent graduate rock bottom, also known as oops. You will look at the text messages you sent last night with horror, and you will avoid the coworker who took care of you when you were nearly blackout for the next few months. You will be able to laugh about it eventually but your mouth will always taste like acid when you look at that party dress and remember the clammy horror of having lost control. The limits are different now; there are consequences and mornings after, no food truck grilled cheese to sop up the Prosecco before you go to sleep. The trains stop running eventually, you know. But it’s okay to fuck up. This is the time to fuck up. Just try to keep your collection of fuckups small, and preferably useful as cocktail party anecdotes. Failure can be adorable when pitched the right way.
You need to be your first priority right now. Remind yourself of this daily. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t apologize for it. This year belongs to you and you alone.
You’re going to be fine.