I went to visit my old university a few weeks ago. I am less than a year out of college, so many of my friends are still there. They’re doing their fourth year, an extra year, their masters’ at the same school, or they’re just from the area. And being there — I think it is a common experience, watching people who were such an integral part of your life still living the same life, without you in it. It is a weird disconnect, being somewhere you used to belong when you no longer fit.
You have the same conversation over and over, with every person you see. The conversation goes approximately like this — how is graduate school or your new job or living in your parent’s basement in the middle of nowhere or whatever it is you’ve done post-graduation? How’s life going? Do you have a boyfriend? A girlfriend? A husband? A dog? A plan? This conversation is useless. It is miserable for you, and for the person you’re having it with. If you have any misgivings about whatever your post-grad life is, they don’t want to hear it. Conversely, they also do not want to hear about how successful you are, about how great your life is going. The conversation is a pissing contest; but everyone ends up losing.
Sometimes it feels like you had never left – like when you get off the streetcar and immediately run into a girl who lived across the street from you for two years. She still lives there, still goes to the same school, has the same friends, lives the same life. It feels like it is years earlier, and you are just running into each other on your old street on the way to class.
Sometimes it feels like you were never there at all, when your friends talk about people you do not know, events you were not at, places you have never been. It is isolating, and alienating. It is also liberating, knowing you have moved on. Life continues without you.
You go to your old hang outs, the places that defined your university experience. They are filled with young people you don’t recognize. Your friends- if they are still in town- have moved on to bigger and better things. Freshmen have invaded your common rooms, coffee shops, bars – your memories.
The people you see might not be the people you missed the most, or tried the hardest to see. But the people you see the most will probably be the people you stay in touch with the longest, and who care about you the most.
If you go to a party (a college party, not some post-grad shindig). It is like nothing ever changed. The same old people show up to the same old locations and have the same old conversations. People are confused and defensive when you say something out of the ordinary. They are not yet used to change, to the evolution of a personality. They will get there, someday.
It is soothing, being there. It’s secure, it’s waves of nostalgia washing over you. But it’s a false sense of security. It obscures your newly forged identity, your post-graduate self, with happy memories and an old routine. Dwelling on the shadows of a past life is no way to grow, change, develop further as a person. It’s okay to move on, to fit somewhere else.
That is the way it should be.