As a veteran of a long-distance relationship (that successfully led to marriage), I’m no stranger to the challenges of maintaining friendship over time and space. The reality many of us face after graduating college is that we lose touch with the people we loved and cherished for a season.
Changes in space = changes in friendship
There are many causes for this, not least the fact that we no longer live together. It is less likely that we share experiences once we enter the work force or continue our education. As experiences begin to vary, common ground can feel like it’s shrinking– which in turn makes it even more difficult to reconnect.
I’ve recently reconnected with a few friends from college and have been reflecting on the state of our friendships. It’s a challenge when distance forces us to miss entire chapters in each other’s lives– when in the past we’ve never missed a beat. Still, if maintaining past friendships is a manner of reconnecting with our whole selves, then there are steps we can take to keep those friendships alive.
Post-college friendships are different too.
Furthermore, my approach to new friendships is shaping up to be different as well. Getting less “face time” with my new friends than I did with my college friends means that it takes longer to get to know someone. I can’t assume that they thoroughly understand the context of my work or the circumstances I face. I no longer belong to the same institutions as my new friends, even if we have an overlapping community.
Ultimately, maintaining old friendships and making new ones both require more intentionality once college is over. Over the past year, here’s what I’ve learned!
5 Principles for Post-College Friendship
1) Ask more questions and listen more closely.
When you live with someone, it can feel as though you are in sync with their every thought and whim. This familiarity can be most excellent for late-night conversations, but not so much for a coffee date after months apart.
We can’t expect to continue to know “everything,” and to remain in the same synchronized thought patterns that we had with people we spent every day with. It takes humility to accept this, but as soon as we do, we can listen better.
2) Develop a (new) relationship repertoire slowly and carefully.
Friendships post-college have taken me a longer time to develop. Part of it is that there is so much more to learn: without the shared experience of being students, we not only need to learn each other’s stories, but also what day-to-day life is really like.
This takes time, and new friends often have varying expectations. Some people are an open book, while others need more time to warm up. Expecting slow growth of new friendships– and the need to develop new rhythms in old ones– can help us manage expectations during this season.
3) Seek ways to be available or helpful.
A faraway friend may not think you’re available unless you regularly remind her that you are. A new friend nearby might not know that you’re willing to help with chores or groceries unless you offer.
I’m still learning what it means to be supportive and service-oriented in my friendships both near and far. Even if the answer isn’t immediately obvious, we build our friendships with servitude and generosity.
4) Share resources in creative ways.
One of the positive aspects of having friends across different industries and experiences is the ability to share lessons learned and useful resources. We often don’t realize that we already have knowledge or networks that can benefit someone else; perhaps we take these things for granted.
This past year, being able to point friends to resources I’ve discovered has allowed me to contribute to my friendships in a new way. The benefit of not sharing the same community or the same work environment is that we can teach each other new things all the time.
5) Schedule regular times to connect.
Even though most of my college friends were busy, I could count on seeing my closest friends on a regular basis. We were involved in the same activities, shared classes, or lived in close proximity to each other.
After college, however, running into friends becomes less reliable. It can feel weird to schedule a weekly phone call or lunch, but the regularity makes a huge difference. One of my college friends and I talk almost weekly– even for just 10 minutes– and it’s helped us feel so much more connected than we would have otherwise.
The bottom line: we all must find a new friendship rhythm
Leaving the friends we once lived with and pushing into a new community is never easy. Distance changes the nature of a friendship, no matter how close, no matter how committed.
Learning to build and rebuild under new circumstances requires effort and time that may once have felt unnecessary. But, if done well, friendship in the post-college season can be just as rewarding as friendship in college.