Moving away to university is meant to be the most exciting and memorable time of your life…but it can also be the most daunting. Amongst the excitement of packing up and moving to a new city, there is also the bittersweet anticipation of meeting new people and making new friends, whilst moving 100s of miles away from your current ones.
When I arrived in Manchester, 3 hours and 180 miles away from home, it suddenly dawned on me as I sat alone in my tiny, half-unpacked room for the first time, that my friends that I had spent the last however-many-years of my life with weren’t just around the corner. A year and a half on and I’ve learnt a lot about friendships, new and old.
First of all, the emotional (and often drunk) goodbyes between you and your school friends are more than likely met with (hate to break it to you) empty promises of “I’ll definitely come and visit you!” and “We’ll text every day!” Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that. Whether your friends are at university a few hours away, at different ends of the country, actually IN different countries or not going to uni at all, the distance inevitably changes the dynamic of your friendship.
You soon learn that a lot of friendships you had at home were based only on the fact that you saw each other 5 times a week or on your shared school experiences and as sad as it is, once you leave…you drift apart. The harsh reality of growing up is accepting growing apart. Everyone is figuring out what they want to do with their lives; they’re either chasing jobs, attempting to balance uni with their social life or travelling halfway across the world and so staying in contact with everyone can be difficult.
An Oxford University study said that students lose 40% of their friends every 6 months. If you’re reading this as someone thinking about going to uni or as a newly enrolled fresher, this statistic may come as a shock and while you sit and think about your current friendship group, you may even laugh it off as “Nah, that will never happen to me!” However, if you’re reading this as someone halfway through their degree, as a graduate or even as someone who hasn’t gone to uni but has endured their fair share of drifting adult friendships…you know this statistic is all too true.
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As cliché as it sounds you will change as a person at university. And so will your friends. University is the time of “finding yourself”- finding who you are and who you want to become. You might find a new hobby you’d never even heard of or never thought you’d give a go, you meet new people, encounter new experiences and enjoy your freshly found freedom. As a result of this, it’s natural for some friendships to fizzle out as you realise you no longer share common ground and go off in different directions in life. This is just a prerequisite of adult friendships.
That being said, this is of course not the case for ALL friendships. You won’t lose all your friends once you go to uni (so don’t panic!!) and you will have those friendships that stand the test of time…and distance. I could probably count my TRUE friends on one hand, and that’s okay. It’s important to have at least a handful of strong, ‘ride-or-die’ friendships that stay with you throughout everything. Even though I may not see or speak to my best friends every day, when I do it’s as if no time has passed and nothing has changed.
If you are worried about how you’re going to maintain your friendships once you leave school and disperse around the country, or if you’re already at uni and want to salvage friendships with those familiar faces from school, have a look below for my top tips on how to do so:
1. Go and see them!!
Although this may seem like stating the obvious, if you miss your friends and are struggling with the distance, make plans to go and visit them!! I’m definitely guilty of postponing trips to visit my school friends due to Manchester FOMO, expensive rail fares or the prospect of a long journey. But pushing that aside, a weekend spent with old friends is definitely worth it. If you plan carefully and far enough in advance, trains/coaches don’t have to cost half your student loan!
It’s a great chance to go and see what they’re up to and have a feel of their own uni experience – where they live, how they’ve decorated their room, where they go out etc. You can finally match faces to the names of your friend’s new friends who you’ve heard so much about and if they get on, then you’re more than likely to as well, making nights out even better. Alternatively you could invite your friends to your city for the weekend and be a tour guide to all your new-found favourite places and introduce them to your new friends. Either way, familiarity for a weekend can be extremely comforting and reuniting feels so good!!
2. Drop them a text
Again may seem simple, but a little text goes a long way. Check in on your friends and ask them how they are, what they’ve been up to and how life is going for them, whether they’re at uni or still at home. Thanks to technology and social media staying in touch has never been easier. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram all allow you to stay up to date with what everyone is up to and almost makes it feel as though there is no distance between you - even with people you may not get the chance to speak to often, or with people you wouldn’t usually text. It certainly makes life a lot easier when you go home at Christmas and you haven’t been completely out of the loop for the last 3 months!
Group chats are also a great way to stay in contact with multiple people altogether and all at once. I’m sure you already have them set up with your closest friends and continuing to speak in them and share stories whilst away from home can provide all the laughs and catch ups needed for the friendship to stay solid.
However it’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘glamour’ of social media and the ability to see what other people are up to at all times. Snapchat especially makes it feel as though you’ve been on 30 additional nights out and physically met a whole group of people all through the comfort of your own screen. It’s all too easy to make comparisons to your own time at uni but it’s important to remember that everything you see on social media is only a snapshot of the best moments and more often than not, does not tell the whole story about how someone’s time is at uni.
3. Plan a Facetime date
If you’re struggling to find the time for a visit under all the work that you were meant to get done 3 weeks ago or your planned visit just feels too far away, find a time where neither of you are busy and you can devote yourself to a distraction-free catch up over Facetime. For me personally, Facetime is a saviour. You can actually see who you’re talking to and their reactions so nothing gets lost in text translation all from the comfort of your own bedroom.
The evolutionary psychologists behind the Oxford University study that I mentioned earlier found that what determined whether original friendships between girls survived was whether they made the effort to talk on the phone. Women have very intense close friendships and speaking over the phone helps to keep this relationship going. Friendships between boys, on the other hand, are not affected by how frequently they talk but instead are held up by physically doing stuff together such as going to the pub or playing football.
So if you don’t think all of this is important, just remember it’s also scientifically proven!
4. Learn to accept and prioritise
Unfortunately in life, not all friendships last and people often do come and go from your life. Although this may initially be hard to accept and deal with, it can be an important life lesson for us all. Friendships are, at the end of the day, a two-way street and if you’re not receiving the same amount of effort or communication that you’re giving out, then maybe it’s time to sit back, re-evaluate who makes the time for you, and prioritise those who do. Sometimes it’s best to step away from one-sided friendships and realise that forcing to maintain it just isn’t beneficial for anyone.
Prioritising those who prioritise you and learning to accept that friendships do fade is necessary in order to keep your own sanity and allow yourself to grow. There doesn’t have to be any animosity or bitterness, but rather a mutual understanding that life has gone off in opposite directions and you’re each doing your own thing.
As the saying goes…”when one door closes another door opens” which can be true for friendships too. As some friendships naturally fade out, it makes room for other things and other people, meaning you can focus on the friendships that really matter. So don’t worry if you’re feeling disheartened about friendships that didn’t work out, it happens to all of us and, believe it or not, it can actually be a blessing in disguise of showing who is really there for you.