I hated college until the minute I left. I then realized how much I had loved college. Alas, I can’t go back. Not to the fairy tale that was undergraduate at least.
Now many of my friends have taken completely different routes since graduating college. Some are going on to further their education, some are staying at home for a while, others moving in to strange, new places for work. Despite the different paths we are all taking, there is one common thread among us-we’re grown ups now.
It hit me especially hard. I moved three hours away from home, three hours away from college, three hours away from life as I knew it. And I am still learning every day how to deal with these new experiences as they come at me. And I’ll be the first to admit I still kinda suck at it. But based off of my experiences so far, here is a brief guide to living alone.
1. The first friend is the toughest
Friends do not come nearly as easy in the real world because it is so hard to find that starting point. In college, you literally live in a network of people. Everyone you meet in college is connected to dozens of other people the same age as you. In the real world, “networks” are very different. Many of the people you meet are much more focused on caring for their families than making new friends. You will have to put forth much more effort, and go out of your way to make friends.
2. Don’t hang around terrible people
If you didn’t learn this in college, congrats on your online degree. Difference in the real world is, awful people become harder to avoid. But don’t spend your time with someone who does not make you feel better about yourself only because you need a “friend.” Take your time to develop positive, meaningful relationships. Because for every awful person, there are ten wonderful people who would be happy to make your acquaintance.
3. Get involved, even if you don’t see an immediate payoff
I made the mistake of joining a running group only because I thought I could meet young people. When, to my dismay, I realized that the demographic was 40-something year-olds, many of whom regularly ran ultra-marathons in double knee braces. But the reward came in a different manner than I had expected; I gained new friendships and perspectives from a variety of people, despite the fact that there was barely anyone within ten years of me!
4. Treat people as ends, not means to an end
This lesson applies to everyone in any stage of life, but I think it has particular meaning for young people. In my quest for meeting fellow youth, finding a girl who shares similar interests and having a group to go to the bar with, I found myself wondering how everyone could help me get there. Who had friends they could introduce me to? Who had a daughter who would like to meet me? Who is close with this group of people? This type of thinking is selfish and it can interfere with communication. Form relationships with all your coworkers, group members, fellow churchgoers, even your neighbors. Sure, they might not set you up on a blind date with the love of your life, but chances are some of them could end up being your best friends.
5. Learn to be comfortable alone
I’m still not good at this one-but it seems important. It is extremely difficult to swallow your pride and go it alone in public-no headphones, no companion, nothing. Society places so much importance on being “social;” social status, social media, etc. Our natural reaction is to feel sympathy when we see someone walking or dining alone. But I am willing to bet (though I’m not quite confident enough yet) that there can be great outcomes to learning how to feel comfortable in the silence.